By Kaushal Shah, CEO and Founder of envoPAP
Big corporations have realised that if it’s bad for the world, then it will be bad for business. The problem is that the world is trying to solve the single-use plastic problem with products made using tree-paper; this solution is inherently problematic because it’s accelerating deforestation and only compounding our climate crisis.
We collectively use eight million tons of plastic each year, which ends up in our oceans. 1.5 acres of forest are cut down every second and that’s equivalent to 98,181 football fields lost everyday. The rate of environmental degradation is evidently abysmal and the time is ripe for moving on to alternative materials that can replicate at scale the functions of these traditionally used materials.
I come from a family of paper producers in India – a country that is the second-largest producer of sugarcane. The leftovers from sugarcane, known as ‘bagasse’ have been burnt by Indian farmers and sugar mills to generate electricity – causing significant air and land pollution.
While studying at the University of Southampton in 2015, I found an innovative way to re-use this agricultural waste and revolutionise paper and packaging products; envoPAP.
EnvoPAP utilises the waste fibres from sugarcane by cooking, pressing and drying them to create new materials, in a carbon-neutral process. Compared to tree-based paper (the most common in Europe), envoPAP materials have been certified by Intertek – a global quality assurance leader, for a carbon footprint reduction of 38%. When the same functions can be achieved at a fraction of the environmental costs, it’s a no-brainer.
The additional benefit in reusing existing raw materials is that it has the potential to transform local communities for the better by creating new wealth for their agricultural waste and increasing local knowledge of responsible waste-disposal techniques.
A business need only make a simple switch to make a considerable difference. For example, when a major UK bank switched their company envelopes from wood-paper to reused sugarcane materials it starting saving the equivalent of 50,000 trees a year. In another case, one of Europe’s biggest airline groups is trailing reused sugarcane paper for its in-flight magazine, which will significantly reduce its carbon-footprint.
So far, this innovative approach has saved more than 760,000 trees globally and has a goal of saving one million by the end of 2020.
Once a business has found the right materials, the next challenge is working with the right suppliers and managing their integration in existing supply chains.
We know that our global emissions are dangerously high. Combined with alarming rates of deforestation and plastic pollution, it’s really bad news for our planet. But there is some respite; Governments around the world are banning plastic products and consumer demand is driving corporations to make more responsible choices. FMCG companies are collectively responsible for over a third of global greenhouse gas emissions and increasingly looking for offsetting measures.
The European print and packaging market alone is over £100 Billion and sustainable material alternatives are set to become the norm. With UK and EU bans on plastic straws, cutlery, plates and cotton buds around the corner, the stage is set for a material revolution. Sustainable companies around the world are stepping up to the plate and helping deliver a greener future.
Just like sustainability; sustainable or ethical investments are gaining important momentum in the UK and presently there are over 120 sustainable investments funds available in the country. According to the EIRIS Foundation, investments in the UK ethical funds went up from £19 Billion in 2018 to £23.5 Billion in 2019. As we become more aware of the impacts of our investments, it is equally important to beware of companies that misuse terms like ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco-friendly’ to green-wash practices that harm the environment.
Earlier this year, envoPAP became a certified B Corporation and joined the likes of Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia and The Body Shop in meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. I hope in the coming days, all companies will aspire to pass the strict B Corp audit and endorse their support to the triple bottom line- people, planet and profit.
Current environmental concerns and the rising need for sustainable practices should be a major driver for our work. Our ambition should be to empower businesses so they improve the sustainability of their supply chains by replacing all the single-use plastics and wood-based paper with sustainable agro-waste materials. Not only does it make good business sense, it’s the only way ahead.