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Sustainable Packaging and Your Environmentally-Friendly Business

Finding a Sustainable Packaging Business Framework

Green is the new black. More and more companies are re-tooling their businesses to incorporate greener and more sustainable practices, both internally and in their corporate image. Companies ranging from nationwide franchise to boutique retailers are pouring resources into meeting this trend.

Unsurprisingly, sales of Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, or LOHAS, products have already eclipsed the $300 billion mark as of 2008, a 36% increase from just 3 years prior. The backbone of this change is the nearly 80% of US adults who want more sustainable offerings.

The change is happening on both the manufacturing and retail fronts, with companies like Proctor & Gamble maintaining scorecards for its supply base and Wal-mart using a proprietary Sustainability Scorecard to boost competition between its suppliers and thusly drive down the impacts of packaging.

With these levels of interest, it’s important to ask the question – what does being green actually mean in packaging? This article checks three important assertions:

Context is important - three questions that establish a contextual frame of reference for your sustainability approach

Know the tools in your kit - building a sustainable framework with lots of options to achieve your goals

Determining who to work with - finding businesses and partners who are knowledgeable and helpful.

With these tools in mind, you’ll be on your way to a simple sustainable packaging framework for your business in no time. We’ll start by looking into the complex nature of sustainability and talk a little about the importance of high level strategy when approaching the issue.

Mind the (Knowledge) Gap

Green business is not a topic for light reading.

With lots of confusing and unregulated terminology, like ‘Natural’, ‘Paraben-free’, and ‘Bio-resin’, and a lack of standard definitions, even talking about green practices can be confusing and misleading. Few governing bodies exist and guidelines are not only grey areas, but scarce.

Consumers can feel burned by this confusion, and some have become skeptical of ‘green’ claims. Other consumers have latched onto old ideas or simplified facts that have changed in recent years, (like “aerosols are destroying the ozone”). This all combines to make it difficult for consumers and businesses to keep everything straight. This can lead to a disconnect between what consumers want and what they will pay for.

Things can even be confusing when consulting with experts – for instance, a glass company is going to argue that glass is more sustainable than plastic bottles, and vice versa. Both will be partially correct and partially incorrect – the glass bottle manufacturer has a product that is made from ubiquitous sand, whereas plastic, although lighter and less energy-consuming to create, comes from scarcer petroleum. Which one is sustainable is a question that, in order for your company to answer, must incorporate your goals and each variable in the equation.

Contextualize Your Sustainability Goals

In this case, if you’re creating simple sustainable packaging framework, you’ll want to find the balance between what your customers will like and want and what added cost they will accept. Only a passionate minority of consumers is willing to really pay for a greener packaging option.

Determining what role environmentally friendly packaging plays in your business framework is important because it provides a crucial context for how much to invest or rely on sustainability as a tactic. Is your green strategy meant to improve a financial metric or a social metric, or both?

Every business will have a different set of goals, so to get yourself started ask these questions of your company to guide you along the way:

What are your goals for your sustainability framework?

Are you looking to improve direct revenue by increasing sales to eco-conscious consumers? Or is your program more geared to indirect revenue growth by virtue of the positive association sustainable products enjoy? Or is your program designed to improve profitability, a deep dive into unit costs, volume, and product costs? These are just a few potential motivations behind your new green packaging initiatives, but like all good strategies, it requires careful planning and management of potential trade-offs.

Are you already sustainabile?

Take a look at your current company practices, as well as those of your competitors. How are you performing compared to what your customers are asking for? How about compared to consumer trends as a whole? Take a look at this information and use it to discover smaller changes that might make bigger impacts. Could focusing on lightweighting and recycling content make a bigger splash than downsizing your manufacturing footprint? This kind of discussion will help foster smarter initiatives when building your sustainable business framework.

What are your expectations?

From the perspective of a consumer, what change are you hoping for? How much of your potential marketshare are you risking and how much are you willing to pay for certain changes? Next, ask what changes are in-scope for your infrastructure and supply chain. Changing to eco friendly packaging solutions can disrupt your material suppliers, warehousing systems, and filling lines. Determining an acceptable degree of change can be helpful to shaping your overall green strategy.

Now that you’ve defined the context of your changes, turn to creating the rest of your framework.

Pull the Right Levers

Determining your green packaging solution can be challenging. Packaging changes have a wide variety of inputs they can incorporate – responsible sourcing, green production and distribution, efficiency of recovery, and consumer outlooks and views, among other factors. Handling all of these variables presents a challenge.

Used Materials

Goals: Increase renewability, reduce toxicity, and consider extraction


  • Reduce phthalates and plasticizers
  • Increase usage of post-consumer materials
  • Incorporate bio-based and petroleum-free resins
  • Use soy-based inks
  • Explore sustainably-harvested wood pulps
  • Draw down or remove PVC and Polycarbonates
  • Use un-bleached paper

Spent Materials

Goals: Less waste, more reusable end products, and end-of-life considerations


  • Utilize reusable pallets and tray liners
  • Improve recyclability by adjusting for disassembly
  • Use all-plastic components for increased recyclability
  • Include biodegradable materials or additives
  • Use lighter weight parts
  • Switch to heat-transfer or poly labels
  • Use black or uncolored resins

Energy Use

Goals: Lower emissions, shorten travel distances, and optimize energy use


  • Improve plant operations in places like water reclamation and energy efficiency
  • Reduce plant heavy metal and carbon emissions
  • Choose materials carefully – consider HDPE and Polypropylene resins, which use less energy than PETE, for example
  • Calibrate for transport efficiency – utilize practices like nesting, pallet optimization, top-load strength, and localized manufacture


Goals: Lower liability, raise awareness, and strategic partnerships


  • Third-party certifications – governing bodies providing accreditation of facilities, materials, personnel, or processes
  • Human rights audits and green workspace design
  • Collaborate with NGO’s – through outreach, donations, and corporate dashboards
  • Use these outlines as a starting point to guide your company into deeper discussion and research. Use them as a jumping off point when communicating with suppliers and partners, as well.

A Note about Dashboards

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), an industry group dedicated to implementing sustainable packaging solutions, has an outstanding study detailing comprehensive metrics to evaluate and benchmark your green packaging solutions.

The study was in turn refined by the Global Packaging Project, who defined a list of 40 metrics to help measure your progress.

Pick Your Partners Wisely

Not all suppliers of packaging materials adopt sustainable solutions with equal vigor. A 2011 study conducted by Qorpak parent company Berlin Packaging showed that less than 50% of responding packaging manufacturers comply with retail sustainability scorecard metrics.

Sustainability Dashboard Compliance
  % That Comply
Energy & Climate  
Reduce your corporate greenhouse gas emissions 59%
Publicly available greenhouse gas reduction targets 13%
Materials Efficiency  
Measured the total amount of solid waste generated 45%
Publicly available solid waste reduction targets 12%
Publicly available water use reduction targets 9%
Nature & Resources  
Publicly available sustainability purchasing guidelines 23%
Obtained 3rd party certifications 45%
People & Community  
Know the location of 100% of the facilities 77%
Process for managing social compliance at the manufacturing level 52%
Resolve issues found during social compliance evaluations 36%
Invest in community development 36%
Source: 2011 Berlin Packaging Supplier Sustainability Survey

Packaging Digest performed a study in 2011 that supports the them that suppliers are not all embracing sustainability. Only 72% of respondents in the Packaging Digest study pursued waste reduction, and 50-60% have initiatives for lowering energy consumption and use of recycled materials. When flilling out your simple sustainable packaging framework, be sure that your partners and suppliers can execute. Survey them to ensure your goals line up with their abilities.

Spotlight on Qorpak parent Berlin Packaging

Berlin Packaging is a leading supplier of rigid packaging. Sustainability is not a separate practice area or discipline within Berlin Packaging; instead, it is part of the regular dialogue of meeting the unique needs of each customer.

Indeed, as part of Berlin Packaging’s commitment to increasing the net income of its customers, Berlin takes pride in being a comprehensive resource for cutting-edge technologies and trends within the packaging industry. Sustainable packaging solutions are an important part of this.

Some of the ways Berlin Packaging has pushed the sustainability agenda include:

  • Early adoption of bio-based resins, including Polyhydroxybutyrate (Biopol).
  • Supplying multiple products with enhanced recyclability; all-plastic trigger sprayers is one example.
  • Partnering with Eco.logic brands on their fiber-based eco.bottle™.
  • Regular work to reduce gram weight in containers and closures.
  • Regular work to reduce freight and greenhouse gases by sourcing packaging closer to the filling location or changing package cube efficiency.
  • Focus on reducing and eliminating the need for secondary packaging.
  • Member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition™.

From regulatory issues and retailer preferences to the latest available green material or processing platforms, Berlin Packaging helps customers stay ahead of the curve.

Getting Started

Improving your environmentally friendly packaging business framework can be a simple set of changes, not a large display. Dial in your improvements over time by building them into a larger roadmap to guide you. Construct your businesses roadmap by collecting feedback from your key constituents – consumers, customers, and suppliers. Take that research in hand with a strong competitive overview and determine if sustainability can be a source of competitive advantage. If so, in what ways?

Acknowledge your overall goals and the role sustainability fits in your larger strategy. Determine how to incorporate it into your larger corporate scorecard.

Decide what degrees of freedom you truly have with sustainability. Are their certain things about your go-to-market approach that can’t change? Your market offering?

When you’ve collected this information, review the aforementioned four areas in your sustainability framework to decide the best course of action to achieve your goals. Then, determine what supply chain partners can support that achievement.

In Summary

Sustainability has benefits for the planet, your businesses community, and even your company itself. As part of a new set of considerations for business owners, sustainability can play a large role in shaping the growth and proust of your business. Sustainable packaging can play a significant role in that growth, and the challenge lies in defining what the winning strategy is for you. Understanding where sustainability lies in your corporate dashboard and what you’re willing to give in order to achieve it is essential to building the right strategy. When you have accomplished that, you can then select what tactics will best serve you to achieve your sustainability goals.

Four major groups of action improve packaging sustainability – Used Materials, Spent Materials, Energy Use, and Community. These groups can all play a large role in your sustainability strategy.

Ultimately, delivering sustainable and excellent business results is dependent on both a well-designed roadmap and supportive partners.