Think about the last thing you ordered in the mail and had shipped. What container did it come in? What did you do with the packaging when you were done? Was the package full of plastic? Or were you able to recycle each piece of cardboard? These questions are all part of sustainable packaging.

These questions were examined (or not) by the company that sent you the product. Sustainable packaging is ensuring each packaging piece used benefits the planet. The more of the package that can be reused or recycled the more sustainable it is.

Throughout this post, consider items you’ve recently gotten in the mail. After all, we all order a myriad of items from many different companies. Think back and consider what the lifecycle and process of different packages you’ve received. Now connect it to the product you sell and ship.

Sustainable packaging is something any company selling on the internet should look at. If you’re shipping items, you should look at packaging. Period.

For this blog, we’re going to be focused on packaging used in shipping products. Items like boxing, shipping and wrapping. Product-packaging is incredibly specific and important, but let’s keep this context for this blog. Baby steps.

Let’s talk about what sustainable packaging is, why it’s important for your business and some resources for implementation. Because packaging is a specialized yet universal problem, it can be an effective initiative for corporate sustainability.

What is Sustainable Packaging?

We can call it green packaging, eco-packaging,or sustainable packaging. I like sustainable packaging. In short, it’s packaging that benefits, rather than detracts from, the environment.

Sustainable Packaging as defined by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition is packaging that meets 8 criteria:

  • Is beneficial, safe & healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle
  • Meets market criteria for performance and cost
  • Is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy
  • Optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials
  • Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices
  • Is made from materials healthy throughout the life cycle
  • Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy
  • Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed loop cycles

The Sustainable Packaging Alliance follows four traits for sustainable packaging:

  • Effective
  • Efficient
  • Cyclic
  • Safe

A company can use the above criteria to design a packaging strategy that best benefits the planet and its company. Recycled materials, source of the materials, end life-use, and life cycle are all factors to consider in sustainable packaging.

How Will Sustainable Packaging Benefit My Business?

Sustainability Visibility in Eco Packaging

The statistics of sustainable packaging fit nicely with general statistics on company sustainability. Customers are willing to pay more for sustainable items. The packaging is included in the item if you advertise your practices. Check out Slash Packaging for examples of companies sharing their best practices.

According to the EPA, landfills received 32.1 million tons of containers and packaging in 2017 and 50.1% of packaging was recycled. By sharing sustainable packaging practices, you can help encourage customer recycling habits. And any recycling benefit absorbed by the customer started with your product.

Cost-Effectiveness of Sustainable Packaging

Cost savings associated with sustainable packaging are usually found in the type or weight of the packaging. Many sustainable package items weigh less, while other packaging types fit more easily into shipping containers. These switches can save money for your company because it reduces the cost of the shipment.

Ikea reduced costs by over a million euros annually through smarter packaging designs.

Cost savings can often be two-fold, 1. the cost of the sustainable packaging material itself or finding a way to reduce material and 2. reduced shipping costs due to lower weight. If you can’t find cost savings in one of the above, look at the entire packaging design and supply chain to identify.

How Can I Make my Packaging Sustainable?

Because each company is unique, sustainable packaging will be different for each company. There are, happily, a plethora of resources for companies to learn from. If you’re considering adopting sustainable packaging do these three things first:

CALL

REVIEW

RESEARCH

Call your current packaging supplier and express interest in environmental products. See what their offerings are and what they’d recommend.

Review your current packaging for wins or benefits. You know your product best. What’s important about packaging for your company. What message are you trying to send with packaging, if any?

Research by finding a package you received that touted environmental benefits, check out company examples or start with Google.

Reputable Resources + Research Hubs:

Apart from giving specific company recommendations, here are some resource hubs for learning more about sustainable packaging.

Sustainable Packaging Coalition

Slash Packaging

Consumer Goods Forum

Institute of Packaging Professionals

Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment

Now that you’ve got some information on sustainable packaging benefits, get out and do your research! As more and more consumers and businesses are stuck at home it’s important to pivot to serve customers where they are. And if you can get your products to them where they are in a sustainable way, more the better.

Did you like this article? We’d appreciate you sharing it on social media or sending it to someone else at your company.

This post was originally published on Green Buoy Consulting’s Blog on May 12, 2020.