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5 Steps

to Sustainable Packaging


5 Steps to Sustainable Packaging

Contents Five Steps to Sustainable Packaging ............................................................................. 3 1. Determine your objective....................................................................................... 3 2. Establish clear goals ............................................................................................... 4 3. Consider the Product............................................................................................... 4 4. Execute, Execute, Execute ...................................................................................... 5 5. Communicate .......................................................................................................... 6


5 Steps to Sustainable Packaging

Five Steps to Sustainable Packaging The conversation about sustainability in packaging has evolved significantly in recent years. While the recognized definition of ‘sustainable packaging’ coined by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition has existed for nearly a decade, companies continue to be challenged with how to make the definition actionable for their organization. The more recent Global Protocol on Packaging Sustainability (GPPS) provides a helpful guidance document and dictionary, but companies still wrestle with which of the many metrics to make into key performance indicators. As a result, the marketplace remains full of misleading and sometimes unhelpful claims of ‘sustainable packaging’ that only serve to confuse the market, failing to bring business value to either the seller or the buyer, not to mention a generation of frustrated packaging engineers and managers. This white paper holds the key to realizing the value of sustainable packaging efforts. Follow these steps to establish a value-adding sustainable packaging initiative.

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Determine your objective

Whether you’re the buyer or the producer of packaging, making decisions about more sustainable packaging starts at the same place: What is it you are trying to achieve? Claims or improvements are nearly impossible to make sense of if you don’t know what’s important to your business. You probably have a good sense of the trade-off between cost, performance, quality and other traditional attributes, but every company weighs these differently when making a purchasing or manufacturing decision: some companies are focused on premium products and others are more cost conscious. The same value judgment must be made to sustainability issues. There is no scientifically ‘most important’ issue that applies to

all products. How you make decisions must be informed by what issues are important to your customers, your internal decision-makers, and of course to the issues actually relevant to your product (e.g., a focus on water for a product that uses very little is what they call the ‘Sin of the Lesser of Two Evils’1). Begin your strategy with identification of these issues: ask your customers and leadership what’s important – carbon, non-renewable resource conservation, water, other? and determine the key impacts of your package. Weigh these respective issues against your business strategy – you might choose to emphasize your improvement efforts, or at least your communications, on the issues

1 “A claim that may be true within the product category, but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole. Organic cigarettes could be an example of this Sin, as might the fuel-efficient sport-utility vehicle.” The Seven Sins of Greenwashing, TerraChoice. www.sinsofgreenwashing.org

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5 Steps to Sustainable Packaging

your customers are asking about most. Because your customer’s priorities won’t always match up with the priorities identified from a scientific evaluation, be mindful about how you balance this trade-off; you will likely benefit in the long term by having fully walked the talk, even if it’s ‘behind the scenes’ (i.e., not market facing). Sustainability indicators should be an ‘and’ in conjunction with price, performance, and quality criteria (not an ’or’).

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It’s also critical to consider the bigger picture of packaging. In other words, consider as you develop your strategy not just the type of material or whether it’s recyclable, but the entire system. While this may seem obvious, since your performance objectives are also tied to the product your packaging seeks to protect or promote, when considering sustainability this larger product system can often be overlooked.

Establish clear goals

If you’re a producer, the next step after determining this set of priorities is to determine what you’re going to do about it. What’s your plan? Will you plan to achieve regular reductions on key indicators over time, such as an annual percent reduction? Or is your company the type to set big hairy audacious goals for the long term and challenge your people to meet them, like producing zero packaging by 2020? There’s no right way to set goals – again, it depends on who you are and what kind of sustainability journey you’re on. Connect the goals to your company’s existing strategic planning process based on the business benefits (reduced cost, improved efficiency, increased revenue) you expect to achieve through the initiatives you establish.

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3

Consider the Product

For example: ›› What unintended impacts may occur by focusing on one impact or life cycle stage? You want to avoid inadvertently shifting burden that at best results in neutralizing your improvement, but at worst actually increases the impact. ›› What is the relative contribution of the packaging to the overall product system’s footprint? If you’re the producer of the final product, your long term strategy should include the complete picture, not just packaging. ›› What is the optimal design or material based on the particular function you seek to deliver? For example, more durable (yet disposable) packaging might be preferred to a material or design that has a lower inherent ‘footprint’ if it gives better product protection, reducing the likelihood that the product will break and require the whole thing to be landfilled.


5 Steps to Sustainable Packaging

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Execute, Execute, Execute

Once you know what’s important to you (key indicators like waste, carbon, water) and what you’re trying to achieve (e.g., sales goals, annual reduction, or ambitious sustainability goals), you can then determine how you’re going to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. There are many tools on the market, including PE’s own GaBi Envision (see inset), to help Deliver more sustainable you evaluate your designs products, reduce costs and enhance your brand with and how they stack up GaBi Envision. against your goals; there is This tool, one of many in one out there that is right for the suite of GaBi tools, you based on the strategy offers an easy user interface you have taken time to to enable simple, fast, and rigorous assessments of develop. For example, if your packaging designs. the metric is related to GaBi Envision is also based reducing waste across the on the GaBi Databases, life cycle of your package the most comprehensive then LCA would be an set of life cycle inventory appropriate method. If your available today. metric is use of certified For more information and a free demo, visit sustainable forest products, www.gabi-software.com then an alternative approach is warranted. And there is a spectrum of complexity and level of data needed even within those particular approaches depending on your goals and objectives – e.g., a full LCA to support comparative marketing or a screening assessment to support directional decision making. The source and quality of your data are also critical elements of execution. As they say, ‘garbage in, garbage out’. Not all data representing your material or process inputs are created equal, so your strategy should consider how important it is for the data to be current and representative.

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But don’t forget about the process: “A fool with a tool is still a fool”. Your team must understand not just the technical prowess of your tool, but also what they are supposed to do with the output, how that should integrate into their decision-making process, and how they will be held accountable to doing things differently. It’s too easy to dismiss good information on possible improvements because “sustainability won’t be a question in my design review” or “time pressures don’t allow for sustainability evaluation.” Teams must have performance objectives related to achieving their sustainability goals (whether that’s reviewing contracts from suppliers or creating new designs), or it will never be more than a ‘nice to have’. At PE we apply the framework shown in Figure 1 to ensure all the key elements are in place for the implementation to leverage the full potential of the investment in tools and strategy development. Rigor around this process also builds the internal capacity and knowledge that allows leadership in design that minimizes meaningless/greenwashing claims.

Strategy Management Systems Programs

Decision Making Support Tools

Information and Data Management

Figure 1: PE’s implementation framework


5 Steps to Sustainable Packaging

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Communicate Sustainability continues to grow in importance and, as such, so are all of the attempts to differentiate in the market or meet market requirements. There is a lot of confusion about what makes a good claim. If you’re not an LCA expert, how do you cope? Here are a few tips:

›› Be cautious with ‘comparative’ claims. Saying you are demonstrably better than a competitor is very difficult to substantiate – it depends on too many factors. In general, there are no absolutes – in terms of the most sustainable material, source location, or just about any other demographic of your supply chain. A highly efficient company using a more intensive material might have a lower overall burden than an inefficient provider using a low-burden material. Also if an LCA is used to support ‘comparative’ claim(s), it should be recognized that not all impacts can be assessed though a LCA study. For example, for any biodiversity or land use impacts, approaches outside of LCA would be preferred ›› Know what is meaningful (and legal) to say without comparative claims. There is an increasing amount of guidance on this topic that all say the same thing: be truthful and not misleading, hit the relevant issues for the product, and talk about metrics. The bottom line is, don’t make sustainable packaging more difficult than it needs to be. Do what makes sense with your strategic objectives as a company, as you would with any other business initiative. Sustainability is about doing business in a way that enables your company to be sustained. Be informed about what you can and can’t say, and have a dialogue about the issues in your respective industries/ customer relationships.

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Authors:

PE-International.com

Laura Flanigan, Director, CPG Sector Jim Fava, Senior Director

Follow us on: facebook.com/PE.International twitter.com/pe_experts

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PE INTERNATIONAL AG

70771 Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany

5 steps to sustainable packaging  

The conversation about sustainability in packaging has evolved significantly in recent years. While the recognized definition of ‘sustainabl...

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