sustainable labeling

Sustainable products need sustainable labeling

Ken Moir Cloud computing, Food and beverage Leave a Comment

Across all sectors, products are being designed with sustainability in mind, with many organizations under pressure from consumer buying habits and industry regulations to become more sustainable. Regardless of whether it’s in packaging or the supply chain, extra waste is becoming less tolerated. Errors in labeling often result in the scrapping of otherwise sellable perishable goods, creating waste and impacting sales. Therefore, getting labels processed quickly, and right first time, while minimizing resource usage has never been more important. Digitized labeling process enables companies to increase the efficiency of their logistics, mitigates risks of mislabeling and reduces unplanned downtime, and the ability to print labels through a modern label management system in the cloud can help.

Labeling in the cloud

Cloud labeling offers organizations plenty of benefits, from the ability to centrally store labels and access them from anywhere to quality assurance cost savings and the opportunity to manage labeling more efficiently by easily scaling printing to third parties. Running labeling in the cloud can also support enhanced sustainability for businesses. Organizations can reduce the IT infrastructure they need and therefore also their environmental footprint by reducing servers and their electricity consumption.

Moreover, the latest cloud labeling solutions are increasingly able to work seamlessly with cloud-connected printers as part of a fully integrated infrastructure. Users can print labels from any cloud application or device in their network directly to their printers, with no local infrastructure required and zero environmental footprint. They don’t need to install servers or any PCs locally. Instead, printing can be driven and delivered via existing hardware such as mobile devices.

A multi-tenant labeling software-as-a-service approach extends these benefits further, enabling businesses to create and distribute labeling quickly and efficiently while keeping the resources expended in doing this to a minimum. It effectively boosts sustainability by allowing users to do more with less, while eliminating the need for an expensive and resource-intensive footprint on site.

Labeling users no longer have to seek out their own local hardware and keep their internal IT busy with their labeling-related requests. And they no longer have to worry about time-consuming and resource-intensive systems installation and deployment or needing specialist IT resources. Cloud labeling can help reduce environmental impact as companies can avoid needing to print labels at one location to then ship to other locations and suppliers, all of which would add to the footprint of the labels on their travels.

Over and above the benefits of cloud labeling, organizations can also advance their sustainability goals by implementing a label management system that allows centralized control of label design and printing throughout the business or across multiple sites.

Templates are stored centrally, and access is given based on role, so that control of exactly who can create, access, and amend label designs within a company is rigorously controlled. This central control enables businesses to eliminate design errors and unauthorized label changes. Reducing design errors in this way is key. Correct labeling also means that extended supply chains can become more sustainable with no mislabeled products being shipped and returned to manufacturers to be relabeled or worse yet, scrapped as waste. Furthermore, a label management system keeps the labeling operation running smoothly, mitigating unplanned downtime which has an impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Enhancing quality control

Quality control processes can further enhance sustainability. Quality control has been part of the labeling processes for at least two decades. In recent times, it has often used a process known as ‘six eyes’, where three individuals manually scrutinize labels to help reduce the chance of labeling errors. Six eyes is a well-established approach but it is still essentially manual and therefore there is a risk that errors will occur. What’s different today is that quality control is increasingly being digitized – enabling organizations to achieve labeling efficiency and quality at the same time.

Regarding sustainability, the key aspect of this is that mislabeling can often lead to issues with products and that can result in an unsustainable need to quarantine and re-label product or packaging. If car lights are mislabeled for example, they may then be fixed to the wrong segment of the vehicle. One of the major car brands was temporarily blocked by Chinese customs due to missing and incorrect labels on more than 1,500 of its vehicles. 

Improved accuracy = better sustainability

Sustainability and environmental considerations are strongly impacting the market, with consumers pushing brands to improve their efforts in these areas. Wasting produce and other perishable goods due to labeling errors can put reputations at risk. Correct labeling makes supply chains more sustainable with no incorrectly labeled products being wrongly shipped and returned or scrapped as waste. This can be solved with the accuracy of modern label management systems that ensure partners across the supply chain can access and apply the right labels every time, helping brands keep their carbon footprints to a minimum.

Across many areas of the economy, efficiently integrating different elements of the labeling process is often key in delivering high levels of sustainability.  The food and beverages industry provides a great example of this due to the high level of food wastage caused by label data entry errors. This sector makes extensive use of direct marking printers to place the expiry date and batch number on food products.

This information is typically entered via what is called a human machine interface (HMI). It is an inherently manual process involving human input into a touch-screen device and therefore can be error-prone, increasing the likelihood of printing errors such as the wrong best before date or LOT. Mistakes are frequent and products, from vegetables and meat to fruit, milk, and juices, often need to be quarantined or even scrapped. It can also result in re-working product, customers rejecting product, lost sales or even lost business. If products are rejected, a company’s competitors could fill the store shelves. Many times, perishable items are written off and throwing away large quantities of food and drink has considerable sustainability and environmental impacts.

Many organizations don’t integrate direct marking devices with business systems because it is seen as too complex. Each location may use a different method for integration, making standardization and support a challenge. Various local production sites might also choose different levels of integration and even introduce manual data entry on standalone systems. Moving forward, efforts are being made to make this process more environmentally friendly by integrating direct marking printers with organizations’ broad Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), effectively digitizing them and moving them into the overall operational workflow.

Avoiding recalls

The FDA recorded over 1,600 food/cosmetic recalls identified as Class 1 or Class 2 in 2019 – meaning consumption of the product can lead to anything from temporary or reversible adverse health consequences to death. Some of these products were recalled due to contamination; however, many well regarded brands issued recalls to mitigate potentially life-threatening cases of mislabeled products.

In addition to these immediate safety hazards, the food and beverage industry is also under pressure of ever stricter regulation on allergen and nutritional labeling. There is also a heightened focus on sustainability placing a greater emphasis on clearly labeling the source of products, and many medium and large-scale manufacturers have faced integration challenges during mergers and acquisitions. Today’s consumers demand better allergen, nutrition, and sourcing data; label regulations are constantly shifting; and the competition has never been fiercer.  With such a long list of issues to overcome, the need for food and beverage companies to adopt the most effective processes to ensure labels are accurate, available, and compliant has never been greater.

Looking ahead

While historically, labeling has often been carried out using unsustainable manual processes, that is changing rapidly as digitized labeling processes become much more established.

When done properly, implementing a modern label management system allows manufacturers to give consumers accurate information regarding food ingredients and allergens, avoid costs associated with recalls, scrappage, fines, lost business, and production delays. It can also future-proof labeling processes by providing scalability and minimizing dependencies on time consuming and costly IT resources.

Centralized label management systems especially when in the cloud, drive efficiencies and help reduce the environmental impact and resource-heavy nature of traditional manual labeling. Digitized quality control can also help boost productivity as can integrating printing within a wider ERP system. Far from a pipedream, sustainable label printing is now increasingly achievable and here to stay.

Find out how your business can benefit from centralized, cloud-based label management system – visit the Label Cloud page.

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