5 Elements of a Robust Sustainable Packaging Strategy
By: Berlin Packaging Specialist
Date: September 17, 2021
Berlin Packaging takes a distinctly different approach to optimize packaging sustainability. Since we are the world’s largest Hybrid Packaging Supplier, Berlin Packaging is not beholden to a specific material or process and can source components of all significant substrates via our relationships with more than 900 packaging converters around the globe.
In some instances, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies have fallen prey to the fallacy that packaging sustainability is simply a function of adding post-consumer (aka “recycled”) material in place of virgin material. The cause of this narrow approach is often the finite capabilities of those CPG companies’ packaging suppliers. For example, it’s logical that, when asked for sustainable options, converters with heavy capital investments in extrusion blow molding equipment will steer brand owners toward HDPE, although another material and process could have delivered a superior environmental impact.
To achieve optimum packaging sustainability outcomes, Berlin Packaging strongly recommends CPG companies employ a comprehensive and robust strategy that takes a holistic view and analysis of all aspects of its packaging — from functionality, performance, and aesthetics to distribution and consumer interaction — to find the best solutions for their applications.
Here are 5 elements of a robust sustainable packaging strategy.
1. Factually Grounded
The traditional packaging needs and requirements analyses must be even more thorough and far-reaching when targeting sustainability improvements. CPG companies should start with usability and functionality requirements, defining success criteria as precisely as possible. They should map out each touchpoint throughout the package’s entire life cycle, such as filling and packaging operations, distribution (including e-commerce), and consumer engagement interactions. Understanding what the package must do and for whom, engineers and designers must agree on measuring and testing performance against these requirements.
Failure to perform such in-depth analyses could result in losses that compromise product and brand integrity and end up having a net-negative environmental impact. If the packaging cannot be efficiently filled or provides other challenges to filling and capping, it may add unnecessary costs and issues during distribution.
A failing package is anything but sustainable and is more likely to end up in a landfill. Beyond the negative environmental impact, a package that leaks during its journey through the e-commerce fulfillment channel will lead to dissatisfied consumers, costly returns, and a weakened brand.
The fulsome analysis should inform the strategy versus some new trend, an abstract notion, or a formulaic approach.
Evaluating multiple options for their positive environmental impact will ultimately lead to the best solution. While doing so may be more expedient at the outset, basing sustainability declarations on one measurement metric limits what a CPG company can achieve and exposes the company to reputational risks. For example, a commitment to avoid virgin resin use by a specific date may not be achievable without actions that would impose a net-negative environmental impact.
Taking a broad-based approach and keeping an open mind allows a company to draw from a more diverse palette of options. For example, suppose a company’s strategy is to reduce total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In that case, they need to evaluate a variety of materials that may include virgin material reduction. Still, they could also incorporate lightweighting, packout efficiency, and transportation strategies that work together to maximize the GHG offset more than a resin change alone.
Berlin Packaging uses a wide range of analytical tools to measure the environmental impacts of our stock and custom packaging offerings and arm our clients with the information they need to make informed sustainability choices.
3,737,769 kg Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction
Gallons of Crude Oil Saved
Passenger Vehicles Taken Off the Road
Fewer Passenger Car KM Driven
Fewer Liters of Gasoline Consumed
Tree Seedlings Grown for 10 Years
Acres of Forest Preserved
Liters of Water Saved
Fewer Daily Showers
Companies should state their sustainability goals and outcomes in terms that consumers can relate to and understand. For example, rather than simply saying that a new package reduces GHG emissions by a given amount or percentage, it’s more effective to contextualize GHG emissions via equivalencies. For example, “Our new package reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 10%. That’s like removing 10,000 passenger vehicles from the road for an entire year!”.
In addition, brand owners should understand what resonates with their target consumers and calibrate their message accordingly. A brand for the outdoor enthusiast, for example, could communicate environmental impact benefits in terms of forest preservation and water savings.
In one quarter alone, Berlin Packaging presented our clients with sustainable packaging options offering 3.7 million kilograms of GHG emissions reductions, equivalent to the annual positive environmental impacts shown in the infographic.
Setting lofty “stretch” goals may be an effective way to drive internal performance. Still, a failure to achieve publicly declared goals is dilutive to the trust that underpins great brands and invites the scrutiny of environmental watchdogs who are always on the lookout for greenwashing.
Many CPG companies have gotten themselves into a sustainability arms race by declaring success in terms of one specific measurement (e.g., PCR use, recyclability) by a particular date. These types of tactics may be too limiting. Brand owners should ensure that their sustainability goals are broad enough to be achievable via multiple means.
For example, a beverage company may want to commit to a sustainability goal of reducing water deprivation versus commitments to use or avoid certain packaging materials because while the cost and availability of packaging materials are nearly impossible to predict years into the future, there are multiple methods available (including many beyond packaging) that can drive improvements in water usage.
Finally, a package with numerous environmental benefits is an outstanding achievement. However, to be genuinely “sustainable,” a new package must be profitable in the long-term, i.e., part of a sustainable business model. Despite incorporating what may be an impressive list of environmental improvements, a package that adds too much to total COGS (costs of goods sold), can’t be filled and decorated efficiently, that fails to protect and deliver its contents, or that isn’t recognized and enjoyed by its target consumers will die in the marketplace, taking its attendant environmental benefits with it.
Ultimately, building a robust packaging sustainability strategy calls for CPG companies to think long and hard about “why”’ environmental benefits are significant to their brands and consumers, “what” the optimal blend of impact and achievability is, and “how” to focus a broad mix of analytical, material & process and design & engineering tools on achieving goals their customers can appreciate and relate to.
Berlin Packaging is uniquely qualified to offer clients a mix of subject matter expertise in these five elements and a “material and process agnostic” approach to packaging sustainability.