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Powering sustainability and circularity with connected products

Sponsored: Companies can champion sustainability by establishing direct communication channels with customers through their products via digital IDs.

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At their fingertips consumers can get access to product information or get tips on how to resell or recycle.

This article is sponsored by Avery Dennison.

With brands committing to net-zero carbon goals and consumers demanding product transparency, the pressure is on to deliver end-to-end supply chain traceability. Connecting physical items to the digital world by using a unique ID provides a critical element for item-level traceability and transparency. At the same time, connected product platforms help brands advance to a circular economy model and engage consumers in convenient ways.

Connected products play, and will play, a key role for adidas as it moves forward into a circular economy. Sustainability was a compliance topic 20 years ago; but the concept is no longer simply about legal obligation. It has become part of adidas’ DNA. adidas will drive sustainability hard as we continue our journey to carbon neutrality and a circular economy. 

The company is reaching for these goals through three strategies:

  1. Aiming to replace virgin feedstocks with recycled content. 
  2. Designing products that are made to be remade and thrive in a circular economy where their value is maintained. 
  3. Working with renewable and natural fibers that are regenerative so if they are eventually returned to nature, they do no harm. 

Effective 'connected product' platforms create a granular view

Connected products, with their ability to track and inform, help facilitate sustainability goals. These technologies will enable adidas to reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, and it fits with its strategies to get there. As important, connected products provide a meaningful way to engage with consumers as adidas expands its recommerce model to buy back products and give them a second life.

Products that typically become waste eventually can actually become catalysts for a cleaner world and greater circularity. But transforming these items and their supply chains requires harnessing a lot of vital information about the product. 

Technologies such as atma.io remove some leg work by allowing the products themselves to provide a large part of the information. Once each item has a unique digital ID, it can tell users where it’s been, how and where it was made, what it’s made of, its carbon footprint and even if it’s authentic. With atma.io, users can track a single item in real time at every step along the supply chain where it is stored in the cloud for anyone with the key to access it.

Even consumers as long as they have a smartphone. This direct communication channel not only provides product information, but gives consumers actionable information they previously had to intuit. Now they know if the item should be given a second life, if it’s worth reselling or if it’s time to recycle or donate it. Consumers can calculate a product’s impact from the sourcing of raw material through manufacture, purchase, use and beyond. 

"Basically, consumers peer into the soul of that product and learn from it how they can be more sustainable and how the brands they put trust in are taking action to advance a circular economy." — Max Winograd, Avery Dennison Smartrac

Webinar attendees shared what they would like to learn more about a product in a live poll. 

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A vast majority of users are interested in more product information.

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Traditionally the fashion industry was linear, but that’s shifting

A linear model begins with sourcing raw materials; manufacturing the final product; getting it to the distribution center, then to the store and ultimately to the consumer. Afterwards, the product is no longer the responsibility of the brand. It would head to landfill at the end of its use, out of the reach of the brand and out of the system.

"As circular economy principles gain traction, the industry is challenged to develop inbound capabilities. This movement calls for a system to identify and get back what consumers no longer want and to channel these items into the appropriate streams to prepare them for their next life." — David Quass, adidas

With the goal to improve inbound capabilities, adidas complements products with consumer services to support a circular economy, whether rental, repair or facilitating donation. 

The brand has been on a test and learn journey for the past couple of years, and discovered that these takeback options must be easy and convenient for customers. Which takes us back to connected products — when you want to send an item back, you know exactly what to do. 

Hearing how connected product platforms work is one experience; actually engaging with the technology is another. For perspective, webinar attendees scanned a QR code for adidas’ made-to-be-remade Ultraboost shoe, learning about shoe specs; how it’s designed for sustainability; and exactly how to care for, return, resell or donate it. With these details literally at users’ fingertips, they see how to unlock a sustainability story that is not traditionally available to them. They see how to easily make choices to keep products in circulation. 

A key feature of atma.io is its adaptability

atma.io was designed to be flexible and agile so that brands of any size can easily onboard. The platform is impactful for smaller businesses and can be configured as they scale up. 

And it’s not just for fashion and apparel. Think of food, about 30 percent of which is wasted globally. Item-level sensors can monitor for temperature and other conditions to mitigate waste, remediate problems and increase efficiency. At the consumer level, the technology can alert upcoming expiration dates, provide recipes for leftovers and other practical guidance.

Similarly, if medicines could "talk" they too would deliver critical intel, right down to an individual vial as it’s tracked from production through consumption. 

The answer to fast stockpiling electronic waste might be the ability to get details on individual components that will help maximize recyclability and confirm if components were responsibly sourced.

There is potential to unlock connected products for every industry. And new regulations and upcoming ones will make these technologies relevant for all of them.

Concepts such as extended producer responsibility (EPR) are gaining momentum in Europe, Canada and are coming to the U.S. Alongside this movement, discussions are happening around greenwashing regulations and other policies that will require brands to substantiate claims in more detail than today. 

Through the connected product cloud, atma.io, brands can be prepared for regulatory change. They can show if their products are carbon neutral or if they have reduced their footprint with a new level of accuracy. 

At the same time, they will collectively address huge global challenges at scale. They can not only measure and manage impact, but drive meaningful action. 

You can watch the recorded webcast here:

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