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January 30, 2014
3 Min Read
We often hear sustainability described as an iterative process, or a stepped journey to "mount sustainability" as industrialist and environmentalist Ray Anderson put it. At the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) spring meeting in Toronto, I reflected on the body of work the SPC has produced over its eight-year journey on the path towards sustainable packaging.
This catalog includes collaborative learning and teaching; research on materials production, end-of-life treatments, use of recycled content, measurements and reporting; and a package design assessment tool. Looking back shows us common threads that connect all these topics and demonstrates how change can be achieved through collaborative dialogue.
Since the creation of the SPC in 2004, coalition members have walked together on a series of paths towards sustainability. Everyone was given a map of the terrain in the form of the SPC's Definition of Sustainable Packaging. The collective learning has allowed the group to take different paths yet stay together and exchange knowledge and best practices, which occurs primarily when members meet twice a year at the annual meetings.
The SPC's collective learning also has been made accessible through the "Essentials of Sustainable Packaging" course, which provides a comprehensive overview of sustainability issues in packaging and has been on the road in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong and, soon, China.
Over the past eight years, four main themes have emerged that have manifest themselves into resources developed by the SPC.
1. The sustainability road trip began with the notion of design as a leverage point for putting sustainability objectives into operation. This emphasis on design is still evident and has ushered in numerous changes in packaging, from initial lightweighting to completely rethinking material choices and product delivery. This design emphasis expresses itself through various SPC reports, including the "Design Guidelines for Sustainable Packaging" and COMPASS (Comparative Packaging Assessment), a life-cycle assessment (LCA) tool that provides design guidance along environmental parameters.
2. While design represents one path to sustainability, equally important are the measurement and data pathways that are key to design assessment, such as life-cycle data, indicators and metrics relevant to packaging materials and processes. The exploration of indicators and metrics resulted in the SPC's release of the Sustainable Packaging Indicators and Metrics Framework. This report, in turn, served as the basis for a harmonized set of indicators known as the Global Protocol on Packaging Sustainability (GPPS 2.0).
3. As folks learned new ways to integrate sustainability measures into their packaging operations, there came a dramatic shift in thinking. Increasingly, the conversation has shifted from sustainability in packaging to broader sustainability at the corporate level. As a result of increased packaging knowledge, many companies have jump-started corporate-level goals on energy, materials and end-of-life and recovery.
4. End of life and recovery represents new frontiers for packaging, and the SPC has led the way in this area. Numerous SPC reports have focused on materials and materials flow. Many of these reports are freely available, particularly those that were part of the Closing the Loop project funded by the State of California. As emphasis on material recovery increases, and to help consumers do their part, the SPC soon will launch www.how2recycle.info to support the new on-package label for recovery.
Minal Mistry is a senior manager at GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging
Coalition. For additional information, visit www.sustainablepackaging.org.
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