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'Put a Box Around It': Helen Sahi on Avery Dennison's Approach to Innovation, Partnerships, Sustainability

Avery Dennison has collaborated with UK non-profit The Sustainable Angle on "future fabrics" innovations recently showcased at the Future Fabrics Expo. | Image credit: The Sustainable Angle

Core to Avery Dennison’s long-term success is developing products and solutions that are sustainable for years to come. With the volume of materials it produces, how does the company deliver a positive environmental and social impact for its customers and the communities in which it operates? For Avery Dennison, it’s a core responsibility — and it all starts with sustainability.

Avery Dennison’s latest sustainability report, From the Inside Out, reveals some exciting news: The company is on track to meet (or exceed!) goals for 2015. Though its progress is strong, the company is looking ahead. For 2025, Avery Dennison has set eight bold goals ranging from transparency in reporting to sustainable chemical use across its products and solutions.

Here, Helen Sahi, who's leading the charge in sustainability at Avery Dennison and for the company’s Retail Branding and Information Solutions (RBIS) division, shared what’s in store for the company’s next 10 years.

What sets Avery Dennison’s 2025 sustainability goals apart from years past? What’s most exciting?

The exciting thing for me about our 2025 goals is that they’re science- and context-based. Historically, we’ve had great goals, but they were incremental. We were doing things better, but it wasn't based on the greater science of sustainability.

If you look at our greenhouse gas (GHG) goals, we’ve had reduction targets, but now they’re based on science, specifically The 3% Solution, an initiative to curb climate change. The report was developed by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to keep global warming at bay with a reduction in carbon emissions.

We based our paper goals on certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). In order to keep producing materials made from paper, we need trees. But we also need to preserve them.

What’s the biggest impact for Avery Dennison’s RBIS division?

As a global leader in apparel branding, labeling, packaging, embellishments, and RFID solutions, for RBIS the impact lies in our products, solutions and innovations, because everything else feeds into that. I look at products and solutions as the umbrella for everything — to make them, you need everything: paper, films, chemicals, operations, and people; and you need to be transparent about it.

There’s an old adage that says, “If you put a box around it, you’ll get more innovation.” Our box is our guiding principles. If we make products and solutions within those guardrails, they should all be more sustainable. And that’s everything from being transparent about what we’re doing from a social and production standpoint, to the materials we choose, to how we operate our facilities.

What are the key sustainability priorities for Avery Dennison RBIS in the immediate future?

What we’re working through now is how to meet corporate goals in 2016, ‘17 and ‘18 and what that means for RBIS. Currently, we’re evaluating our yarn supply, certified paper, and even alternatives to leather.

Who have you worked with to achieve and promote your sustainability goals for RBIS?

Partnering with the Sustainable Angle has been fantastic. They have the inside knowledge on sustainable materials and future fabrics that are in development across the world, enabling us to gain insight into the latest innovations. From there, RBIS determines how those materials align with our goals and guiding principles. Their consultants scour the world to discover these future fabrics that span fish skins to mushroom fibers to oyster shells. We then have the opportunity to build these into our innovation pipelines to develop branding solutions for our customers.

We’re also a founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, measuring sustainability performance to address inefficiencies, preventing damaging environmental actions, and achieving the environmental and social transparency that consumers are demanding. We have competitors, manufacturers and NGOs sitting in a room working toward a measure to standardize environmental, social and product sustainability.

We’ve also been working with emerging designer Christopher Raeburn on various sustainability initiatives across his collections, featuring core branding and high-definition woven labels made from recycled yarns.

What’s in store for 2016? What are you most looking forward to?

We want everyone to realize that sustainability isn’t a separate initiative. It’s really who we are from our culture to our solutions, and something we all need to activate. We want everyone to participate in our sustainability journey going forward and innovate with that sustainability lens. We’re looking at sustainability holistically instead of just pieces of the puzzle.

We’re on a path of discovery on how we’re going to meet all of the 2025 goals and to me that’s the exciting part. People who are innovative and creative are encouraged to come up with even better solutions; what we’re doing is pushing people’s limits.


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]