An Expo West Recap from OSC2
For the past few years we have been witnessing a shift in consciousness and intention within the natural products community. The trend continued this year at Expo West. We were blown away by the number of people in attendance at the various workshops and education sessions, in addition to our annual convening on the show floor to see the ever growing variety of progressive natural products. This shift in consciousness toward a more authentic, proactive enviro/social responsibility created a palpable atmosphere of sharing that far transcended the competitive claims we have seen and heard in the past.
Mike Forbes, CEO of Alter Eco, told me, “I don’t remember going to panels a few years ago…now I am contemplating bringing our whole team to Expo; just to learn.” And Jeremiah McElwee of Thrive Market observed, “I’m seeing a seismic shift – with a big shout out to New Hope. The work of OSC2 used to be an underground movement aimed at bucking dated systems and extractive ideologies. Now a lot of that work has become a mainstream part of Expo.”
I spent more than five active days at Expo West and barely had time to visit member booths and happy hours, and sample all the exciting new products: hemp oils, turmeric elixirs, MCT products, keto bars, deep dark truffles, and so much more. This year our goal was to share learnings with the broader natural products community in three focus areas: Climate Action, Packaging, and our latest initiative, Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (JEDI).
My jaw dropped as I walked into a nearly full ballroom for Climate Day on Tuesday morning.
Our aim with the Climate Collaborative, a project of OSC2 and SFTA, was to reframe the climate conversation, from one of fear and blame to that of hope and action. We believe that inspiration and education is the key to deepening our industry’s commitment to cooperative, climate-beneficial business practices.
Three years ago, New Hope said they wanted to partner with us to create Climate Day, but that the event had to take place before the show opened. I wasn’t sure anyone would show up, but we took a leap of faith, and much to my surprise, people turned up en mass. When we moved Climate Day up to Tuesday this year, I wondered again if we would have critical mass of climate champions, or if the room would be full of lost people looking for a CBD session! But like sun, the climate crew showed up early and filled the room with light and energy. This is a testament of the potential for our industry to make meaningful progress on important issues like climate, and to the quality content produced by the Climate Collaborative team.
The momentum and energy grew throughout the day. Tom Chi was a crowd favorite with his look at radical innovation and how we need to break apart sometimes before we can come back together. He challenged us as humans to reconsider our approach to consumption. Ants for instance, collectively weigh a lot more than we humans, yet they regenerate more than they take collectively.
Without knowing it, Tom spoke to our work at the OSC2 Packaging Collaborative. He shared that there is no viable abatement plan for petroleum-derived plastic waste. He went on to share that the plastics being made today will still be here in 500 years. Tom challenged big CPG companies to take a leadership role in piloting alternative materials like algae, hemp, even dandelion derived bio-plastic. And he challenged smaller companies to take a leadership role in leaning toward to stuff that can work today, such as compostables, cellulose-based, and post-consumer recycled materials.” (note: OSC2 Packaging Collaborative has both work-streams in place; we test and learn on materials available today and are championing design innovation work toward farther out solutions!). Chi received big applause when he challenged all of us – companies to consumers – to “…just pay the extra 4 cents for better solutions!.”
No doubt Climate Day peaked as a true climate and business hero, Yvon Chouinard delivered his thoughtful and rousing keynote conversation. I am still thinking about his remarks on the importance of grazing to keep our microbiota and our planet strong and how organic agriculture doesn’t necessarily improve the current climate situation, which is why he has chosen to focus on regenerative organic.
Couldn’t make it to Climate Day this year or want to share it with a friend? Watch the full recording here.
On Wednesday morning I sat on the keynote panel, Current and Future State of Food, to discuss my favorite topic…radical collaboration. Beyond sharing the success of Climate Day and the now 357 climate committed companies in our industry, I also had the chance to share our Packaging Collaborative work.
While this is an arduous journey that requires technology acceleration, more competitive pricing, and the pioneering goodwill of folks willing to bear risk and price, we are at an inflection point as more brands are committing to rethinking their packaging.
Three things have marked this inflection. In January 2018 the Ellen MacArthur Foundation announced that the list of leading multinational brands, retailers, and packaging companies working towards using 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier has grown to 11, including Loreal, Mars, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Wal-Mart. That’s a huge leap forward!
This past fall, the EU commission approved a ban on single-use plastics in 10 areas, citing a report on coastal biodiversity issues and a huge cost they had calculated to address this plastics issue. Since these reports were released, many large CPG companies have announced their own commitments to work toward 100% reusable/compostable/recyclable packaging by 2025.
In our own industry, OSC2 Packaging Collaborative continued to make progress with our partners on testing new compostable materials across a wide range of major ingredients. We also had some exciting new additions to the group, including Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, The Grove, and Dr. Bronner’s. We were further bolstered when Whole Foods Market announced sustainable packaging and the OSC2 Packaging Collaborative one of the top trends of 2019.
All this has fostered more demand and inquiry right as we see materials improve and pricing fall. This year, we expect to see new companies introduce novel and brave packaging. One of the things I heard and also shared was the pervasive petroleum based flexible bar packaging. This has the potential to be the next plastic straw or bottled water. It is so widely used and discarded, and we now have identified viable compostable solutions for small form wrappers. Just pay the 4 cents! Larger companies can drive scale, improved technology and lower pricing on this kind of packaging in particular and I hope that Mars, Kelloggs, Clif Bar, and others start to open source their work on this kind of packaging.
Tom Chi, who was in the audience at this Current and Future State of Food panel, asked me if we could meet to talk about packaging innovation. He summed it up so well….”It (the packaging industry) is a highly efficient. Efficiency works by minimizing innovation.” Packaging is ripe for disruption. We need to break it apart and put it back together in a new way.
Following this talk, I moved over to an SFTA curated summit with the Climate Collaborative, OSC2, PCC markets, and many sustainable leaders. We further discussed the need for flexible packaging commitment and innovation and also heard a good talk from Tony Rossi at LOOP. LOOP are disrupting packaging in another interesting and complimentary way by turning throw-away packaging into durable and attractive reusable structures. If we cannot make the package from plant-based materials, then for heaven’s sake, let’s build it to have lasting value.
But something during these panels and discussions continued to bother me. There was a lot of fear that compostable packaging is not good enough yet and that there is not enough end of life infrastructure (ie. compost capture and processing streams). I get pretty frustrated with these comments because it feels like an excuse to wait for someone else to take the risk. We are in a game of wait and see; compromising incremental progress as we wait for someone to hand us a perfect option. This shoots us all in the foot. Infrastructure will not expand and scale will not be realized unless we begin feeding the system with renewable and compostable materials. I fear that LCA’s and extensive sustainability experience may undermine progress rather than foster real industry and global advancement. As my Packaging Collaborative partner Jeanne Cloutier says, “Cellulose-based and compostable solutions will revert back to usable materials in the nutrient cycle when they are back in the environment from which they came (O2, water, microbial life).”
7th Annual Community Breakfast
Packaging, Climate, and Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (JEDI) conversations continued on Friday as we gathered the extended OSC2 community at our HOUSEpitality Suite near the convention center. I got to hang with another one of my heros….Mike Dirnt from Greenday. They have not only made great rock and roll, but are taking a real stand to build a compostable packaging system for coffee that they invite others to join.
Some highlights included a morning breathing meditation lead by Ahmed Rahim – the beauty of 147 of us pausing in unity was overwhelming – and compostable and renewable breakfast thanks to Sambazon acai bowls , Oakland Coffee, New Barn Almond Milk, Alter Eco Truffles, Numi Mint Tea, REBBL Elixirs, Bread SRSLY gluten-free sourdough topped with Miyoko’s vegan butter and cream cheese. We ate well and produced zero trash!
We celebrated the success and growth of our Rising Star CEO’s….the graduation of Miyoko Schinner to the Core CEO group and the evolution of All Good Organics as they celebrated their one year anniversary with OSC2. And we announced seven additions to the OSC2 community, including New Barn, Cannacraft, Bread SRSLY, Bhakti Chai, Clif Family, Llano Seco, and The Town Kitchen.
We also shared a sneak peek of our JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion) project, which has the potential, like the Climate Collaborative, to evolve our industry’s capacity for system-level change. The biggest responsibility we have as an industry is to innovate, and we will never develop transformative solutions without diversity of thought and perspective. Right now, we are not doing great job on addressing diversity as an industry. The good news is the support and reception to build a more diverse industry has been very positive. Not only are we moving way from mono-crops, but also monoculture! We announced our five OSC2 pilot companies: REBBL (and deep gratitude from Sheryl O’Loughlin for stepping up to partner and lead this project with me), Kuli Kuli, Bronners, Nutiva, and Guayaki!
A special shout out and thank you are most certainly in order to our Community Breakfast partners:
Larisa Rapoport and the team at Squar Milner
Brett Schafer and Jeanne Cloutier at Elk Packaging
Jake Hebert and the team at Futamura
Bill Acevedo, Richard Lyons, and the team at Wendell, Rosen, Black & Dean
Onward and many steps further together. With gratitude for our community and a fantastic (quite possibly best ever) Expo.
CoFounder & Executive Director, OSC2
More ways to engage:
Contact [email protected] to join the OSC2 Packaging Collaborative
Contact [email protected] to join our OSC2 Rising Star CEO Group
Contact [email protected] to join our Core CEO Group