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Sustainable Packaging—A Value Proposition

By: Jeff Falk
Posted: February 27, 2009, from the March 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

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For sustainable packaging efforts that began before the current wave, there seem to be two starting directions from which they ultimately converged: as a business proposition that led to the inclusion of stewardship as an overall corporate mission or as part of a stewardship mission that proved to be a good business proposition. Whichever, the efforts were contagious—influencing supply chain partners and customers alike to consider the choices.

“Ultimately, we wanted to get more business out of it, and it morphed into a whole culture,” says Curtis’ Droppo. “We look at what we do from a triple bottom line; everything we do has social, environmental and economic considerations. It gelled for our customers when we decided to eliminate foil-laminated products. The idea was to simulate the foil. The result, CurtCHROME, is recyclable and less expensive. It put us on the board with a lot of customers. At first, a lot of customers didn’t care that it was recyclable. They cared about the money. We showed them cost savings, and even though we were preaching the environmental benefits, a lot of our customers were not as interested in the sustainable aspect. But as time ticked past and green was everywhere, people started paying attention and circling back. Five years ago it was, ‘Wow—you can save us 15%, that’s great,’ to ‘Wait—that’s recyclable, right?’ What’s now being called environment sustainability ... for us, it was just sound corporate strategy. Now it’s sustainable business practices.”

Skin by Monica, according to its founder, made the use of sustainable packaging an early goal as part of its eco-responsible philosophy—and its packaging has been consistent and was a budget consideration since launch. Olsen thinks the choice may be more difficult, however, for companies making the decision later in its corporate life. “There is no negative impact for us, but if a company had not addressed such issues in their business model, then it would be a difficult adjustment—both culturally within the organization and economically,” she says.

“As people recycle more, they look for more recycled materials when they are making a product purchase,” says Jennifer Schweitzer, brand manager for Nature’s Gate, noting that its consumer base is the first consideration when the brand looks at packaging options. “When we’re sourcing new materials, including PCR (postconsumer recycled), we do so because we think that it’s important to our consumer.”

There are caveats about changing packaging, Schweitzer notes, which are applicable whether a brand makes a wholesale switch in materials or simply updates what it is already using. “You don’t want to change your packaging dramatically, because you want to ensure that consumers currently buying your product can still find your product—that they continue to recognize your brand,” she says. “But at the same time, you do what you can to enhance the shopping experience—and to make that shopping experience easier or more informative.”

Supply Chain Implications