Life Cycle Assessment

The environmental impact of labels and other packaging and decoration methods is of growing importance in customer decision-making when selecting the right product decoration method. Many label printers are struggling with the question how to respond to customer requirements when asked about environmental performance of their products. On the initiative of FINAT, the two leading trade associations for the label community, TLMI and FINAT, joined forces in a project to produce a harmonised LCA Guidance Document and sector approach.

Labels play a critical role in the sales and marketing of products. Meanwhile, the growing concern for the environment, combined with the visibility of labels, has led to an increasing number of requests from customers and stakeholders for insight into the environmental burdens created by labels. Parallel to this trend, a growing number of players in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector are integrating sustainability into their core business model.

Insight into environmental performance

As a result, an increasing number of them are asking suppliers to provide insight in their environmental performance. They are starting with their largest and most visible suppliers in the supply chain, but it is only a matter of time before they will also be looking into sustainability practices of smaller manufacturers of self-adhesive labels as well.

Big players in the self-adhesive industry have already recognised the advantage of a proactive approach to sustainability. They see sustainability as an opportunity to distinguish themselves from the competition and to start long-term collaboration with brands to help them reduce their environmental impact and waste streams.

Using Life Cycle Assessment

A first step for companies in this process is often to gain insight into the environmental performance of their products. One of the best ways to demonstrate how you are performing in terms of environmental impact is by using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is a widely recognised and scientifically sound method of measuring environmental impact. LCA takes into account the complete life cycle of a product, from the production of raw materials to the final disposal of the product at end of life. Thereby ensuring that potential impact is not transferred from one life cycle stage to another. It makes companies more aware of impact caused by upstream and/or downstream activities that might otherwise be overlooked.

‘Hotspots’: where you are and where you can improve

LCA is important because it gives insights into where environmental hotspots are and where there is an opportunity to improve. It is being used in the self-adhesive industry, amongst others, as a marketing tool, to steer product development and develop key performance indicators. LCA is not perfect and it can be a complex process. However, it is the only scientifically validated way to measure a product’s total environmental impact. If you want to change something, you need to measure it. You cannot define where you want to go or what you want to do in the future if you are unaware of your status quo. Once you start measuring, LCA provides a framework that tells you where you are and the ways you can improve in the future. The insights can be used in communication to customers, product development and CSR reports.

Harmonising LCA approaches for the label sector

Currently, various players in the labelling sector are taking different LCA approaches to measure their environmental performance or are orienting themselves on the usefulness of LCA for their respective companies. Especially for SMEs in the self-adhesive labels sector, it can be a bit daunting to begin using LCA. With that in mind, TMLI and FINAT joined together to develop a pre-competitive harmonised sector LCA approach to better align the industry with respect to this important process.

Tools developed include:

  • A guidance document that describes what LCA is and how it can be used in companies;
  • An overview of the state of art and practice, detailing how and if LCA is being used in the labelling sector;
  • Two case studies which show the environmental hotspots through the supply chain of a typical paper and PP self-adhesive label and the opportunities for improvement; and
  • A harmonised sector approach, which gives recommendations as to how to conduct an LCA for a self-adhesive label, and guidance about data sources.

These tools are available for all TLMI and FINAT members. They represent a first step toward making LCA more accessible to member companies, as well as helping to avoid situations in which members of FINAT and TLMI are sending conflicting messages because they are using different LCA methodologies. The FINAT and TLMI work is intended as pre-competitive starting point for all member companies and is in no way suited to identify which self-adhesive labels have a better overall environmental performance.