“The industry will transform”: Products of Change’s Helena Mansell-Stopher on helping brands progress their sustainability journey

Products of Change’s Helena Mansell-Stopher discusses why the SILC event is a must-attend.

Helena, it’s always great to catch up. How have the past 12 months been for Products of Change?
Busy! Historically, sustainability has always been a ‘nice to have’ for the big companies and some of the smaller companies have seen it as providing a point of difference; but legislation is changing… There’s a tsunami of legislation coming out of the EU and it’s also popping up state by state in the US. People are finally starting to understand that they’re going to have to do something – and do it soon! That’s been good.

It’s also been great for us to share some of the good things that the industry is doing. We started Products of Change four years ago Billy! Hardly anybody was doing anything back then, so it was about bringing innovation to the licensing industry. We were saying ‘Come on guys, look at this – you need to be doing this!’ Now, we’re showcasing the changes that companies in our industry are making. That’s been a big shift; we’ve had loads of great news to share. We prefer to celebrate the wins rather than point the finger at what companies aren’t doing.

That is encouraging. What would you say have been some of the stand-out moments?
Vegas Licensing Expo was a big moment for us. We had the likes of Disney, NFLPA, Bravado and LEGO on a panel. Having that calibre of speaker involved highlighted the importance of sustainability and that we’re all going to have to get solutions in order. It felt like finally we’re getting through!

Absolutely – and that’s testament to your passion and drive to get this firmly on the licensing industry’s agenda!
Thank you! We’re really pleased with how it’s going. We have just over 200 members now and we’ve also had an important moment launching the Framework. The industry needs a blueprint for what to do, both from a licensor’s perspective and a licensee’s perspective.

Helena Mansell-Stopher, Products of Change

Yes, talk us through the Framework. What’s in there?
It’s in three sections. The first centres on what you need to do if you don’t have a sustainability team and how you can assess sustainability and look at your impact across the business. The middle bit is really for manufacturers and focuses on how to reduce your impact over five core areas – and for licensors to have a handle on how to work with partners on this and track it. The last section is the legal part and recommendations on how to implement the language into deals.

The other exciting piece to this is that we’ve taken the Framework and built a Maturity tool. This means a licensor can input their information and get full visibility on the maturity of their licensees when it comes to their sustainability journey. It also enables licensees to track how they’re doing and what they’re not doing. We want to create solutions to make this easier for the industry to navigate, and this tool launches at the end of the year.

Sounds fantastic.
Thanks! And it’s not about shaming companies – it will help licensees progress their sustainability journeys.

Absolutely. It could help them show off what they’re doing well to attract new business! Now, some big brand owners have dedicated sustainability teams that work across the whole company and several departments. Is it a better practice to have dedicated sustainability personnel focused on the licensing teams?
It can work both ways really. Paramount has an amazing lady called Jessica Thurston who heads up their ESG globally – ESG being Environmental, Social and Governance. It’s such a big company, they have to do an ESG report – and that’s across everything they make. Jessica is focused on the content piece, but consumer products will come into that. – so the consumer products team has to ladder up into their overall global strategy.

That said, at the minute, there’s no visibility on the environmental impact of our industry. We need to look at companies’ overall reduction of carbon and other environmental goals – and work out how consumer products feeds into that.

I imagine that’s also important information for retail buyers to eventually have access to, especially if they look to support licensors and licensees who are hitting their sustainability goals.
We work really closely with several retailers that want to know which brands are really leading the conversation around sustainability. The commercial world has to be connected to the sustainability world. They’ve got to work together to be successful.

Let’s move onto SILC – your Sustainability in Licensing Conference. It takes place this week! What are the aims of this event?
We want to showcase what’s coming and get the industry ready for it. We’re showing how it can be done and providing a template. We’re showing real, scalable innovations. We’ll have lots of licensors, licensees and retailers talking together. We also have the Carbon Literacy Trust involved and we’ll be talking about the legislation coming in that’ll have a huge impact on our industry in the next five to 10 years.

Helena Mansell-Stopher, Products of Change

Can you talk us through what’s coming in and how big of an impact it’ll have?
The licensing industry will completely transform. We’ll have to provide visibility on the impact of what we’re producing. Consumers will have a clear view on the impact of what our industry is producing. There’ll be nowhere to hide. We’ve got six years to clean up our act – or otherwise some businesses may not come through the other side of it.

Do you think the industry has come to terms with that yet? Or will Products of Change have a busy time of it in the lead up to the legislation coming in!
A lot of the deadlines are 2026 and 2029 – to a lot of people, that feels quite far away… But when you think a licensing agreement is usually three years, it’s today’s agreements that will feel the effects of this. The new taxonomy legislation states that as a brand owner, if you’re earning money from the sale of a product, you’re responsible for the impact of the product. So it’s brand owners just as much as licensees that are in the spotlight here. Systems will have to be in place to showcase the impact of our industry; systems which aren’t in place today.

The big brand owners have already restructured teams to get ready for this. It’s about how can everyone else catch up – and that’s what we want to help showcase at SILC.

Why should designers and creatives be coming to SILC?
The European Green Deal – which is driving all of this change – has a huge focus on designing for the circular economy. Primark’s recent Rita Ora collection has a circular-designed hoodie – there’s a real chance that could become a new standard for the industry. Design will have a huge part to play in all of this, so we’d love for that audience to be at SILC contributing to the conversation.

Helena, before we wrap up, is there a launch or innovation you can point to that is a good example of someone doing sustainability right?
The George team at Asda are doing something interesting with their textile waste. Yellow Octopus are providing a platform to re-home or re-sell the old textiles. The elements that can’t be re-homed will go to Upcycle Labs to be transformed into homewares. We’re going to be profiling that at SILC. It takes time to get right, but circularity is the future and designers can really shape that conversation.

Helena, it’s always lovely to catch up. Thanks again – and see you at SILC!

Stay up to date with the latest news, interviews and opinions with our weekly newsletter

Sign Up

Enter your details to receive Brands Untapped updates & news.

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.