What Exactly is Sustainable Packaging?

What Exactly is Sustainable Packaging?


What exactly is sustainable packaging, and more significantly why is it important to try and understand this concept? If you ask random consumers what they think sustainable packaging is you will likely get multiple different answers. Additionally, there are many sustainable and environmental associations and bodies which could define sustainable packaging in many different ways. Let’s attempt to broadly define this concept and explore the implications of these definitions on your brand.

Criteria for Sustainable Packaging

  • Safe and healthy for individuals and communities
  • Meets industry standards for performance and costs
  • The material is manufactured and transported using renewable energy
  • Physically designed to optimize materials and energy
  • Optimizes the use of recycled source materials
  • Is manufactured using clean production technology
  • Is made from materials that are healthy at end of life cycle

Environmentally friendly packaging as a holistic approach

Packaging should be viewed as a start to finish processes. An environmentally sound approach does not only consist of the materials the box or packaging is composed of. Many people probably do not see the practice of sustainability as a larger macro holistic approach. Take transportation for example, transportation is inherently tied to packaging. Materials must be moved from one location to another. The product or product parts must be moved from one country to another. Products are packed at a facility and then transported to the end consumer. This entire process can potentially be very non environmentally friendly. Now think about this scenario. Perhaps your packaging material is extremely environmentally friendly. The materials your product is composed of might also be very environmentally friendly. But perhaps the amount of effort and transportation needed to relocate your raw materials is significant enough that your attempt to be environmentally conscious is offset by the amount of fossil fuels needed for transport. Compare this to a product made from local materials and sold locally or regionally. The amount of transportation required from the second example would be considerably less. Locally made products will have a better environmental outcome. As you can see it’s easy to talk about the package or box itself. Focusing just on this does not represent the full picture. Here is a list of the key elements in the life cycle of the package:

  • product integration into the package (filling)
  • packaged product distribution
  • Warehousing
  • Retail display
  • consumer interaction and end-of-life management options.

All these points above have particular environmental effects. But the key point is that the big picture is much more complicated than appears. However, by making each step in the packaging process more sustainable a company can communicate every environmental optimization to the consumer which will ultimately help improve your brand.

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