Making Sustainable Packaging the Standard

by | Feb 23, 2012

In recent years, consumers have become increasingly sensitive about the issue of sustainability and the effect their actions and choices have from a sustainable perspective. They are taking an ever more proactive approach to making purchase decisions that do not negatively affect the environment. This trend has been noted and adopted by industries around the world, and improving one’s green credentials has now become a goal for business owners everywhere. Environmentally responsible operations have become a new requirement for success.

Companies that transparently integrate sustainability into their business practices are finding a wide range of benefits. Adopting environmental standards now undeniably enhances a firm’s brand identity and can greatly improve its positioning on the competitive shelf landscape. With sustainable efforts enabling the reduction of waste and the increase of energy efficiency, companies have in turn found that implementing these practices saves them money and bolsters their reputation as well. The message is clear – developing sustainable products and services can increase profitability.

Just as green business standards are becoming more prevalent, consumers are reshaping their industry demands with sustainability top-of-mind, and there is perhaps no better example of this than in the packaging world. The packaging industry now looks to understand the complete lifecycle of a package – from the sourcing of its raw materials to its end of life. New, innovative sustainable alternatives have replaced century-old business practices in an effort to improve firms’ sustainable efforts.  Major retail outlets have released environmental scorecards, leading consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) to partner with packaging suppliers who are able to report on, and are committed to improving, their environmental footprint. When Wal-Mart announced its packaging scorecard in 2006, businesses across the packaging industry rushed to meet the need to enhance sustainability measures in every aspect of the business.

An Innovative Portfolio of Solutions

From container design to source reduction, packaging firms are always seeking innovative ways to communicate the sustainability of their products to CPGs. Base materials – whether glass, plastic, paper, or metal – all have sustainable characteristics that packaging companies capitalize on. Frequently, it is the supplemental materials and additives used in the packaging process – or the lack of such materials – on which companies can distinguish themselves. And while many of the materials are widely recycled, CPGs also want coatings, labels, and other elements, which are added to enhance the package’s functionality, to also be widely recycled.

CPGs also care about the big picture of the product, and are interested in what happens after it has served its purpose as a package. From the recyclability of material to the reusability of a container, companies want to sell a product that is environmentally-friendly overall.

Packaging companies can responded to these challenges by making sustainability a critical part of the way the company approaches its current and future business, combining sustainability with innovation in order to create high-quality packaging in a convenient, environmentally-responsible format.

The Customer-Driven Approach

Consumers want to understand how the product they are purchasing is sustainable. Whether it is the package’s physical appearance or the sustainability of its materials, consumers are seeking information to make better choices.  CPGs need to account for every step in the supply chain and have required suppliers to improve their own environmental scorecard as well.

CPGs look for partnerships with sustainable operations to help enhance one’s own sustainability. Companies that are able to provide an umbrella of services to their customers under one roof can significantly reduce the carbon emitted by transporting products from one facility to another. For example, with all of its processes and capabilities serviced in-house, we can provide flexible packages that are ready for the filling process as soon as they leave our facilities, as opposed to shipping them to another manufacturer to cut handles or add closures. This reduction in shipping and transportation needs in turn helps reduce our own – and by extension, our customers’ – carbon footprint.

Companies can extend their environmental stewardship by transitioning from a rigid container to a flexible package; by doing this, they are using a product that requires fewer material resources. The Flexible Packaging Association in 2009 conducted a study and found that plastic flexible packaging uses less than 50 percent of materials required by rigid containers. Additionally, flexible packaging weighs less and can more easily be stored compactly. The FPA found on average, only 30,000 empty rigid containers can fit onto a standard truck compared to 700,000 pouches. Not only does this save a company money, it decreases its carbon footprint by minimizing the emissions released and the fuel used during transportation.

Planning for a Sustainable Future

With both suppliers and CPGs increasingly becoming accustomed to the demand for sustainable products, firms are now looking at other ways that they can appeal to customers. The environmentally conscious consumer wants to support a company that does more than produce a green product; they are looking for a company that also upholds certain green standards and principles. From the use of natural resources to waste disposal, businesses are required to operate with the environment in mind and to continually anticipate what additional steps can be taken.

It was with this in mind that Star approached the recent renovation of our facility in Tampa. By the simple act of replacing the oxidizer in one of the buildings, we cut the amount of natural gas consumed by the facility to 10 percent of previous levels. At the same time, we completely furbished the roof on one of its Tampa buildings, installing a white material to reflect the heat of the sun. This lowered the temperature of the building which led to a significant decrease in the amount of energy used on air-conditioning, in turn reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The “green movement” has arguably been one of the most influential trends to affect consumer purchase decisions and business partnerships. The vast scope of industries adapting their operations and approaches to meet consumer demand ranges from food chains to clothing stores to industrial firms such as packaging suppliers. From the materials used to waste produced, the environmentally-conscious consumer wants businesses to have a calculated plan to improve the planet. Together CPGs and packaging suppliers have been able to meet these demands, and companies like Star Packaging Corporation illustrate how sustainability has become about more than just the product line.

Fred Crowe is president and CEO of Star Packaging Corporation. Under the umbrella of its TerraFLEX brand, Star invested significant resources into the development of products that reduce costs and material usage even beyond other plastic flexible packaging. The firm’s TerraFLEX HP line includes a range of custom-made stand-up pouches that offer convenient features such as handles and zippers while using 50 percent less material to produce. Formulated for superior toughness and burst strength, the line can even be used to package challenging products like nails and screws. Star’s newly launched TerraFLEX RP packaging is a line of fully recyclable stand-up pouches that offers superior performance as compared to traditional plastic packaging, and can be tailored to fit customers’ specific needs. TerraFLEX RP is 100 percent polyethylene, offering greater recyclability than hybrid plastics.

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