May 16, 2013

How many friends and relatives do you have that are always talking about the next big thing that’s going to get them in shape? They’ve tried all the fad diets, they’ve bought into all the home workout DVDs, but nothing ever seems to work. They go to the gym three times a week, but the other four days they’re back at home eating Krispy Kreme’s on the couch while they watch an SVU marathon, and they wonder why nothing seems to be working. 

Turns out the packaging industry has the same problem. The EPA’s Waste Management Hierarchy, the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), define how most companies conceptualize sustainability in packaging. Since reduce is first, as AMERIPEN states in their Enhancing the Sustainability of Products and Packaging brochure “it’s only logical for organizations to set packaging targets around the concept of weight reduction.”  But often, these same companies stop there, foregoing the other two R’s entirely. 

And here we arrive at the same problem as our friend who finishes a workout by treating himself or herself to a Big Mac. Buying the workout DVD’s, doing them, and then eating at McDonalds isn’t the path to health and fitness, in the same way that reducing packaging weight while not thinking about the supply chain isn’t the path to sustainability. 

In fact, in their brochure concerning the sustainability of products and packaging, AMERIPEN sites that “about 90% of the environmental impact of a product and its package is related to product manufacture and distribution, and only 10% is related to package production and material use.” 

This points to the fact that we should be seriously examining the supply chain rather than the actual materials we utilize in the producing the packaging. But how can we best conceptualize this change? AMERIPEN provides a few suggestions (such as examining the economic, environmental, and social costs associated with product breakage, spoilage, misuse, and non-use). 

And here at TEQ there are a few additional questions we always ask before we begin a new project. These include: 

  • What material will provide the best balance of performance, cost, and aesthetics?
  • What role can the package play to extend the customers brand? 
  • What other parts of the supply chain can be optimized?
  • How can we reduce lead-time and confusion by utilizing our alliance partners?

Packaging, when done right, can complement or even “reduce” advertisement and marketing. Often, we can put waste materials back into the supply chain, “reusing” what was once trash. And we can certainly make sure to utilize plastics that are easy to “recycle.” 

Reduction is a good place to start when we consider the sustainability of our packaging, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In the same way that working out alone isn’t enough to be fit, without the appropriate diet or the right amount sleep, it’s only through thinking about the three R’s and the entire lifecycle of the product that we can achieve true sustainability. 

So, what about you? What are some ways your company is meeting sustainability challenges through supply chain optimization?