Lisa McTigue Pierce, Executive Editor

April 6, 2016

3 Min Read
An advanced approach to sustainable packaging opens up more opportunities

The results of a recent survey jointly conducted by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and Packaging Digest show significant differences between SPC members’ and non-members’ approach to sustainable packaging. Compared to the broader collection of industry respondents, SPC members indicated a significantly higher level of understanding of and engagement with sustainable packaging opportunities.

One of the most pronounced differences demonstrated was in respondents’ understanding of the “circular economy” concept and its integration into their companies’ strategies. Non-member respondents were split about half-and-half on their familiarity with the phrase. SPC members, however, were overwhelmingly familiar with the concept—83% said they were familiar with the phrase and understood what it meant.

When asked if the circular economy factored into their companies’ sustainable packaging strategy, 74% of SPC members said yes. Of non-members, only 46% indicated that their company’s strategy was reflective of circular economy thinking. This suggests that SPC excels at staying on the forefront of sustainability thinking.

Perhaps most impressive, SPC members demonstrated superior understanding of the actions needed to realize a more circular economy. Improving recyclability of packaging was shown to be a common goal of all companies, regardless of SPC membership status. But SPC members distinguished themselves with the frequency with which they mentioned using post-consumer recycled content (PCR), showing that they embrace not just the “push” but also the “pull” needed to drive recycling.

Somewhat surprisingly, increasing PCR usage was the number one most mentioned goal of SPC companies. For non-member respondents, this sank to fourth. SPC members also showed that increasing recycling (and increasing the availability of PCR) requires more than simply putting recyclable packaging in the marketplace. SPC members listed “increasing consumer participation in recycling” as the fourth most prevalent company goal related to sustainable packaging. For non-members, it ranked eleventh.

Although the biggest tenet of circular economy thinking centers on making those connections between end-of-life and beginning-of-life, SPC members indicated that they are far more focused on the full packaging life cycle compared to their non-member counterparts.

When asked if their companies focus more on improving end-of-life issues or addressing impacts throughout the life cycle, the number of SPC members who indicated a full life-cycle approach was double the number who indicated a primary focus on end-of-life. Of the non-member respondents, those numbers were roughly equal, with respondents split between focusing on the full life cycle versus end-of-life only.

This type of thinking was reflected in SPC member companies’ measurements as well, with SPC members responding with much more frequency that they measure life-cycle impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions (5 ranks higher than non-members’ indicated company measurements), water quality impacts (4 ranks higher) and water consumption (3 ranks higher).

Why are SPC members outperforming their peers in addressing sustainable packaging? It’s likely that the answer is complex, and while we hope a portion of the credit belongs to the positive impacts of our SPC initiatives and projects, we suspect that a portion of the credit is due to the virtue of having so many leadership companies in the coalition. The survey results suggested one particularly interesting idea: non-member respondents indicated that marketing professionals exert the most influence over sustainable packaging decisions in their companies, while SPC members indicated that R&D professionals were the biggest influencers.

In our view, this reinforces the value of the SPC in encouraging innovation and science to back sustainability advancements.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is just a snapshot of all the rich data and insights from the 2015 Packaging Digest Sustainable Packaging Study. Download the full 36-page report with its 24 charts here.

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Author Adam Gendell is a project manager at GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition and is responsible for orchestrating its fall conference, SPC Advance. For more information about the SPC, visit www.sustainablepackaging.org.

About the Author(s)

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Executive Editor, Packaging Digest

Lisa McTigue Pierce is Executive Editor of Packaging Digest. She’s been a packaging media journalist since 1982 and tracks emerging trends, new technologies, and best practices across a spectrum of markets for the publication’s global community. Reach her at [email protected] or 630-272-1774.

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