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Optimization and Sustainability—A Winning Combination

By: Pat Smorch
Posted: March 3, 2010, from the March 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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While larger package sizes may not seem like a highly sustainable packaging decision at face value, multipack options such as those found at club and super stores are, in actuality, far more eco-friendly than their single-serving rivals. Take the case of Honest Tea, an organic iced tea brand that Georgia-Pacific worked with to move the brand into club stores by transitioning to a 24-drink multipack. The new option gave the brand more shelf appeal and visibility, and was 41% lighter, saving on shipping and fuel costs. In addition, the new multipacks are made with 35% postconsumer waste and the handle is made with 45% postconsumer waste. Annual reductions in fiber use were 1,200 tons, 2,600 tons of carbon dioxide emissions were eliminated based on the manufacturing process, and 12,369 MM BTU of energy savings were calculated per year as a result of the transition.

Function Meets Form

Similarly, the rise of functional packaging has given way to a whole new approach to sustainability. Think back to one of the earliest forms of functional packaging—microwave popcorn. The package could also be used as the eating bowl, eliminating unnecessary waste and saving water and washing detergent. Now this same packaging technique is seen in everything from pint-sized ice cream containers to yogurt—where granola and other toppings can be packaged separately on the same container.

Easing the Load on the Road

There must be a dozen ways consumer package goods companies have learned to save money and become more sustainable when it comes to transportation. From the square, caseless milk packages mentioned earlier, which save on milk crate costs and stack better in the store, to advanced aseptic packaging that allows perishable products to be shipped without refrigeration, sustainable practices can be found anywhere you turn on the transportation side of the supply chain. While shape has been a big area of innovation for con

sumer brands, so has the material choice—and a good deal of the change has been the result of weight. Heavier materials such as glass have given way to new corrugated boxes and other lightweight containers. The lighter the load, the less fuel it takes to haul. It’s a simple law of physics.


Supply chain optimization will save your company money while reducing any long-term negative impact on the environment. While the concept is not a new one, many engineers and companies are constantly on the hunt for the next big idea. Cost savings and material and energy savings are areas of constant scrutiny for any organization. And by staying connected to the companies on the forefront of these innovations, you’ll always be in the loop.