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Optimizing Green Packaging

By: Sara Mason
Posted: June 24, 2014, from the July 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

Packaging today is as much about image and the experience as it is about the product itself. “Because the packaging is an extension of every company’s brand, it has to also reflect the company’s philosophy and market position,” says Shivie Dhillon, president, Bottle Coatings Inc. By presenting your product in a sleek, cutting-edge and environmentally friendly package, you are saying that your company is trendy, innovative and responsible.

The trouble is that consumers often view beauty products as premium—or even luxury—products. They also are influenced by the weight and “feel” of the pack, and prestige products, in particular, rely on the perception of exclusivity and prestige for sales. These products can often experience an eco disconnect with consumers as brand owners do not want to associate their high-end goods with recycled materials. As a result, care must be taken when such materials are used so consumers do not perceive changes as a reduction in product quality and their experience remains up to their expectations.

Striking a Balance

Packaging plays an important role in protecting the economic, environmental, and social value of the products it contains. Many suppliers use techniques such as lightweighting (making the lightest container possible while still meeting the product performance requirements) as part of the traditional three Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle—to reduce the carbon footprint for existing product collections. While lightweighting is a good practice, sustainable packaging cannot be discussed without considering the products it contains. A problem arises when ambitious goals lead to the unintended consequence of product damage or loss.

“If the product doesn’t get delivered in the form that the consumer expects or doesn’t provide the value that the consumer demands to receive, all the discussion about natural packaging goes out the window,” says Bob Lilienfeld, editor of The Use Less Stuff Report. He contends the first role of packaging is to protect the product and only then a discussion can be started about how to do so in the most efficient way possible. “The real value is getting the consumer what they paid for,” he explains.

For reference, about 90% of the environmental impact of a product and its package is related to product manufacture and distribution, and only 10% is related to package production and material use, according to Lilienfeld. A well-designed package, first, maintains the product in its original condition, ready to be used as intended by the producer and expected by the consumer. The best way to create a more sustainable package—one that delivers maximum value with minimum negative environmental, economic and social impact—is to look at the big picture. When it comes to the development of more sustainable packaging, AMERIPEN (The American Institute for Packaging and the Environment), an advocacy organization for environmental packaging issues, recommends a holistic, system-wide approach that moves the discussion in a new direction: optimization. Not only does optimization of the package and process provide the greatest results but it does so in the shortest period of time, according to AMERIPEN, so cost optimization projects often also reduce cost in materials. The package’s ability to preserve, protect and educate (via labeling) can help reduce costs and waste associated with product breakage, contamination, spoilage and misuse.

Striking a balance for an “optimal” package allows priority focus on environmental performance without sacrificing quality or attractive packaging. An optimal package makes its way from concept to consumer in an environmentally responsible and efficient manner.

To enhance sustainability, an optimal package maximizes both the effectiveness needed to ensure products are transported, displayed, purchased, stored and used as intended and the economic and environmental efficiency with which these functions occur.

For instance, Fusion Packaging developed the Axis LTE and Couture LTE jars using 50% less material, making them a greener option without compromising the luxurious aesthetic. “These jars still have the prestigious double-walled feature but in a more eco-friendly package, which is something we’ve seen grow in popularity,” explains Jessica Cahalen, Fusion Packaging’s director of marketing. “We are very focused on keeping our products luxe while still finding ways to reduce the amount of materials.”

Fusion also developed its Scene foundation package to provide an alternative for traditional glass or non-transparent plastic. Coming up with a way to combine the polypropylene and PCTG in an airtight, leak-proof bottle was definitely a unique challenge, but the end result is a bottle unobstructed by varying shade ranges and that allows the consumer to see the true formula color inside. “We used the best qualities of each of the resins to create a truly innovative package that suits both our brand clients and the end consumers,” says Cahalen.

The challenge with beauty packaging, in particular, is that the action to recycle lies with the end consumer. “Our role is to provide packaging options so that brands have a choice when it comes to packaging,” adds Cahalen. And when a company starts to build green initiatives into its brand story, there are both tangible and intangible benefits. “Even the smallest changes a brand makes to be more environmentally conscious can generate a halo effect,” notes Dan Dominski, Fusion’s vice president of engineering and product development.

Sometimes, it’s simply about making judicious choices. For example, wet wipes are traditionally offered in both rigid containers and soft packs. The latter requires 70–80% less material than the rigid plastic packages. Diamond Wipes International recommends customers to choose the soft packs. “This not only reduces the material consumption impact but also reduces the overall weight of the products, which contribute to more efficient transport of goods,” explains Moto Okawa, marketing manager for Diamond Wipes. The company also is actively seeking materials for soft packs that are durable enough to protect and maintain the integrity of products inside while being fully and easily recyclable or made entirely from renewable sources.

Commitment to the Consumer

“The cosmetic industry is in the perception business. The environmental industry is in the reality business,” says Lilienfeld. “It’s perception versus reality.” Understanding how a commitment to sustainability can be communicated as part of the overall quality commitment is key.