Sustainable Packaging — It’s all about that base… line

Apologies to anyone who will have that song stuck in their head the rest of the day!

Sustainable Packaging is critical to the success of, well, future generations of the world. And it’s amazing to see so many companies making sustainable packaging a key strategic initiative.

According the McKinsey & Company Article “The drive toward sustainability in packaging – beyond quick wins”, in the future “FMCG companies and retailers will have to become more aggressive in their approach to addressing sustainable packaging – it should be noted though that curbing the use of plastic packaging and changing packaging material comes at a cost in terms of additional complexities and trade-offs, many of which will be far from trivial”.   

To start developing sustainable packaging, FMCGs need to first truly understand their current packaging specifications, needs and requirements. There are so many variables that have to be addressed. It’s really not as simple as “this material is sustainable, so we can make a sustainable package”. Shelf life, appearance, filling and standing up to modern supply chains are all considerations that need to be taken into consideration. 

The key to moving from non-sustainable packaging to sustainable packaging is really about understanding your current specifications.  And more importantly – what the requirements truly are for the package (regardless of materials being used). But, many companies don’t know the details of their specifications.  Often specs are so incomplete that they are essentially useless – they are likely just enough to enter something into ERPs to place orders. Which doesn’t provide the proper framework to meet many companies aggressive sustainability goals.

There are a few simple steps that FMCGs can take to accelerate their move to sustainable packaging. 

  1.   Get a handle on your current specifications. You can’t build a map to where you are going unless you know your starting point.  Start collecting the data you need from suppliers to assess current MVTR/OTR, seal/bond strength, COF, tensile strength and other key characteristics of your packaging. 
  2.   Fully understand your filling requirements. Is it a hot fill?  What speeds are you currently running at? Does your product travel over mountains (incredibly important when it comes to seal strengths). 
  3.   Get your specs on a cloud-based platform, that allows for collaboration across your value chain. There will be dozens of internal and external stakeholders involved in the process. Provide a place where everyone can get on the same page. Outlook email chains and multiple copies of incorrect files create enough headaches to keep Advil in business for eternity. 

Once you have your specifications baselined, you can then start to develop truly impactful sustainable packaging.  

It will help if you have a stage-gate process (preferably automated and on a collaborative platform) to track the progress of your sustainable packaging initiatives. What is really key is to be able to track what worked and what didn’t on various iterations to quickly go from concept to production.

In the end, it really is all about that base…line. Understand where you are and then the mapping where you are going makes reaching sustainability goals much more attainable.

Note: Referring to McKinsey article above, below are four points of complexity in moving to sustainable packaging: 

  1.   FMCGs and retailers will face complicated trade-offs such as recyclability versus carbon footprint and food waste.
  2.   Not all types of actions have the same impact on different aspects of the sustainability footprint.
  3.   Technical and economic feasibility varies by plastic type and application, as well as by geographic region, and cost implications go beyond just packaging material prices and conversion costs.
  4.   Any packaging material or design change has implications on overall branding strategy, and large portfolios comprised of different plastics, applications and geographies make strategizing highly complex.