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6 Key Steps to Sustainable Packaging


Sustainability has been a hot topic for quite some time now due to environmental and social pressures. The evolving nature of consumer preferences and government regulations have altered the way organizations conduct their business. Those organizations had, and still have to, think of innovative ways to attract customers while staying sustainable. Eco-friendly initiatives were something that only forward-thinking companies would promote. Nowadays, however, engaging in sustainable practices is becoming the norm.

The first impression a customer has of a product is an important one. It might even dictate whether this customer is going to buy the product or not. Therefore, sustainable packaging can help differentiate the brand and make it resonate with the customer’s ethical preferences.

Because of this, rethinking packaging strategies has become one of the main goals of supply chain leaders to advance sustainability and meet customer demands by increasing recyclable content, minimizing packaging or reusing material.

In recent years, public awareness of packaging waste leakage, especially plastic waste, into the environment has increased significantly to an all-time high. As a result, governments around the world started adopting many approaches to minimize packaging waste, including Canada-wide Strategy for Sustainable Packaging.

Here are 6 Key Steps to Shift to Sustainable Packaging:

  1. Understand Customers’ Sustainability Priorities

To build brand loyalty and future growth an organization needs to align their values with those of their customers. By conducting in-depth consumer research, an organization can determine what sustainability means to their core customer and they can alter their behavior in accordance with their customer’s needs.

For example, if those customers are city dwellers, a home compostable packaging option may not be feasible given urban infrastructure. Instead, a more suitable strategy is reusable or recyclable packaging.

An organization must have a clear approach on how to truly benchmark their packaging products in terms of sustainability, financial costs, convenience, appearance, manufacturing processes, material availability, supply chain constraints, and product shelf life.

For example, a business may end up paying more for the materials and shipping costs, depending on what type of packaging they decide on. So, they must be sure to adjust the pricing of their products accordingly while keeping in line with customers’ expectations.

Shifting to fully sustainable packaging could take some time. So, organizations are encouraged to not be tempted to change the entire process of becoming more eco-friendly all at once because that is unsustainable in and of itself. They can first tackle preliminary elements of the packaging value chain that are low in effort and cost but offer visible improvements to consumers and stakeholders. Focusing on potentially small cost-saving ventures can build momentum for the more complex initiatives.  

For example, if a packaging company has different sized boxes in their product line, they should start by replacing the packaging structure in one of those sizes. Depending on the responses and reactions of the customers, the organization can decide on whether to complete the restructuring of the product line as a whole or scrap that idea and move onto a new one.

If an organization is working with a new sustainable packaging vendor, they should order small volumes of the packaging materials to assess durability and evaluate potential challenges and pitfalls.

For example, finance department in an organization might oppose a change to sustainable packaging due to packaging material prices and conversion costs. Then, perhaps the first sustainable packaging initiative can be rightsizing or packaging reductions that will keep costs low under the new packaging structure.

Sustainably driven organizations should look to inform customers, distributors, and suppliers about the benefits of sustainable packaging. Environmentally friendly products tend to minimize packaging waste and lessens the negative effects on the environment. Thus, it is important to note that the customers are educated and informed in a way that resonates with them and their values.

For example, Rheem Manufacturing, a US-based water heater and HVAC manufacturer, has made educating stakeholders on sustainable installation and sustainable product recycling a top priority.

Throughout the packaging value chain, an organization should develop partnerships with other companies to reap opportunities for scaling, exposure, and speed to market. These organizations can work in tandem with suppliers to develop proprietary offerings that can lead to a competitive market advantage over their peers in the industry.

For example, in order to reduce the use of fossil-fuel-based materials in their packaging, Procter & Gamble decided to partner with a sustainably driven company, Eastman, to replace some of the packages in their product line. Eastman is well-known for its innovative recycling technologies, and this agreement between the two will help reduce plastic waste that is plaguing the environment.

Five Pillars of Sustainable Packaging

To make packaging more sustainable, companies can reduce the material in their packaging, or use reusable, recyclable, recycled or compostable materials. These are the five pillars to having a sustainably packaged product:

  1. Reductions: Right-sizing and light-weighting packaging with less material than previously used. For instance, IKEA is increasingly designing furniture and products with customized packaging and manufacturing in mind.  

With the rising temperatures, growing number of waste landfills and the increase in companies’ carbon footprint, everyone has to play a part in preserving the environment. Therefore, if you’re in the business of selling goods to consumers, the least you can do is use sustainable packaging.

There are many ways to go green with your packaging, and the right approach depends on your business. Whether you choose to use eco-friendly materials, switch up your vendors, or optimize your supply chain processes, you need to do things one step at a time, measure the results, then expand from there.