Global Impact

Gifting sustainably

For the 2020 holiday season, Global Brands delivered a gifting range inspired by WBA's ambitious sustainability goals.

By Rachel Heath
BBC Earth products
BBC Earth products

Imagine 13 blue whales, lined up in front of you. That image represents the amount of plastic – more than 2,000 metric tons – that has been removed this year from secondary packaging across Boots and Global Brands owned and proprietary brand gifting. 

Despite the immense challenges posed by the pandemic, Global Brands has refused to be distracted from what it sees as a vital part of its business identity: sustainability. This led Global Brands, alongside retail partner Boots UK, to develop a holiday gifting range that not only meets the company’s ambitious sustainability goals, but also responded to the desires of its customers.

“According to our research, 80 per cent of consumers say plastic reduction is important to them,” says Eleanor Barker, director of marketing for Global Brands. “Meanwhile, a third of all searches on show that consumers are proactively seeking out more environmentally sound purchases. This is why we have set the super-ambitious goal of being the first high street retailer to remove single-use plastic from our gifting range.”

Global Brands and Boots UK’s flagship offering is the BBC Earth gifting range, the result of a collaboration between Global Brands and the creators of the famous BBC TV nature documentaries that highlight the impact human action has on our planet. The collaboration is vegan, cruelty free, free of single-use plastic and certified as CarbonNeutral® – a major UK retail first.

Eleanor Barker presenting the sustainability credentials of the BBC earth gift range with TV presenter Davina Mccall (left).
At the Boots UK Christmas Press show, Eleanor Barker (right) presented the sustainability credentials of the BBC earth gift range with TV presenter Davina Mccall (left).
Pioneering change

“More and more, we see content on social media showing over-packaging, and consumers are very critical of these brands. We knew we didn’t want Global Brands to be part of that same problem,” Barker says. “We have a huge responsibility as a business: we have considerable buying power as a retailer and we can put pressure on our supply chain to innovate and offer more eco alternatives that will only help to drive sustainability forward. We want to be pioneers of change.”

An immense amount of work goes into redesigning and re-thinking decades of standardised practice for packaging. But it isn’t simply swapping out plastic, it is also about assessing where packaging can be reduced or eliminated and spotting opportunities for more sustainable options. 

Take, for example, Barker’s favorite item, a BBC Earth bathroom recycling bag. Not only is the bag itself made out of recycled PET using waste plastic bottles, it elegantly acts as a gentle reminder to recycle the packaging for other products, reducing the amount of waste going to landfill. 

BBC Earth gifting

“We know that 37 percent of people do not bathroom recycle. If we can change that and educate around recycling, it helps us to play a key role in creating a more circular economy of recycled and repurposed materials,” she adds.  

Partnering to end plastic pollution

Global Brands and Boots UK are also part of WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact, a trailblazing, collaborative initiative that aims to create a world where plastic is valued and never pollutes the environment. 

Phil Cumming, Global Head of Sustainability, Global Brands, says that being part of the UK Plastics Pact allows Global Brands to lead with others in a truly global movement – one that is still high in the priorities of consumers, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“As consumers, we’re more aware than ever that we need to change our relationship with our planet,” Cumming says. “There is also a drive, post-pandemic, to build back better, reset and rethink. The rebound affect has already started, and sustainability is coming back bigger.”

The team are ensuring this year’s sustainability push is itself more sustainable. They say that the key to progression is evolution, not revolution – and they are committed to keeping up the momentum.

“With the advances we’ve made in gifting this year, there is no incentive to go back and reintroduce single use plastic,” Barker explains. “We can now transport and package goods in a more sustainable way, and we wouldn’t want to turn back the clock on that. We’ve proven that with a clear laser-like focus and end goal, we can make fundamental shifts for our business, consumers and category.”
It’s not just consumers and the environment that are benefitting from these efforts; Barker has witnessed a shift in mindset across teams and divisions that is nothing short of inspiring.  

“People think they can’t make a difference, but this sort of accomplishment helps prove they can,” she says. “We can all contribute to making positive change.”

Here are just some of Global Brands 2020 sustainability achievements
  • Removal of over 2,000 metric tons of single-use plastic from the gifting range across owned and proprietary brands – a major UK retail first
  • First UK major retailer to have a certified CarbonNeutral® gifting range
  • Sourced a new more sustainable material for the luxurious metallic finish on boxes
  • Removed all glitter from packaging
  • Ribbons are sourced from more sustainable cotton or recycled fabric and can be easily removed for re-use
  • Clearly labelled packaging to encourage and educate consumers to recycle
  • All card/paper responsibly sourced
  • Packaging is gift-ready on many products to encourage the use of less wrapping paper
  • Reduced pack sizes to take up less space when shipping, reducing overall environmental impact