Sustainable packaging encompasses multiple initiatives, including producing effective solutions with minimum resources, protecting the product, transport efficiency and effective end of life management. What’s encouraging is that each of the aforementioned can be accomplished one step at a time.
Implementing incremental changes towards sustainable packaging can often achieve a more robust outcome towards comprehensive sustainability than holding off on a product’s release until a complete redesign can be made. It all depends on brand owners’ objectives, including their knowledge of consumer preferences, impact from supplier scorecards, and their own internal sustainability goals.
One caveat, no matter what the company decides to include in its sustainability mix, there will be no greater backlash than the waste of fully-costed products. These are products that have been manufactured and transported to a retailer only to never be purchased due to a variety of reasons, such as a packaging defect or damage – which can endanger the integrity of the product inside. To balance performance and sustainability, product manufacturers should consider the following points:
1. Reduce Material with Care
A common tenet of sustainable packaging is “reduce, reuse, recycle.” For years, the industry has focused on reducing by rightsizing or downgauging material. This approach reduces waste towards the end of the package’s lifecycle and also saves material costs upfront. In some cases, depending on the redesign, it can drive transportation efficiency by reducing overall weight and size permitting greater cube utilization. This results in the reduction of fuel usage and minimizes the CPG’s overall carbon footprint.
However, material reduction should always be done with care to maintain the integrity of the package. The primary function of any package is to protect its contents, and packaging that fails to do so will result in fully-costed waste. Industry guidelines have been created because many packagers focused too much on lightweighting, leading to compromised integrity and damage during the shipping process.
2. Follow the Industry Guidelines
As noted above, when re-designing or lightweighting a package, brand owners can reference industry guidelines. For instance, the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) has created a protocol for responsible package design. This protocol offers an analytical process for assessing packaging functionality and sustainability and provides an eight stage evaluation process to guide design changes and prevent damage during transport.
Additionally, programs like the highly visible Wal-Mart Sustainability Scorecard rewards continuous improvement efforts by CPGs in refining packaging design and operations. It incorporates metrics on material choice, transportation, materials sourcing, and the end of life of a product to score products on a bell curve against one another. As new innovations and designs come out, peers are forced to upgrade and compete in order to retain their position thereby driving incremental innovation. In some cases, it may be to your advantage to make incremental versus dramatic changes.