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Growth within planet boundaries and the role of technology

Working at a tech company with a focus on extractive resource industries, and environment-heavy industries like metals, cement, textiles, or packaging, is a fascinating field. I discuss with my children the Friday demonstrations, and my role in tech. I strongly believe we have the tools at our hand to change the game.

We see today significant incremental cost savings by applying tech to descrease waste, energy consumption, and emissions, towards a truely circular, planet positive model. Digital manufacturing technology has proven it can deliver next level of energy efficiencies through IoT and better visibility into deviations. It helps to reduce waste through predictive quality solutions and intelligent root cause analysis. And 3D-printing and individualized local manufacturing can dramatically reduce transportation and logistic costs.

This is all prefectly good, and we should do this across the board. Minimize our negative impact on the planet (and help the bottom line through cost savings). The more interesting question is: are we willing to take a leap of faith, and go beyond incremental?

Will increased efficiencies be sufficient to stay within the boundaries of planet and climate? I am convinced we can do better than this, and sustainability leaders and start-ups are on this journey already today.

IKEA wants to become “people and planet positive” by 2030. They don’t just want to become carbon-neutral. they are actually pushing to leave a positive net impact. This starts with rethinking product design, with the goal to only use renewable and recycled materials. They decided to remove all single use plastics from the IKEA product range globally.

Start-ups like EON rethink the textile value chain introducing a digital identity for fashion powered by IoT, to enable a circular economy for textiles.

Packaging companies play can play an essential role through better product design – avoiding unrecyclable options and unnecessary single-use. Admittedly, this is to a large degree an engineering and product innovation game, but also a systemic approach about how to efficiently close the loop, like with James Cropper’s CupCycling.

Living in Canada nowadays, Tim Hortons is my go-to-place for coffee and Timbits. This Canadian chain has been running the highly succesful marketing campaign “Roll up the rim” over 33 years, boosting coffee sales in hundreds of millions disposable paper cups. Today, the calls get louder for an environmental reboot.

Thinking of Ellen MacArthur’s famous Circular Economy infographic, I have always wondered whether the forest products industry is actually part of the left biosphere side, or the right industrial – ideally it is both.
Several organizations, like UPM, drive the shift towards a forest-based circular economy. I don’t believe that the ocean plastic problem will be solved by banning plastic straws in Europe. But we see policy change regarding exports of European plastic waste, regarding single use plastics, or food waste. Leading sustainable packaging solution providers partner with consumer products companies for circular approaches, bio-based materials.

In today’s time, trustful experiences and a consistent brand story win markets, and sustainable. Technology, like blockchain, gives consumers trust transparency that their blueberry or tuna is ethically sourced. Again, the packaging industry plays an essential role to provide trustful product information integrated with multi-tier product traceability.

The Fridays for Future movement being on the streets today, is a great exmaple how modern consumers and voters look at brands, companies, and policy makers. They want change, and those brands who stand out as leaders, will disrupt the market.

Coca Cola is selling their drinks in beautiful reusable cups here in Lake Louise. No rim to roll up to win a prize, but they scored a point with us.

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