John Kalkowski

January 29, 2014

2 Min Read
Has packaging sustainability reached maturity?

Since Packaging Digest and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition launched their first joint survey in 2007, sustainability has been a juggernaut in its growing impact on the packaging industry. (See full story)

Sustainability is still one of the hottest topics among packagers, but for the first time since the study began, the pace of its growth might be slowing, according to the 2011 data. The percentage of respondents who say they are familiar with the issues of sustainability has slipped. Less than half say their company's emphasis on sustainability stayed the same this year. Only a quarter rate their company's success above what similar companies are doing in sustainability.



Does this mean the importance of sustainability is starting to fade? I don't think so. I believe the movement is reaching a certain level of maturity. Now, the issues are not so much about defining what sustainability really is. It's not so much about learning what other companies are planning or establishing metrics to measure success, although these are still important to the success of a sustainability program. No, it's more about designing sustainability into a company's processes. It's about actually doing something that has an effect on humanity's future.


Look at how many companies are now issuing corporate sustainability reports with detailed, stretch goals and transparent reporting on their success in achieving these goals. Sustainability has launched an era of innovation in packaging. Consider how many new packaging products have been introduced that advance the sustainability of packaging, such as the bio-based bottles being used by Coke and Pepsi. Sure, there is some greenwashing going on, but packagers themselves and the FDA are trying to police those issues with increasing success.

This is similar to the evolution of quality as a manufacturing issue in the 1970s and 1980s. When people began to realize how important quality was to business, everyone jumped on the bandwagon. People were taking statistics courses, learning lean mangement and Six Sigma and listening to lectures by Peter Drucker. Slowly, quality simply became a way of life at many manufacturing companies. The market began to look at quality as a minimum entry point for doing business.

It appears this is the point that sustainability in packaging is now approaching. It's expected. It's understood. It's part of the process.

As this year's benchmarking survey demonstrates, sustainability remains quite an exciting topic in packaging and an area of huge opportunity. Savvy packaging pros realize they can make still can make sustainability a point of differentiation for their businesses while preserving resources for generations to come.

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