The opportunities of upstream innovation in the packaging industry

Annette Lendal is a circular economy expert, to say the least, passionate about upstream innovation. Her previous work includes the Ellen McArthur Foundation, where she dedicated her efforts and research to guide some of the biggest brands in the world on launching the circular economy for plastics. Annette is a two-time author in the areas of reuse business models and innovative packaging solutions. Most recently, she has co-founded Lab21st, a circular economy solution lab, based in Copenhagen.


October 4th she will take the stage at Scanpack Summit as the opening Keynote and share valuable insights about upstream innovation and its potential in the packaging industry.


Annette has always been dedicated to helping the environment and as part of her journey she joined the NGO Plastic Change sailing around the world to document plastic pollution.


– I was sailing the Pacific Ocean with a group of scientists and activists. We really realized that the extent of the problem is so enormous – both in quantity but also because of the fact that only a few percent of the plastic in the ocean is in the top where we can see it. The rest is lying at the bottom and slowly breaking down to microplastic. There is no point in trying to clean up. We need to move on land and try to close the tap. Like many NGOs and activists I went from wanting to save whales by cleaning up waste to working with the largest brands in the world, like Coca-Cola, responsible for that waste. I really realized the most impactful way of spending our time and resources is doing all we can to prevent waste from being created in the first place, says Annette.


Upstream innovation at its best


Today Annette’s work is focused on helping businesses get into action mode, inspiring them to use an upstream innovation mindset to rethink business models, product and packaging.


– In the context of a circular economy, upstream innovation means tracing the problem to the roots and handling it there. Rather than dealing with a pile of waste, why don’t we spend our resources preventing it from being created in the first place? Upstream innovation requires a shift in mindset, beyond focusing on incremental packaging improvements. It is about rethinking how we get products and services to users without creating waste.


And it isn’t just good for the environment, it’s a promising business opportunity. Upstream innovation solutions show you can for example cut costs and improve the user experience and customer loyalty. We see more and more brands and retailers realizing this and they are starting to invest in innovation and pilot projects. At Scanpack Summit I am going to talk about the reasons ‘why’ Upstream Innovation and give a lot of examples of how to do it.


Upstream innovation is essentially about rethinking how you deliver value to your users without generating waste. It means we need to step out of a narrow focus on incremental packaging improvements and recycling and really open up the solution space.


No more room for just talking


– SodaStream is a well-known example of upstream innovation. Instead of selling millions of bottles of water why not sell a device and let the user make and customize their own drinks at home. According to SodaStream their solution saves 87% CO2 compared to water in single-use packaging. Another example is to sell detergent and home care products in concentrated format the user mixes with water in a reusable bottle at home. Another example is the whole refill movement that is picking up pace. Supermarkets like ASDA, LIDL and Tesco sell food, detergent, drinks etc. in smart refill machines that allow the user to bring their own packaging, get the quantity they want and sometimes customize the smell or flavor of the product.


Annette emphasizes that there is no more room for just talking if we are to reverse the enormous climate and resource crises building up in front of us.


– Single use packaging does not currently reflect the cost for the environment or our system as a whole, but looking at the legislative winds that are picking up this is about to change. Doing business as usual will become expensive. Instead of sitting around waiting for new rules and regulations, let’s get ahead of it and start innovating ourselves out of the problem. I hope that I can inspire the listeners at Scanpack Summit to dare to rethink products, business models and packaging and see the business opportunity in going upstream.


– I really look forward to feeling the energy again from being face-to-face at a large event and hopefully we will leave with a collective understanding and commitment to raise the ambition level way beyond improved recycling, says Annette.




About Annette Lendal
Annette Lendal is a leading circular economy and upstream innovation expert. She has worked for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation guiding the world’s biggest brands and retailers on launching the circular economy for plastics. Most recently, she has co-founded Lab21st, a circular economy solution lab, that helps businesses get into action mode and deliver on targets faster. Annette is deep into systems thinking, asks the critical questions and inspires leaders to adopt the most ambitious and high-impact solutions. As part of her work for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Annette has written a book on reuse business models, co-authored the Upstream Innovation Guide to Packaging Solutions and contributed to several innovation workshops and sprints to develop the packaging solutions of the future.


About the Scanpack Summit
A strategically oriented conference with an international outlook, the Scanpack Summit brings together top-level decision-makers in both the packaging industry and politics. The Scanpack Summit is part of Scanpack, the key packaging trade fair in northern Europe. Learn more and buy your ticket to Scanpack Summit »