In 1935, Avery Dennison’s founder, Ray Stanton (“Stan”) Avery got a $100 loan for a new idea about how stores could display prices on their products. What started as a small labeling company has become one of the world’s top suppliers of labeling and packaging materials used in every major market and industry. The company is now working with the Rainforest Alliance and leveraging its position as an industry leader to catalyze a sustainable transformation in the global paper products sector. We spoke with Dean A. Scarborough, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Avery Dennison, about the company’s efforts to protect the environment and support local communities.
What does sustainability mean to Avery Dennison?
We measure success by the social, environmental and economic value we create. Sustainability is the smart thing for us to do, as well as the right thing. You can’t run an enterprise for the long term if you aren’t doing it in a sustainable way. And it’s consistent with a basic economic truth: businesses are created to provide solutions for unmet needs. If we innovate to meet a societal need, all stakeholders will reap the benefits.
What are some of your major sustainability initiatives?
Our sustainability goals have evolved from a set of initiatives to a core business strategy. We’re focused on using our scale and purchasing power to move the entire labeling and packaging industry to use more responsibly sourced materials. And we’re in a unique position to bring together a full range of stakeholders to work on solutions that benefit everyone.
At the same time, we’re continuing to reduce the environmental impact of our operations and products. In our manufacturing facilities, we’re driving efficiencies in energy, greenhouse gas emissions, materials and waste. In fact, one of our long term goals is to achieve zero waste to landfill from our manufacturing operations and address the downstream waste impacts associated with self-adhesive labeling materials.
Why did Avery Dennison choose to work with the Rainforest Alliance?
As a leader in labeling and packaging materials and solutions, we have a responsibility to help our customers and our industry become more sustainable. In 2013, we turned to the Rainforest Alliance to help us develop a responsible paper sourcing policy with the ultimate goal of sourcing all of our paper products sustainably without increasing our costs.
Last year, a number of my colleagues and I joined Tensie Whelan and the Rainforest Alliance team on a trip to Guatemala and Brazil to see sustainable forestry in action. I have to say, it was one of the most inspiring business trips I have ever taken. We went to the Maya Biosphere Reserve and visited an indigenous community. I saw how the Rainforest Alliance had helped them develop a plan to manage their forest for long-term sustainable growth.
This led us to work with the Rainforest Alliance to launch a similar program in Honduras. The Avery Dennison Foundation has made a multi-year grant to the Rainforest Alliance to help Honduran communities build their marketing and operations expertise in sustainable forest management.
Why was this particular location chosen for the project?
Honduras has the highest deforestation rate in Latin America. While this presents a major challenge, a historic process of land titling is underway in the country’s Moskitia region, where the bulk of forests remain. This offers an unprecedented opportunity to conserve forests to power local economic growth. However, to hold back deforestation and build local enterprises like we saw in the Petén region of Guatemala, communities need extensive support. We will be supporting the Rainforest Alliance’s work in Honduras to strengthen organizational capacities among local groups, promote best practices in forestry management in line with FSC certification and diversify the forest products value chain to access new markets. Only through such an integrated approach can strong locally-controlled enterprises take root and stand as a counterweight to forest conversion.
What has been the greatest challenge in adopting a more sustainable supply chain?
A major hurdle is the industry’s mindset. There were two big myths about sustainability we had to overcome. The first is that it costs more. It’s just not true. In fact, there are sustainable solutions that we provide today to help make supply chains run more efficiently. We don’t have to spend extra money. The fact is that solutions that are sustainable ecologically but not economically aren’t solutions. Part of our innovation process is to find ways to preserve the planet but to do so in a way that people can still buy and use the products they want. That’s the real magic here.
The second myth is that it’s too hard. Of course, it takes planning and hard work, but the real challenge is doing things differently and thinking in new ways. Once you embrace that notion, it opens up new possibilities and opportunities for innovation. We know there will be challenges, but we also know it’s achievable. And as we learn, we gain insights that we can share with our customers and suppliers. The momentum for becoming a more sustainable business is only growing.
What have been the impacts of your sustainability initiatives?
Our pursuit of a more sustainable future is having far-reaching consequences. Manufacturing efficiently uses less material and creates less waste, reducing both costs and environmental impact. Using renewable resources, and finding lower-impact alternatives, can help ensure that we have future access to the materials from which we make our products. Employing people in fair, safe and ethical environments and offering them opportunities for training and advancement enhances their lives and communities — and helps them be more productive and creative on the job.
We’re discovering the powerful ripple effect of our actions on global value chains, from cotton farm to retail mall, manufacturing plant to grocery shelf, and rainforest to landfill. It’s exhilarating and humbling at the same time. For a company like ours, with materials, products and solutions that touch virtually every major industry (and, through them, billions of consumers) there is always more to do. Much more.