The first step a business should take when trying to realize a sustainable packaging initiative is determining the objective that its packaging is seeking to attain, according to a white paper from sustainability software and consulting firm PE International.
Despite the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s recognized definition of sustainable packaging being nearly a decade old, companies still struggle with identifying which of the many sustainability metrics to make into key performance indicators, according to Five Steps to Sustainable Packaging. So determining what is important to your business in terms of sustainable packaging is the logical first step. There is no scientifically “most important” issue that applies to all products, the white paper says.
How a business makes these decisions must be informed by what issues, such as carbon reduction or water conservation, are important to its customers and internal decisions makers and what issues are relevant to the actual product. For example it makes little sense to focus on water for a product that does not use much water.
Once an objective has been defined, the next step is to establish clear goals. This is the best way to measure progress. Goals can be set by measuring performance against indicators over time — for instance, a percentage reduction per year — or they can be set as a deadline in the future, such as zero packaging waste by 2030, the white paper says. The goals must be based on the objective defined in step one.
Step three is to consider the product and its role in a wider packaging system, the white paper says. For example, what is the new packaging’s relative contribution to the overall product’s footprint? What is the best design or material based on the particular function you are seeking to achieve?
PE International calls the fourth step “execute, execute, execute.” This step deals with determining how the business is going to accomplish what it has set out to do. There are many tools available to enable a company to evaluate its designs and see how they compare to set goals. For example a life cycle analysis would be appropriate if a business is seeking to reduce waste across the life cycle of a product.
Finally a business needs to communicate successes to the market, but it also needs to beware of making false claims, even inadvertently. For example, a business should be cautious of comparative claims that says it is better at one thing than another company as this often depends on too many other factors to measure accurately. For example, a highly efficient company using a more intensive material might have a lower overall environmental footprint than an inefficient provider using a low-burden material, the white paper says.