A point of sale and display material design and manufacturing company, which creates marketing materials for the retail industry, has laid down a sustainability strategy it believes is imperative for the future of its business, write Chris Hewitt and Tim Edmunds
Fires swept through Europe this summer season, setting records for wildfire destruction; the United Kingdom recorded the highest temperatures ever… 28 years before scientists’ estimates that it would reach temperatures of above 40 degrees Celsius in 2050. Eight to 10 tons of plastic pollution enters the world’s oceans annually. According to research published by UNESCO, by 2050 it could outweigh all the fish in the sea.
Cut to South Africa and Durban, home of H+A, our POS design and manufacturing company. The city and the province of KwaZulu-Natal are still mopping up after deadly floods killed over four hundred people, destroyed critical infrastructure, swept away homes and triggered mudslides. Estimates put the damage at over R17-billion.
If businesses haven’t realised by now that climate change is a reality and that changing the way we think, work, create, design, and engage with clients and brands is not just a nice-to-have but an imperative, they most certainly won’t be around come 2050.
But what does all this mean for profits and economic growth? Unilever CEO Alan Jope says, “One of the most dangerous mindsets in the world is to set up a false dichotomy between sustainability and economic growth.”
Post-pandemic consumers are rethinking the products and services they use. Generation Z cares more about sustainable buying decisions than brand names, a new survey by First Insight and the Baker Retailing Centre at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania shows.
A World Economic Forum article in its Shaping the Future of Consumption series points out than Gen Z’s views influence other age groups to change their buying behaviour. “Spending on sustainable brands and products by Generation X – those born between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s – has increased by 24% since 2019. And the behaviour of other groups has followed a similar trend,” it says.
So, are brands driving the changes or are consumers forcing brands to change? It is probably a bit of both. But what is abundantly clear is that this is not passing trend.
At H+A our motto is, “Use no more than you need, tread lightly, and leave the smallest footprint possible.” It is this that underpins our commitment to green practices for ourselves, our clients, and their consumers.
That said, embedding a sustainability ethos into our company wasn’t easy or cheap. Make no mistake, committing to sustainability is a long-term investment. It cannot be half-hearted, or a ‘greenwash’. It is all encompassing, from how you work within your office environment to how you design and manufacture your products. It is an ongoing learning experience, one that you must stay on top of.
For us, it started at ‘home.’ In designing our new Mount Edgecombe offices, we set aside 15% of the footprint for trees and garden, (10% higher than the norm required). We use cognitive, energy-efficient lighting throughout our premises and ridgeline venting for greater climate control. Over 40% of our daily power requirements come from renewables and 50% of our factory roof is covered by 392 Solar PV panels. These power our factory and studio for an even lower municipal electricity supply.
On the water front, we harvest rainwater for our greywater system that cuts our municipal water use by 30%. This water is also used for cleaning and keeps our indigenous garden looking lush all year round. Where products are concerned, we rely on biodegradable options for hygiene and cleaning purposes.
We should all take heed of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s point that, “A circular economy challenges us to consider waste and pollution as design flaws.” We are determined to be a part of this thinking – a circular economy eliminates waste and pollution, circulates products and materials at their highest value, and helps regenerate nature. We make every effort to ‘design out’ waste at the concept stage.
We make sure from the outset that our products and materials are designed to be reused, repaired, and remanufactured as 80% of environmental impacts are made at the design stage. Both our temporary installations, manufactured from paper and cardboard, and our permanent metal and plastic display structures, are subject to the same scrutiny.
Wherever possible, H+A repurposes waste in a way that minimises pollution, and choose to use environmentally sustainable raw materials that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international certification and labelling system that promotes environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically prosperous management of the world’s forests.
Then, we go one step further by using cardboard (with a minimum recycled portion of 64%) for the lowest environmental impact possible. With 60% less CO2 and oil emissions compared to other materials, it’s an easy decision for us. It’s also 100% recyclable and biodegradable, with corrugated cardboard breaking down completely within 12 months at the very most. In using recycled cardboard, we can still maintain durability and resistance, allowing us to meet production standards without ever compromising on quality.
The company is also working on two other aspects in our design and value chain – a biodegradable biopolymer that will give clients an eco-friendly and compostable option that would replace plastic display components, and the collection of retail marketing material to ensure the material is properly disposed of.
We also believe the paper industry gets a bad rap much of the time. Worth R3.8 billion in South Africa, it includes the growing and harvesting of trees, manufacturing of paper products and recycling that provides jobs for around 150 000 people. Our commercial forests capture an estimated 20 million tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, while releasing 15 million tons of oxygen. In supporting forestry, we can help keep the green lungs of the earth going strong.
For H+A, which multinational clients and whose recent partnership with Provantage has added significantly more to its roster, practicing sustainability is key to its success. We have international clients that will only deal with companies that have sustainable business practices. The pressure to offer sustainable solutions is growing. This is going well beyond ticking a scorecard now.
What is clear is that for businesses, the climate has moved beyond ‘profit vs. purpose’ to ‘profit with purpose.’
Tim Edwards and Chris Hewitt are joint managing directors of marketing and retail specialist H+A, a global award-winning business with 20 years’ experience.