Nestlé VP of Sustainability Gives Keynote Address at PACK EXPO

Jenni Spinner

January 30, 2014

3 Min Read
Nestlé VP of Sustainability Gives Keynote Address at PACK EXPO

According to Monday’s keynote speaker, the road to packaging sustainability is much like the Yellow Brick Road traveled by the heroes of The Wizard of Oz; it takes courage to lobby for change, a brain to craft solutions and a heart to care about preserving quality of life.

Betsy Cohen, vp of sustainability for Nestlé, said during her presentation, titled More Safety vs. Less Material: Where Does Packaging Go?—that packaging professionals have to look beyond the package itself and take a “holistic” approach.

“Reduce, reuse, recycle is not enough,” said Cohen. “We need to think upstream, downstream and in the middle.”

Packaging managers have an obligation to consider packaging’s impact, not just on the bottom line, but on the planet, said Cohen. Due to nationwide water shortages, we need to pay attention to the amount of water consumed in the packaging process—from making the materials, to constructing the package, to marrying it with the product, she said.

Sustainability has become a significant consumer concern, said Cohen. In a recent Nielsen study, more than half of U.S. consumers polled take environmental information into account when buying, and 60 percent of consumers related eco-friendly packaging matters when purchasing food, beverages and other items.

According to Cohen, package designers must balance three important, sometimes conflicting, considerations: Packaging needs to be safe and sanitary to protect the consumer, sturdy to guard the product during transit, and eco-friendly to reduce its environmental impact. Designing eco-friendly packages right out of the gate costs less than retooling existing products. Either way, maintaining that balance, she said, is difficult, but possible.

“We need big ideas, and people with passion to push for the right solutions,” she said.

Cohen said many believe it is easier for smaller companies to adopt sustainable packaging design. Smaller firms often can implement changes faster because they have fewer layers of management to push decisions through. However, she said that when a larger company like Nestlé makes even a minor change, it can end up having a major impact.

One important factor in the sustainability equation is consumer acceptance—if the end user won’t buy the product, Cohen said, all the research, testing and other work involved is wasted. Poland Springs and other brand bottles, already constructed of lightweight resin, were further improved through reduction of the cap size and retooled bottle shape. To gain consumer buy-in, Nestlé explained the packaging changes and their effects right on the label.

Improving a product’s sustainability, Cohen pointed out, can effect improvements in other areas. For example, Purina Dog Chow had been packaged in multiwall bags that were highly prone to breaking open, leading to a great deal of waste, product returns and retailer headaches. Switching to a lighter, tougher woven polypropylene bag improved the product’s sustainability; the sturdier package also cut down on transit damage, reduced product waste and abated retailer and consumer dissatisfaction.

Cohen brought the lesson home with a video showing a man gleefully beating one of the new bags with a shovel, pounding them with concrete blocks, then dropping them from a height of several stories; in each instance, the bags escaped without a scratch or tear.

PACK EXPO International 2008 runs November 9-13 at McCormick Place, Chicago, IL USA. 

To find out more, go to Packaging Digest’s PACK EXPO website.

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