Conference explores sustainable packaging trends
An alternative TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE: Innovate, demonstrate, collaborate.
Lisa Pierce -- Packaging Digest, 3/30/2012 9:02:09 AM
In summing up the event, conference chairman John Kalkowski, editorial director of Packaging Digest, urged delegates to innovate, demonstrate and collaborate-the three major themes developed in presentations throughout the conference.
Sustainability and innovation go hand-in-hand. Attendees heard many ideas about sustainable packaging innovation during the conference.
Speaker Tony Knoerzer, vp advanced research, food packaging at PepsiCo, advised listeners to fail early and move on to the next idea.
Lars Lundquist, packaging and environment expert at Nestlé, said there is plenty of drive and innovation in sustainable packaging, but what's lacking is direction. Confused consumers end up doing nothing about packaging. And it's not about reducing packaging; it's about optimizing. The risk of under-packing is higher than over-packing because of the product waste generated, he says.
Lundquist also said that Gen3 of bioplastics-those that adapt non-food sources (such as wood, agricultural waste and drought-resistant plastics/algae) for packaging applications-are still far away from commercialization. The holdup? The chemistry often uses more energy to produce the material than it saves.
Concern about feedstock sourcing-for bioplastics and for clean recycled content-came up several times by different people. One solution discussed was closed-loop systems.
In trying to sell your sustainable packaging innovation internally, Randy Boeller, packaging engineering manager with Hewlett Packard, shared a tip that works for him. When two or more departments are involved in a decision (especially a contrary one, like spending more in procurement but saving more in logistics), go up the corporate organization chart to find the single executive who is responsible for both departments to get needed changes made. He cited a successful example of this at HP, where they fixed their internal policy so that purchasing agents are no longer evaluated just on how much they save on purchase prices.
There's a lot more science involved in packaging sustainability now-and that's a good thing. Alan Blake, associate director corporate packaging development sustainability at Procter & Gamble, gave an overview of the Global Protocol on Sustainable Packaging 2.0, that provides comprehensive metrics from which users can pick and choose depending on product and project.
Life-cycle assessment was a major topic.Lundquist explained how Nestlé uses LCA at the packaging concept phase employing PIQET (Packaging Impact Quick Evaluation Tool). They have super-users who train others how to use the online tool. With training, Nestle users can do an assessment in about 30 min, he says.
But are all LCA tools created equal? Tony Kingsbury, Dow executive in residence at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, did a study comparing five different tools-COMPASS, GaBi, SimaPro, Sustainable Minds and the Walmart Packaging Scorecard-and found that results vary widely, even when the data is the same.
Still, Ed Socci, R&D director, Advanced Research Div. at PepsiCo, suggested packagers use LCA as an improvement tool. "Aspirationally, where can we get to?"
All the right data in the world will take you nowhere, though, if your customers think it leads you to a wrong decision. Harry Epstein, vp innovation, HAVI Global Solutions, warned, "Science doesn't win the day when it comes to consumer perception."
So what's a packaging designer to do, asked an audience member, if an LCA tool tells you to make one improvement, but that isn't the best from a consumer perception view? P&G's Blake replied: "Communicate and educate-or don't make the change."
Take concentrates, for example. In the U.S., consumers expect a financial incentive, according to Will Archer, manager of global sustainability at SC Johnson. The company recently expanded its portfolio of concentrated cleaners. Archer said companies need to communicate what the sustainable packaging savings mean to consumers, using a familiar point of reference for comparison.
Libby Bernick, vp, TerraChoice, challenged attendees on effective communications. "If we can't communicate our eco improvements to consumers in an easy way, what have we done?"
She also said that consumers are interested in greener products, but their motivation is what really matters. Learn why they are interested and deliver on that, she suggests.
Many recent successes in sustainable packaging development have been built through partnerships between brand owners and suppliers. PepsiCo's Knoerzer explained that creating value in the supply chain today requires shared knowledge and a coordinated strategy which usually involves exclusive features or services. Brand owners are able to rapidly move on innovation with suppliers they trust.
Knoerzer also advised attendees: Invest in what you need to know-with the right horsepower. "If you think knowledge is expensive, try ignorance." And don't get stuck protecting intellectual property but never getting around to using it.
Scott Vitters, general manager of the PlantBottle packaging platform at The Coca-Cola Co., shared a secret to their success: sharing. The idea was that development of the technology would accelerate (which would also drive down costs) if the supply chain could see the market for PlantBottle was bigger than Coke. So the company has decided to partner with other trusted brands-such as Heinz ketchup-to expand use of PlantBottles and get the word out quicker. It seems to be working. Heinz had two million hits in the first month on the QR code educating consumers on its PlantBottle.
During the Q&A, someone asked about lessons learned. Vitters responded with, "In any partnership, ensure there is clarity on goals, expectations, value return."
HP's Boeller added that the size of a supplier doesn't necessarily matter when deciding to partner with them or not. Smaller companies can sometimes act quicker, he says.
Jeff Wayman, director of worldwide supply chain management for McDonald's Corp., said, "Ditto. I've worked with small and big suppliers. If they are focused, aligned and understand your business, value them and partner with them."
It helps, too, for packagers to try to learn about the upstream and downstream links in the supply chain. During the Q&A in "A World Without Waste" track where several speakers mentioned challenges with the recycling process, attendee Susan Collins, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute, reminded the audience and speaker panel that packaging people know as much about the recycling business as recyclers know about packaging. Getting all stakeholders in a room talking is key to finding workable solutions.
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