Insights from Berlin Packaging’s New VP of Sustainability
Berlin Packaging is excited to introduce our new Vice President of Sustainability, Balaji Jayaseelan. Balaji has a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, a Master’s degree in Environmental Management, an MBA from Emory University, and 15+ years of experience leading sustainability programs for multiple B2B and B2C firms, including within the packaging industry.
He is responsible for helping create a culture of sustainability at Berlin Packaging — establishing new goals, processes and systems, and serving as a subject matter expert for our organization and its customers.
We asked Balaji to address some of the sustainability challenges facing companies today.
What are some simple ways companies can incorporate sustainability into their business model?
Balaji: One meaningful way of embedding sustainability is to engage employees in co-creating your company’s sustainable practices. You can do this by creating a sustainability engagement team that provides a place for workers to share ideas and determine which ones to implement.
It is also essential to have clear metrics and goals to track and share with everyone at your company. Employees should understand what they are doing to be sustainable and how they are making progress. Then everyone can celebrate those successes together. Effective collaboration is the key to accelerating sustainability across any industry or value chain.
Sustainability often comes at a cost. What would you say to businesses who are hesitant to invest in sustainability initiatives?
Balaji: In the past, it was easier to determine the purpose of business investments. For example, if a tangible asset, like a factory, gets built, it is easier to estimate its widget cost and selling price. However, in today’s market, the competitive advantage relies on intangible assets like brand and corporate culture. Design, innovation, customer loyalty, and sustainability have all created clear differentiation in the marketplace.
Studies show that customer satisfaction, environmental stewardship, and sustainable policies are associated with higher stock returns when a company focuses on core sustainable material issues. Within the packaging space, in particular, consumer awareness of packaging waste is driving change.
In the past few years, almost all top 100 FMCG companies have made commitments to drive sustainability over the coming years. Governments have also responded to public concerns regarding packaging waste, especially single-use packaging. They are implementing regulations to both minimize environmental waste and improve waste management processes. These social and governmental drivers demonstrate that businesses need to invest in sustainability to gain a competitive advantage.
Are there any common pitfalls you would warn companies about when pursuing sustainable packaging solutions?
Balaji: Yes, the first thing I would say is to avoid greenwashing. Don’t use vague terms like “earth-friendly” and “eco-friendly” that do not have clearly defined attributes. Companies need to back up their claims with data, using life cycle analysis or other quantitative methods that provide evidence and help gain consumer trust.
The next thing to be aware of is the recyclability of your packaging. Companies should avoid proposing mixed-material solutions as recyclable because they pose serious recycling challenges. And the last thing I would warn about is using excessive and unnecessary package designs that create avoidable waste.