Sustainability is so much more than a “hot topic” in manufacturing these days. It is a movement, a critical area of focus, and a priority driven by consumer demand that is resulting in many companies rethinking their processes and materials and taking action to be more sustainable.
More and more, companies are working together to ensure more sustainable measures are adopted and implemented. So, we collaborated with GS1 US, a not-for-profit standards body and member of the international GS1 organization that develops and maintains its own standards for barcodes, to help share sustainability information widely. GS1 US believes sustainability is powered by digitalization and visibility across the product lifecycle and its standards create a common language for organizations to share data seamlessly.
In today’s blog, we interviewed Vivian Tai, Director of Innovation at GS1 US, to tap into her knowledge on how manufacturers are seeking out innovations that support circular economy and align with overall sustainability. Tai shares her predictions on this topic and how sustainability in the supply chain may impact future labeling.
Jenna Wagner (JW), TEKLYNX: How would you describe sustainability in manufacturing?
Vivian Tai (VT), GS1: Sustainability in manufacturing means that the processes are designed to be exceptionally low to non- polluting, while inputs of energy and resource consumption are minimized. From a supply chain perspective, it means more responsible and transparent sourcing practices as well. As for labeling, it could be using materials or ingredients that are biodegradable or non-toxic to the environment.
JW: What trends are you seeing around sustainability in the supply chain and manufacturing?
VT: We’re in a pivotal moment where brands, retailers, and consumers are seeing that sustainability can only be achieved when there is alignment and accountability upstream and downstream in the supply chain, extending beyond manufacturing and past the point of consumption. Digital product passports, digital twins, and extended producer responsibility (EPR) are all symptomatic of a greater need in supply chains, which requires visibility and traceability to have accountability in supply chains.
JW: What do you feel is the driving force around sustainability gaining more focus and attention in manufacturing and the supply chain?
VT: Consumer demand – and more specifically, where they vote with their dollars - is probably one of the most impactful drivers of sustainability in supply chains. There is a greater awareness and concern for where our products come from, how the products are sourced, and what impact it has on the lives of those upstream, which has created a spotlight on manufacturing and the supply chain.
According to Forbes, "In the two years since First Insight’s first report on Gen Z and sustainability was published, Gen X consumers’ preference to shop sustainable brands increased by nearly 25% and their willingness to pay more for sustainable products increased by 42%. In fact, consumers across all generations—from Baby Boomers to Gen Z—are now willing to spend more for sustainable products. Just two years ago, only 58% of consumers across all generations were willing to spend more for sustainable options. Today, nearly 90% of Gen X consumers said that they would be willing to spend an extra 10% or more for sustainable products, compared to just over 34% two years ago."
JW: What do you see as the role of labeling for sustainability today and into the future?
VT: There will be a greater demand for information that can be accessible via labels. Consumers will expect access to contextually relevant information about products, such as: certifications, sourcing information, or even environmental impact disclosures, to inform purchasing decisions. At the same time, brands will find solutions that enable them to tell compelling stories for sustainability actions they are taking.
This increase in demand for more information will change the future of labels and will evolve for this specific purpose. Different areas in the supply chain will require different types of labelling - in some instances, when we are looking towards first to second mile or in the post-consumer side of the supply chain, there may be benefits to using sensors, nanotechnologies, or biotechnologies for unique identification. The transition from 1D to 2D (such as QR codes), a GS1 US industry effort dubbed Sunrise 2027, will be critical and immensely valuable because the amount of data contained in 2D can unleash a wealth of consumer engaging experiences and opportunities.
Sustainability is an investment for the future and labels will be the gateway to communicating this information.
JW: What are your predictions on the shift in global standards as they relate to the topic of sustainability?
VT: Global standards will be better leveraged as a means of global collaboration; by leveraging standards, organizations can communicate with the same, consistent language when it comes to sustainability. I predict that global standards will shift to meet the more specific demands for sustainability attributions, certifications, and disclosures.
JW: What advice do you have for companies in manufacturing and the supply chain who are looking to be more sustainable?
VT: Start with why, and then what and how will follow. Sustainability is not a one-off commitment – it is a substantial undertaking that will require a genuine sense of accountability and optimism for the future. Sustainability in supply chains requires thinking systemically and a fundamental paradigm shift towards reducing extraction, exploitation, miles, and impact, while creating better practices that will ensure environmental stewardship, human development, and economic opportunities.
The topic of sustainability will continue to gain more traction and attention. Labeling has a critical role to play in this movement by being the gateway to consumers for information and disclosures on sustainability efforts, which will help guide the consumer in their purchasing decisions.
Let's chat about your labeling goals or learn more about how labeling can help improve the transparency around your products, be more agile to shifts in global standards and requirements, and reduce waste.
Vivian is the Director of Innovation at GS1 US, leading the exploration on Circular Economy and Sustainability. She researches, incubates, and pilots emerging technology solutions that have mass market adoption potential in the next 1 – 10 years. As a passionate advocate for standards, circularity, and sustainability, she believes that the power of globally unique identification will help enable more resilient supply chains.
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