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Start Small: Low-Cost, Low-Waste Labels Can Make a Big Impact

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Sustainability doesn’t always have to be a hefty investment.

For apparel brands that don’t know where to begin tackling sustainability, starting small can be a great way to build out a more eco-friendly supply chain.

As brands prioritize using more sustainable raw materials, adopting circularity initiatives or setting science-based targets, they often overlook labeling as an area for quick improvement.

And while sustainable labels may be a cost-effective means to reduce waste, developing these labels also reflects a deeper, more holistic commitment to brand sustainability goals, according to Jimmy Christopher, group sustainability officer at apparel labeling and packaging solutions provider ITL Group.

“You’re considering the whole package,” Christopher said. “You’re not just making an organic cotton T-shirt and then having an unsustainable label. Some people might even consider that greenwashing as well, because you’re marketing only one sustainable aspect [of your production].”

In a recent fireside chat with Sourcing Journal founder and president Edward Hertzman, Christopher cited a 2015 Ellen MacArthur report to reveal how much labels are overlooked in the waste disposal process. Seventy-three percent of apparel either goes into landfills or is incinerated, highlighting all the labels would have gone with them, he said.

Unfortunately, label waste is rarely considered during the apparel manufacturing process, Christopher said, or when it is, it’s often too late.

In the chat, Sabine Watson, ITL Group’s global brand manager, said brands too often wait until the end of product development to consider their labels. This often stretches label suppliers for time, forcing a quick turnaround and removing sustainability from the equation.

Meanwhile, brands often don’t have the production expertise to ask questions about optimal label sizing, she said.

“There’s no real opportunity to have that consultative approach throughout the label design process,” said Watson. “That means the label supplier has to just take the brand’s label design and go with it, which doesn’t always create the most sustainable labels.”

“When a brand or retailer designs the label, they’re only thinking about how it needs to look and what it needs to say,” Watson said.

With its award-winning intelligenTM product re-engineering platform, ITL Group manufactures sustainable labels for brands early in product development, rather than waiting until the end.

Offered as a free-to-use service, intelligenTM, re-designs a customer’s current label or packaging design with small dimensional changes to minimize raw material use.

ITL’s product engineers study a brand’s traditional label design and determine how to improve it, before resizing the label.

While tag dimensions vary, intelligenTM provides different sample label options showing cost comparisons, raw material saving statistics and impact on natural resources to help brands understand how these changes can minimize environmental impacts and costs. In one example, Watson displayed the below two labels and explained how the “Better” resized label can help a brand reduce its environmental impact.

In describing the company’s “Better” label sample, “we’ve managed to fit more labels on a big sheet of paper,” Watson said. By going from 140 labels per sheet to 176 labels per sheet, ITL has “saved roughly 1,400 sheets of paper,” which in turn diminishes the label’s carbon footprint and uses less water and energy.

But ITL can go even deeper from a materials standpoint, Watson explained. The cost-savings generated from the “Better” label can be reinvested into using a more sustainable material for the “Best” label; furthering the label’s eco-friendly attributes. In the example, she shows that the “Best” option has the same dimensions as the “Better” label, but uses a 50 percent recycled paper instead of a virgin board.

"Better" vs. "Best" label examples

“Better” vs. “Best” label examples

Watch the video to learn more about the opportunities that exist in sustainable labeling. Learn more about ITL Group and intelligenTM here.

For more information, contact Jimmy Christopher at jimmy.christopher@itl-group.com and Sabine Watson sabine.watson@itl-group.com.

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