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Sustainable Packaging: Making It Stick

flanagan, laura, pe internationalSustainability issues in packaging continue to generate headlines for many audiences:  The latest biobased packaging material innovation, food waste prevention, the most recent adoption of new labels to empower consumers to recycle packaging. But if your company is like most, you’re still finding it challenging to incorporate sustainability goals into the packaging design process. In this article, we build upon our recent white paper on implementing a sustainable packaging initiative (summarized here by Environmental Leader) to take a closer look at what it takes to change the way your organization thinks about driving more sustainable packaging. The punch line? Don’t underestimate the importance of integration to the way your company does business.

How to determine your objective

In our recent white paper , we talked about the importance of starting your packaging sustainability effort by clearly articulating your objectives.  Before you can determine the role of innovative materials or new designs in your sustainable packaging strategy, you must have an understanding of what sustainability means to your organization and what your plan is to drive it. Without this vision and strategy in place, it becomes difficult to know where to focus resources and whether what you are working on adds business value. Diving straight into conducting footprinting or design may give you an answer to a question, but without a context in which to leverage those results, you may find yourself wasting time chasing after the small details with no clear end in sight.

It may sound simple, but what does determining your objectives, vision and strategy actually entail?

A few key steps include:

1. Determine what is material. 

What are the environmental and social impacts of your packaging throughout its life cycle? How does that impact compare to the product it protects? What issues do your customers and stakeholders care about most? Whether it’s carbon, petroleum, waste, or others, it’s important to know who cares about what, as well as what your competition is doing and communicating. This input is critical to evaluating which issues are important to your business.  Life cycle assessment is one tool to evaluate the environmental impacts of your packaging; the social hot spot database may be an option for you to evaluate the social impacts of your packaging supply chain.   Consider materiality assessments for understanding what stakeholders care about for your companies – link with your GRI G4 reporting materiality considerations if that’s part of your reporting strategy. Or, simply starting a dialog may be enough to get you started.

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