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Leading by Example: A Q&A on Sustainable Packaging Trends

Posted: November 20, 2012

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It is a situation that we in North America are watching carefully. Recently, the U.S. has started looking at its own chemicals act, and the packaging industry is investigating the use of software tools to help measure the environmental effect of chemicals used in packaging. I’m sure this will drive increased focus on chemicals found in all of materials and processes over the next decade.

Sustainable Processes

Q: Beyond using recycled packaging materials, what are packaging suppliers doing to take the lead on sustainable packaging?

KF: When it comes to sustainable packaging, I believe there are two key services customers are looking for. They are seeking a partner to help them identify sustainability cost savings and to promote sustainable packaging. In addition, they want to know their supply partners internally implement sustainable processes themselves.

Internally, I work with our production and plant staff to maximize our resource use. This includes tracking greenhouse gas emissions, exploring ways to reduce energy use, and minimizing waste through recycling programs. I also work alongside our innovation, design and sales teams to help customers develop better packaging, going beyond simply promoting sustainable materials. This might mean looking beyond package design to identify more efficient production practices or transportation logistics—offering services that include training, packaging assessments, and design and engineering expertise.

Our own sustainability efforts are paying off in various ways. For example, we expect to see some significant cost savings due to the innovative energy efficiency measures and zero waste initiatives that we have implemented at many of our plants. We’ve also received recognition and awards from some of our key customers for our efforts in this area.

Sustainability Metrics

Q: What is life-cycle analysis, and how is it being used for packaging products?

KF: Life-cycle analysis (LCA) is a system that accounts for the material and energy used at every stage of the “life” of a product, including production, processing, packaging, use and retirement, giving a comprehensive overview of a product’s environmental impact. Too often people quantify sustainability based on limited information, such as greenhouse gas emissions or recyclability. Utilizing an LCA assessment, [packaging suppliers] can include all available information to see the complete picture, helping identify where in a product life cycle the biggest environmental impacts are, and targeting specific areas for improvement.

Unfortunately, LCAs are time-consuming, costly, and often unattainable for small to mid-sized companies. However, there are industry tools that build off these models and help provide similar information. At PaperWorks we make frequent use of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Compass software system. When working with a customer on a new design, we can plug in the dimensions and material used to see which design performs better against a series of LCA metrics. This is a great way to see impact of a package across its whole life cycle. It also drives collaboration with the customer to identify the areas they want to focus on to improve the sustainability performance of a package. This can mean anything from a design or material change, to taking a look at supply or transportation logistics.

Q: There is an increased trend lately toward retailer scorecards. How are these scorecards being used, and what impact do they have on industry?