Complementary to Pragmatic Approaches from the July 2010 issue, Joe Funicelli, CEO/president, Unifoil Corporation, and Mark Ormiston, director of research and development, Anomatic Corporation, talk about increased demands for sustainable innovation in packaging from both consumers and retailers.
What have been your efforts toward sustainability, in terms of both production and products offered?
Funicelli: Unifoil Corporation launched significant sustainability efforts long before being “green” was fashionable. In the 1990s, we developed nonlaminated “film-free” silver metallic paper and paperboard for a progressive consumer packaged goods company (CPG) that wanted an environment-friendly package for its pantyhose without compromising shelf appeal. That endeavor led to the successful launch of Unilustre materials and spawned a new generation of packaging that offered a superior reflective finish and recyclability. Eventually we developed multi-dimensional Holographic Unilustre and added security and anti-counterfeiting options.
The science behind Unilustre drove the development of our new Ultralustre process which is used with flexible and rigid plastics. Ultralustre for IMD (in-mold decorating) and IML (in-mold label) applications is gaining popularity because it brings environmentally sensitive highly decorated finishes to a basically white and clear world. End users especially appreciate the fact that it can be used on plastic that is recyclable and regrindable.
The proprietary process employs a water-borne, solvent-free chemistry. The carrier film used during production is100% recycled, with significant source reduction as a result. Unilustre and Ultralustre are manufactured without heat or thermal drying and therefore demand less energy to produce. Also, fewer pallets and shipping containers are used, and that translates into even greater cost savings. Moreover, we recycle in-house and are currently exploring the use of alternative energy sources for power.
Ormiston: As far as production, we have spent quite a bit of both capital and research work on reducing raw material consumption, both through recycled and reused technologies and utilization of new technologies that eliminated the need for use of some carbon based fuels. And, as far as products offered, we are offering a new aluminum alloy that has a guaranteed percentage of post consumer recycled stock in it that customers have asked for and I think that’s probably the two main areas that we have focused on in the last 18 months.
How do these efforts impact brand owners?
Funicelli: They impact brand owners in substantial ways. Most important, they help build brands by differentiating products by a triple “wow!” factor. A recyclable material that has reflective shimmer and simultaneously communicates to the consumer a message of environmental friendliness, and supports the manufacturer’s sustainability initiative, packs a powerful force. Brand owners also appreciate the source reduction and reduced shipping costs. We’re seeing both big brands and private labels choose these materials. We’re also seeing them rethink how they want to communicate on their packaging their message about sustainability.
Ormiston: Some of the premier brands are quite excited about the proactive stance of offering the recycled aluminum, our stewardship for the environment and not negatively affecting the environment to do so. Also, our efforts on sustainability mean a lot more than recycling and re-using, what it means overall is you’re going to be here tomorrow, you’re financially solvent, you have a good human rights record, you have a good environmental record, you have a good legal record and you have a good customer service record; so all of those things together mean you have a sustainable growing enterprise.
How well has the beauty industry, in general, embraced these efforts and translated them effectively into consumer products?
Funicelli: The beauty industry has always adhered to a decorative aesthetic. Packaging that pleases the eye and stirs the emotions is key in wooing the beauty product customer. Now environment-friendly innovations are also of interest, and the industry is more curious than ever before.
What many are learning is that today’s packaging advances offer exciting options. We think Unilustre and Ultralustre are “sweet spot” materials in that they have irresistible “bling” and are eco-friendly. A lot of educating still needs to be done about the environmental advantages of nonlaminated products. Some CPGs are ahead of the pack in their knowledge, and some are still sorting through the misconceptions and greenwashing. It’s important for the supplier to provide data that gives them the facts so they can make an informed decision.
Ormiston: I think the Aveda brand, from its inception, has been pretty good about recycling. They use recycled fibers in their packages, their closures a lot of times have recycled wood fibers from chopped up pallets and that sort of thing, soy based inks instead of hydrocarbon based inks, high recycled content to the aluminum cases they use, they anodize aluminum rather than metalizing a piece of plastic. It gives it an elegant look, but is also better for the environment. They’ve worked pretty well with using a fairly good percentage of what we call regrind plastic, which is plastic that’s been cut up and re-melted again, you can only do that to a certain percentage and they’ve been pretty good about that.
Some of the other brands, if you go look on the store shelves, are not being very conscious about their use of virgin materials; some of their packages don’t have a single bit of recycled material in them, its all the marketing. When today’s youth starts to get older and starts to purchase more, things will have to change. They are really going to demand it, even in the luxury goods like cosmetics; that there’s stewardship.
In the last year and a half, however, part of this has been driven by the European community regulations that have been enforced, that have just become enforceable, but I’m getting a lot more inquiries from customers that formerly were not on the cutting edge of this but are now saying, “Hey, we’re hearing more about this. What are you doing about it and how can we participate?” So I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel for companies that weren’t doing this before.
Can consumer demand still be considered the greatest driver of sustainability efforts? How has the economy impacted both consumer demand and efforts, generally speaking?
Funicelli: Consumer demand continues to be a strong driver of sustainability efforts, but it’s not the only driver. Younger generations are very focused on environmental issues, and want to see sincere sustained effort on the part of manufacturers to deliver products and services that satisfy the triple bottom line. My daughter is 6 years old, and she already has a firm grasp on the importance of energy conservation and recycling. CPGs are sensitive to this kind of shift in thinking, and understand the consumer interests as well as the fundamental good business sense of functioning in a sustainable manner. Reducing energy costs and creating products and services that not only do not deplete resources, but even replenish them, can help ensure customer loyalty and the viability of a business.
It’s interesting that despite the economy, studies show that consumers’ interest in eco-friendly packaging has not waned. Ultimately, people want to feel good about their purchase, and choosing a recyclable package makes them feel even better about it.
Ormiston: Certainly, the product offering was [packager and brand owner] demand over the years. They’ve been asking about that and the anodized finish since it is a conversion coating of the aluminum itself. It’s very particular to the pedigree of the aluminum so you have to have very tight controls.What we call anodizing requires quality aluminum to make components, and if any of that gets out of balance you have a poor finish, the aesthetics on the anodized finish are not very good and that’s a lot of times driven by how well-controlled the chemistry of the aluminum is. We also have to worry about the environmental impact of recycled aluminum.
In years past, we rode out a lot of economic downturns. People wouldn’t buy houses or cars but they bought cosmetics because they wanted to look good, it made them feel good. But, you know, it’s been a special time, the last year and a half. Now people are worried, and that has definitely impacted some of the luxury brands. Now I think that’s starting to turn back around a little bit.
I don’t think the economy slowed down sustainability efforts, in fact I think it accelerated it! Because one of the nice things about a well-thought-out sustainability program is that it saves you money and it controls your costs. So, us saving on chemicals that would have been wasted in years past, fine-tuned some of those, recycled more of them, that sort of thing. It saved us money, which hit the bottom-line. It was a positive to the bottom-line and made us a better neighbor by lowering our waste generation.
What opportunities (product innovations, unexpected cost savings, efficiencies, etc.) have sustainability efforts created or revealed? How has this fostered product development? How is that development realized on shelf?
Funicelli: The Unilustre and Ultralustre innovations have brought about enormous source reduction savings and enabled energy conservation and reduced shipping costs. Sustainability also drove our Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainability Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) certifications. Those benefits and features make Unilustre and Ultralustre attractive to the beauty product manufacturer. Today, 60% of our business is devoted to the manufacture of Unilustre and Ultralustre.
An interesting related opportunity created in response to sustainability efforts comes from a CPG that is currently exploring how to expand its sustainability message on the package beyond FSC, SFI, and PEFC logos. The package “billboard” is premium space, yet they feel it’s worth rethinking how that space is used to educate the consumer.
Ormiston: Primarily, most of the opportunities saved operating capital. A lot of these sustainability initiatives saved us operating expenses, which allowed us to invest in equipment to garner some other markets. We’ve been able to do some extra research work that in the beginning of the year we didn’t think we were going to be able to. It made our product more competitive, pricing-wise and allowed us to compete on the world stage a little bit better. Because we’re competing with people in some other countries who don’t have either the environmental stewardship or the environmental regulations to adhere to that we do. I don’t know as far as fostering product development, I guess that’s my answer, if you can free up operating expenses it allows you to spend it in researching new technologies for the future. If you don’t have any money at all because you’re spending it all to stay solvent then you have to cut out your research money.
From your vantage point down the supply chain from the consumer, what have been the challenges in meeting evolving consumer aspirations for sustainable products and brands that can, increasingly, demonstrate sustainable efforts down the supply chain?
Funicelli: Educating the CPG and the consumer about all the environmental advantages of a recyclable nonlaminated metallic material as compared to a film lamination continues to be a challenge. The bottom line is, you don’t have to give up the bling, you just have to know which bling is better for the environment.
Ormiston: I guess the biggest challenge I’ve had is on an educational level, with several links in the chain from us all the way to the customer to the consumer. Of using good science and sustainability and being practical. You really want somebody that has been reducing their uses of raw materials every year for the last 10 years. Those are the people that are making the biggest impact in the world and biggest impact on the environment and the other people are just there for the show. We’ve made quite a bit of efforts to reduce the amount of oil that we’ve used; both like natural gas that we use here or recycling some of our acids. That cuts down on some of our energy up stream that is used, so that makes a big impact.