Recyclable packaging doesn’t make you sustainable

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We have all seen and heard a lot of talk about sustainability recently. This is as true in travel retail and luxury as it is in any part of the retail ecosystem. Travel retail has put a real focus on this as the demand for travel – and flight in particular – brings environmental concerns which mean that every other part of the industry wants and needs to be as eco-friendly as possible.

I am delighted by this. Sustainability has been a topic close to my heart for many years and it is exciting and uplifting to see dedicated efforts and innovation regarding sustainability in the market and around the world.

But there is also a problem – and it is a big problem. Sustainability, like digital and so many things before it, has become a buzzword. It started as something deeply important and has now been stripped back by some to little more than a marketing term to promote their latest product or initiative. Companies present something in a new box made of recycled carboard and cry about sustainable innovation.

Sustainability, like digital and so many things before it, has become a buzzword

Let me be clear about one thing: Taking the plastic out of your packaging does not make you a leader in sustainability. Too many companies and people today are mistaking doing the bare minimum for innovating.

These steps such as removing plastic and using more recycled and recyclable material are vital. They are things everyone should be doing. Indeed, they must be doing them. But I’m afraid we are past the point where people should be expecting to be praised for doing these things. They are simply the first steps on a very long journey which we should all already be making.

A big part of the problem for travel retail, and much of the wider retail market, is that there is far too much talk about sustainability without much evidence of real action. It is all a smokescreen of well-choregraphed marketing jargon.

Let me be clear about one thing: Taking the plastic out of your packaging does not make you a leader in sustainability

Grand aims of reducing carbon footprints by 2050 are pointless if they are not accompanied by bold, short-term goals and evidence of putting them into practice. The question is not ‘Where will you be in 30 years?’ its it ‘What are you doing now?’

If the answer to that second question is just recycled boxes and slightly less plastic, then you are not going to hit your 2050 goals and you need to do more. Now. We have paid lip-service to sustainability and the environment for far too long. Today, our aims must be grand and the daily progress towards them must be tangible and constant.

It is contrary to our nature, especially after the past two years, but everyone must set aims and goals which they could fail at when it comes to sustainability. If you are aiming for something comfortable and achievable then you are not doing enough. And customers can tell the difference.

There are examples of actual innovation and effort out there. Lagardère’s recent sustainability goals feature short-term targets and a strong path laid out to reach them. Others are doing well too – the deployment of electric vehicles for deliveries by companies such as Lotte Duty Free is another great example, as is the growing deployment of reusable fittings in stores and activations

The question is not ‘Where will you be in 30 years?’ its it ‘What are you doing now?’

All of this is still first and second steps, but they are a clear continuation of the journey. If, today, you are still hiding behind removing some plastic then you are not being sustainable. And you are not really trying to be. You need to be asking “What is next?”. And if you are calling yourself an innovator then you need to be actually changing the game.

Maybe, even better, stop worrying about how you talk about your sustainability efforts and focus on actually doing them. Leave the talking to others.

Marco Passoni has decades of experience in the travel retail sector. He has spent the majority of his career in senior leader positions throughout the market, including a 12-year tenure as CEO of a leading international Duty Free distribution company and a further 8 years running a retail firm that operated fashion mono-brand stores in several international airports.
Today, as Senior Executive VP and founding partner of 2.0 & Partners, he leads the company’s efforts in developing and innovating services which create new opportunities and partnerships for all members of the travel retail Trinity. A former elite-level sailor, with a World Championship to his name, Marco now spends much of his time airside, experiencing the changing travel retail industry first-hand, to better guide partners and clients on the best way to do business in this vibrant and unique market.