2017 has been a year of record storms and hurricanes. In August and September, the hurricanes lined up in the Atlantic and entered into populated areas one after another. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US reports that the statistics show an upward trend, also correlating to the size and magnitude of these hurricanes. The statistical data show uncertainties during the period from 1880s to 2016, but NOAA believes that the trend (based on research) shows a significant increase both in frequency and magnitude going forward. Why do I start my blog post on a nanocellulose blog with this? Well, because the link NOAA put between the Atlantic hurricane trends and global warming is obvious.
And how can we cope? It will take major shifts in how we consume products and live our lives. My goal is to give you some of my thoughts on the trends that will shape the demand structure for your products in the near future, and how this relates to a more sustainable circular economy.
CO2 emissions, climate change and speed of change on technology
There are a lot of views on if the CO2 emissions from activities based on petrochemicals are affecting our climate. Even though there seems to be some statistical uncertainty on how the emissions are affecting our climate, a lot of the demand structures are gradually changing. There are some companies leading the focus on creating a society with less consumption of non-renewable/less renewable energy. One of these are Tesla. 14 years ago, Tesla positioned themselves as an electric car manufacturer, focusing mainly on the development of these. In these 14 years, the company has developed to focus more on supplying customers with a complete set of tools “to create an entire sustainable energy ecosystem". Their new roof panels and battery packages is giving an opportunity to in theory be completely independent of the power supply grid (thus creating energy from solar sources, and not coal or other less renewable alternatives). The technology has developed so fast that a roof which looks completely similar to an ordinary one, is now available to the broad masses (cost wise). And this is the key to driving solid sustainable innovations to the market.
The new alternatives needs to bring new technologies to the market in a pace which quickly turn them into affordable solutions. We can see that this speed of change is going increasingly faster, with the initiatives like China seems to take on electrifying their car park. All these end-user consumption changes gives opportunities to the supply chain. Using the example of Tesla, Tesla need an improved process for making their batteries in a more sustainable way, they need new materials that are sourced from natural sources, they need advanced coatings, adhesives, barrier enhancers, etc. to enable them to supply their technological leaps. The challenge for the supply chains is thus to be able to supply companies like Tesla with innovative and quality technologies. This, in my mind, determines the pace of innovation, and the majority of the pressure comes from the demand in the markets (consumers and the producers selling to them).
Example from the world of home deliveries
We are ordering an increasing number of food (groceries) delivered at home. The food we buy, the way that its stored, and the way its delivered is setting the standards for how it’s packed. Currently available technologies are in many ways still based on plastics from petrochemicals, partly due to their functionalities, but also quite related to the cost of these materials. Its new and more novel alternatives are young technologies, often with a higher cost of purchase (but not always cost in use), are not that frequently used. In addition, the amount of packaging waste (based on plastics) has increased to a high level. But substituting can be challenging. The uncertainty can at sometimes be how much more efficient (both environmentally and economically) it is to utilize the plastics we already have in circulation, compared to take this plastic completely out of service and replace with new materials. This transition will in my opinion take time, because the economics, performance and demand drive needs to be there at the same time.
As an example ordering of groceries and products to our doorstep is increasing, and so does the amount of packaging needed (to keep food cooled etc.). We, as consumers, can make a difference, by actually choosing products which have packaging with improved sustainability performance. But at the end of the day, you and me as professionals, supplying consumers with products, need to step up and take the challenge of introducing new, better performing materials. If we cannot deliver better alternatives, the speed of the green change everyone refers to will go slower. And remember, we are aiming at maximum 2 °C increase on average (Paris agreement), which we are about to reach relatively fast if we continue with the current consumption patterns, according to the experts.
So, lets join forces, open our minds, improve the speed of our innovation cycles and find the benefits of technological advances. I am confident that we are in for a very interesting and demanding ride.
PS! If you want to read more of my thoughts on innovation, my previous blog post on the subject might be of interest to you.