Eric DesRoberts

January 13, 2015

3 Min Read
Explore cross sector opportunities in sustainable packaging
Eric DesRoberts

The holiday season is behind us. For those of us in the thick of the sustainable packaging space, it was a time filled with the deflating realization that our friends and relatives have no clear idea what it is that we do day-to-day. Trying to explain the wide-ranging sustainability work of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition to many of my relatives usually sparks responses like, ”I hate those packages I can never open,” or “I recycle everything.” The conversation typically stops there, but I have found interesting, and often deeper conversations with my auto mechanic and carpenter relatives. They may not completely understand what it is that I “make,” or the importance of looking at more responsible packaging solutions, but they do understand, and are feeling the pressures of, environmental responsibility in their industries. These conversations are typically fueled by outrage over rising expenses and the burdens of unnecessary hoops to jump through.

They work in relatively small operations of less than 10 people, but are well versed in the waste management restrictions for their respective industries, and the value of material efficiency, product and scrap recycling, and reusing materials. They are concerned with material sourcing, which is often figured into product cost and quality. And many products in both of these industries incorporate recycled content containing reprocessed packaging components—think composite decking, vehicle bumpers, vehicle upholstery and more.

To some extent, they are aware of material health considerations—some of this is being driven by regulations—but it is an awareness that many people do not have. While they may not be talking about it the same way, the parallels are significant and illustrate how sustainability is being integrated into all industries. Furthermore, the insights that can be drawn from talking and working across industries cannot be undervalued. Sustainability is interdisciplinary and requires a holistic approach. Working with industry sectors outside of the packaging space allows us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. 

Cross-industry communication is an essential piece in the shift to the frequently discussed “circular economy” model. Moving away from the linear “take, make, use and discard” model, the circular economy recognizes the opportunities associated with using materials wisely, eliminating material toxicity, and recovering materials to keep them in production streams and preserve their embedded value. This is the approach taken by GreenBlue and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

The idea of using wisely reflects the concept of conserving material resources at all steps in the production life cycle. Eliminating material toxicity helps to provide products and services that are healthy for humans and the environment, and allows the materials to be maintained in production cycles as we work to recover more. Cross-industry or cross-sector collaboration can help to realize more effective supply chain solutions and transitions into a circular economy model. The work of GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition will continue to focus on sustainable materials management in the packaging industry—bringing all parts of the packaging supply chain together to build systems that encourage economic prosperity and a more sustainable flow of materials.

However, we’re going into 2015 with an expanded perspective in the hopes that we can start connecting the sustainability discussion in packaging with the initiatives in other industries. The circular economy discussion gained a lot of support and momentum in 2014 and we predict that greater adoption and implementation can be expected in 2015.

Author Eric DesRoberts is a project manager for GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition. For additional information about the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, please visit

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