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Brand Owners Want Sustainable Packaging: Two Key Lessons for Environmental Leaders


By Elisabeth Comere

Recycling is intrinsically linked to sustainability. We will always produce material things in some form, and it will serve us best in the long run if we can put those materials back into productive use. Recycling is an essential component for minimizing our dependence on natural resources, and it contributes to advancements in market development and green technologies. But recycling has gone beyond accepted to expected, and that fact invites us to address other key variables which contribute to a circular materials economy.

Long-term success requires action on both ends of the spectrum. What we need is a two-pronged approach to achieve our economic and environmental objectives. First, we must move toward a circular materials economy, a system that addresses resource limitations by radically improving resource efficiency from the beginning of the product lifecycle. Second, we should use a lifecycle analysis to make informed decisions around product packaging design -- one which considers recyclability and renewability.

1. Institutionalizing circular economy strategies

Multinationals are increasingly concerned with long-term feedstock security, volatile prices and the race to acquire those finite raw materials. In order to mitigate these risks, corporate leaders are exploring how their operations can contribute to a circular material flow, requiring them to take a hard look at the materials entering their supply chains. The premise is to reduce the consumption of primary materials and extend their lifecycle. More and more businesses are looking to responsibly managed bio-based sources, such as timber and sugar cane, which can also help achieve a lower carbon impact throughout the package lifecycle. The use of renewable materials fortifies your company's commitment to improving your carbon footprint -- leaving your customers confident in your ability to uphold best practices while securing a continuous flow of feedstock; this ultimately strengthens your overall supply chain resiliency.

“When a company of Coca-Cola stature embraces 100 percent renewable packaging as it is doing, it’s a statement to others: Get on board, or you will get left behind,” says Greg Keenan, vice president of business development and engineering for Virent, in the Smithers Pira white paper entitled, “Making Sense of Sustainability in Packaging." (Click here to download).

2. Decision-making through lifecycle assessment (LCA)

There is a fine balance between reducing the environmental footprint of a product and fulfilling its primary purpose. Although recycling is important to diverting waste, it is no longer enough to design products and packaging for the purpose of recycling. Business leaders are thinking more holistically to ensure their targets and customer demands are met by designing a robust product and/or package using a lifecycle framework. This approach exposes elements, within each stage of the product or package life, that have the highest environmental impact. Product and packaging designers must keep all of these elements in mind as they reflect on a myriad of diverse consumer lifestyles and expectations, resource scarcity and other environmental considerations, retailer and brand-owner preferences, branding opportunities, and cost. LCAs show that if a package is designed using the minimum amount of materials and renewables where possible without compromising the product protection, the environmental footprint will be improved.

According to Tetra Pak’s LCA data, “If 75 percent of a package’s weight is from renewable paperboard, that element of the package only contributes to 20 percent of the total carbon impact throughout the package lifecycle.”

To thrive in a diverse and competitive market, we need a paradigm shift in how we look at sustainability -- a view that considers the totality of our supply chain impact and not just the back end. This is hardly a new idea, but it is the lynchpin of long-term sustainability and it’s imperative to shift our focus. I bring these ideas to you to drive discussion, to push boundaries, and to innovate for longevity.

Image courtesy of Tetra Pak

Elisabeth Comere is responsible for environment at Tetra Pak - the world leader in packaging and food processing solutions. She joined the company in 2006 as Environment Manager for Europe where she helped define and drive Tetra Pak's environmental strategy and contributed shaping recycling for cartons in Europe. Since 2010, she is based in the U.S., focusing on advancing the Tetra Pak's commitment to sustainability in the U.S. and Canada and is involved in various industry and customer packaging and sustainability initiatives.

3p Contributor

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