Sourcing Materials Sustainably

Seeking sustainability at the start

A large share of our environmental footprint can be attributed to our consumption of raw materials such as paper, chemicals and film. By establishing goals and policies for using materials that are sustainably extracted and produced, we’re aiming to reduce our own consumption of natural resources while helping our supply chains, customers and peers move toward greater sustainability as well.

Increasing Our Use of FSC-Certified Paper

2025 Goal: To source 100 percent certified claim paper, of which 70 percent will be Forest Stewardship Council–certified.

The world’s forests are critical to environmental and economic health, and our business depends on a sustainable paper supply. Since 2013, we’ve worked to purchase increasing amounts of paper made from fiber certified as sustainable. In particular, we buy paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), the “gold standard” in sustainable forestry, when possible.

In 2016, we procured nearly 900,000 tons of paper enterprise-wide. Of that volume, 45% percent was FSC-certified, 5% was certified to a standard endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification and 28% was assessed as low risk for key criteria such as forest conversion and traditional and civil rights. The certification claims for 93.8 percent of the paper we procured were validated by the Rainforest Alliance. The Rainforest Alliance also reviews the non-certified wood we purchased to ensure that it meets all five criteria for wood considered to be from acceptable sources and is not:

  • Illegally harvested wood.
  • Wood harvested in violation of cultural traditions and human rights.
  • Wood harvested in forests in which high conservation values are threatened by management activities.
  • Wood harvested in forests being converted to plantations or non-forest use.
  • Wood from forests in which genetically modified trees are planted.

Our Label and Graphic Materials (LGM) business buys paper mainly for the facestock and liners—the front and self-adhesive backing—of the labels it supplies for brands worldwide. In 2016, 60 percent of the face paper LGM procured was FSC®-certified. LGM has made especially strong progress in procuring FSC®-certified paper in Asia, where supply has historically been scarce. Globally, we’ve had greater success in sourcing FSC®-certified facestock than in sourcing FSC®-certified liners, but we’re on track to increase our supplies of certified liners over the next one to two years.

To meet increasing customer demand for labels made with sustainably sourced paper, our LGM business offers the industry’s largest selection of FSC®-certified products, which we are working to offer as part of our ClearIntent™ product portfolio. Our FSC®-certified products are especially popular in Europe, where two-thirds of the paper products we sell is FSC®-certified. Around the world, we offer our FSC®-certified products at the same cost as those made with non-certified paper, eliminating a key barrier to customer adoption.

Our Retail Branding and Information Solutions (RBIS) business is also using more FSC®-certified paper. The Rainforest Alliance validated our tracking of the pulp, origin and species of 62 percent of the 39,905 metric tons of paper our RBIS business purchased in 2016. Nearly 19,500 metric tons were FSC®-certified, and 5,668 metric tons came from other certified sources.

Exploring Alternatives for Chemicals and Film

2025 Goal: To ensure that 70 percent of the chemicals and film we buy will conform to, or will enable end products to conform to, our environmental and social guiding principles.

We want the materials we use in our products to have as little negative effect as possible on people and the planet, now and in the future. We’re sourcing chemicals and film that comply with the social and environmental principles we use to guide our business (see “Selling sustainability” here). Among these principles: Don’t pollute with extracted materials. And don’t pollute with manufactured materials.

We use a variety of petroleum-based films in our LGM business. Because there are so few alternatives, replacing them with more sustainable materials is a challenge. Our current strategy is to reduce the amount of film per label by downgauging—making labels lighter and thinner. We’re also committed to using recycled film as it becomes more widely available. And we’re working to employ renewable, bio-based film made from plants, such as the sugar-based, Bonsucro®-certified filmic facestock we use in our bio-based PE film product.

In our RBIS business, we use low-density polyethylene made from sugar cane for transport packaging. 

Our move toward sustainable films is in its early stages and is dependent on available technology. We’re working with customers, suppliers and other partners to develop solutions, and we expect to gain more traction over the next two to three years. 

Chemicals, meanwhile, are an essential ingredient in many of our products. We employ strict standards and take great care to ensure that they don’t cause harm in how they are extracted, manufactured or used in our products and our customers’ products.

Since 2015, we have maintained an enterprise-wide restricted substance list (RSL) program to guide us in the transition to chemicals with fewer environmental and health impacts. The first phase of our program focused on avoiding the use of RSL chemicals as we design new products. We’re now evaluating the use of these chemicals in our legacy products to consider better alternatives that are technically and economically feasible, with the evaluation expected to be complete by the end of 2018. In 2017, we’re working with our suppliers to identify where these chemicals may be present in our products and engaging them as partners in evaluating alternatives.

At the business-unit level, our RBIS business, in keeping with apparel industry standards, has a longstanding RSL program that requires its chemical suppliers to conform to a list of restricted substances that is even more extensive than our enterprise-level list. The list also delineates chemical concentration limits to avoid health hazards, harm to the environment and negative impact on the quality or performance of our products.

RBIS does not sell any products containing RBIS RSL substances. As part of its product development process, raw materials and finished products are tested against the RSL before being released. All of its raw materials suppliers are required to sign an agreement stating that they will comply with the RSL and policies for product testing. RBIS regularly audits suppliers to ensure compliance.

In compiling our RSL, we assess our products against a broad number of global regulations, such as European REACH, Restriction of Hazardous Substances, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act and hundreds of other regulations enforced by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, along with similar regulatory agencies in the other countries where we do business.

We consider regulatory compliance to be the bare minimum standard, and we look for ways to go beyond compliance to ensure the safety of our products. For example, our RBIS business is seeking bluesign® certification for several of its factories—the first, Collitex, in Italy, will be certified in 2017. The bluesign system sets stringent standards for the safe and environmentally sustainable manufacture of textiles, including strict criteria for chemical inputs. 

Our RBIS business also tests products before they ship to ensure that they have not inadvertently been contaminated by harmful substances listed in their RSL—a risk in any chemical-intensive manufacturing operation. In 2016, we conducted over 3,100 tests of our products and recorded only 13 failures. The rest of our company will begin testing products against the Avery Dennison RSL in 2018.

During 2017, we also began implementing manufacturing restricted substances lists (MRSLs) in several RBIS facilities. Our RBIS business will test against them at several facilities. An MRSL goes one step further than a product RSL; it restricts substances present in finished products and any that might be discharged into the air, water or ground during manufacturing or the operation and maintenance of our facilities. In implementing our MRSLs, RBIS is following a process developed by the ZDHC Foundation (roadmaptozero.com), an NGO dedicated to achieving zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in the textile and footwear value chain. We intend to have MRSLs in place at all RBIS facilities by 2020 and at facilities enterprise-wide soon afterward.