The call for better regulation is not a call to slow things down. In fact, it is a call to actually speed things up and in a way that is viable for all stakeholders, says Thomasine Kamerling, Executive Vice President, Sustainability and Communications, at Huhtamaki. Sustainability is a complex core challenge that must be viewed holistically, not in parts.
“We are at an important crossroads in terms of how we can advance a more sustainable future,” says Thomasine Kamerling, Executive Vice President, Sustainability and Communications, at Huhtamaki.
While COVID-19 has caused massive social and economic disruption, it has also created a moment to take stock of what can be done to reshape society for the better over the long term. “There is a growing chorus urging for the recovery from this unsettling time to be green and enduring, and we can either continue talking about it or take concrete action. We must decide on the latter if we are to turn a period of deep adversity into one of shared and lasting wellbeing.”
A systemic approach to this global sustainability challenge is an essential paradigm shift that must be acknowledged as one of the keys to building a green new normal. “Whether this sustainability is environmental or social, or one that involves governance, how do we go about accomplishing that? As opposed to thinking the problem is packaging or waste, we should realize that the problem is what happens with waste and how we develop it as a co-product.” This, she states, is where better regulation could and must act as a tool to empower positive change.
Regulation must take context into account when addressing complex supply chains
As it stands, discussion around regulation pertaining to sustainability – such as reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement or achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 – is overly focused on only one part of a much greater whole. Kamerling is alert to the dangers of such shortsightedness and frames it thus.
“If you look at the Mona Lisa by just staring at her smile and not paying attention to the rest of the canvas, you have missed the point. Remember to also look at the background to see what else is going on in the painting. Never forget the context,” she points out.
Kamerling says that industrial supply chains are so interwoven with modern societies and so complex that merely addressing one part produces unintended consequences somewhere else, possibly leaving even more problems in its wake. She stresses that she is not someone who believes in less regulation necessarily, but that a lot of current regulation fails to look at the matter at hand comprehensively and in a nuanced manner.
"Industrial supply chains are so interwoven and complex that merely addressing one part produces unintended consequences somewhere else, possibly leaving even more problems in its wake."
“The call for better regulation is not a call to slow things down. In fact, it is a call to actually speed things up and in a way that is viable for all stakeholders. We can get to better regulation by working in partnership, creating alliances with those who possess the expertise, and examining the issue from a holistic point of view.”
Proposed solutions can be delivered by collaborating across the value chain
According to her, Huhtamaki has a role to play as an actor in the value chain, but that the company on its own cannot be responsible for improving all of it. No one organization has all the answers, and Kamerling underscores the need to work with others.
“We are a small player in comparison to the very large FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods companies). But the value we offer is that we are right in the middle of the value chain around packaging, so we can look upstream and downstream. That is precisely why we are the ones driving this conversation. We see this supply chain puzzle as a holistic problem, not a problem of parts.”
Huhtamaki proposes four key elements to driving the necessary change in alliance with stakeholders.
“First, we must examine where gaps exist in each country’s current circularity infrastructure then introduce policies and mechanisms to bridge these gaps and provide waste management and recycling systems that meet today’s needs. Second, policies should support continued innovation and competitive sustainability by creating a framework which provides incentives for innovation. Third, circular business models should encourage consumers to reuse, repair and recycle. Last and most important, we are far more likely to deliver the best environmental outcomes by ensuring facts and evidence are the foundation for consumer behavior, decision-making and regulation.”
Call for action on end of life cycle management
Kamerling recognizes that sustainability is a core issue and that Huhtamaki wants to be the leader that takes steps to actually do something about it. The company is in the process of forming a cross-industry coalition to push for the creation of general conditions for circular businesses to flourish in the European Union, enabled by better regulation.
“Together, we must look at what actions are required in each region or country to facilitate efficient material use, and to ensure that end-of-life solutions are not only attainable but more importantly, sustainable. After all, history will judge us by our actions, not our rhetoric.”