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Packaging World      Editor, Steve Sterling
SPONSOR: American Packaging Corporation September 15, 2008 | Edited by Steve Sterling

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Begin With The End In Mind When Planning Life-Cycle Analysis

By Dwight Schmidt, Executive Director, Corrugated Packaging Alliance and President, Fibre Box Association

The U.S. corrugated industry is in the process of conducting a life-cycle analysis to help answer the growing number of questions being asked about packaging by customers, retailers, and consumers. Some important lessons have been learned along the way, guiding the design and execution of a study that will provide valued information to multiple stakeholders and prove worthy of the investment of time and resources.

If you don't know, or don't want to follow the rules... don't start. Life-cycle analysis is an expensive, time-consuming process, and its value depends entirely on the credibility of the information it yields. That's why setting appropriate goal and scope, system boundaries, and functional units to be measured is the most important step in LCA planning.

Life Cycle Assessment, first developed in the late 1960s, focused initially on waste and energy. In 1996-2000, LCA guidelines were standardized by ISO in its 14040 series and have been used by thousands of companies across a range of sectors to guide product and process improvements. Today, LCAs are increasingly being used to inform public policy, assist in research and development, aid in decisions surrounding waste management, food vs. fuel, bio-fuels, renewable energy, and public policy such as WEEE/RoHS & LEED. Numerous commercial software and databases are already available, so there's no need to "start from scratch" in developing methodologies or gathering data in many areas.

Overview of an LCA Study

Real-world execution of a comprehensive LCA Study includes:

  • Goal & Scope Definition—Determining scope and system boundaries
  • Life Cycle Inventory—Data collection, modeling & analysis
  • Impact Assessment:—Analysis of inputs and outputs using indicators
  • Interpretation—Sensitivity analysis, Monte Carlo analysis, dominance analysis, etc.

Before You Start

When planning an LCA, it's important to think the process all the way through, and commit to key principles to assure the study's value, including:

  • Being open, objective, and transparent. This means openly defining a study's parameters, scope and boundaries, and assumed values. Without transparency, results are meaningless in making comparisons or claims and can be misused. An open and transparent process assures accountability for reporting of results;
  • Reaching consensus surrounding what you want to do;
  • Conducting a review by third-party LCA experts and publishing results. ISO guidelines call for such measures to assure objectivity, relevance, and credibility.

Goal & Scope: The most important step in LCA

Carefully defining the goal and scope of an LCA is crucial to gaining meaningful information and to controlling cost. The corrugated industry established the scope of its study by considering:

  • The LCA can be focused on internal and/or external uses, eco-design, to support marketing, comparison of products, or to support policy;
  • Stakeholders, both internal and external;
  • LCA boundaries, including process scope, functional unit, reference flow, time frame, geographical boundary, data requirements, selection of impact categories, and allocation decisions.

Goals of the U.S. Corrugated LCA Study

Established goals for the Corrugated Packaging Alliance LCA study include:

    1. Construct a core LCI data set for corrugated packaging

    2. Respond to marketplace requests (e.g. Wal-Mart, etc.)

    3. Identify relevant impact indicators and their key mechanisms for this industrial sector

    4. Conform to ISO 14040 series, necessary to support comparisons

    5. Maintain confidentiality of data sources

    6. Allow member companies to maintain their own disaggregated data to allow for private comparisons, benchmarking to industry average data

    7. Build knowledge within industry members on how to use LCA information

    8. Collect data in formats compatible to support potential inclusion in databases (e.g. U.S. LCI data set, commercial database packages), and to support other uses, communication strategies, etc.

    9. Establish a context that enables brainstorming of applicable scenarios in the future

    10. Modular structure to allow for streamlining of initial analysis and future expansion of analysis

    11. Establish system boundaries and other rule sets necessary for comparable studies that can become industry standard

    12. Approach the international community for comment.

In scoping its study, the CPA determined that its Life Cycle Analysis would be directed to internal audiences (member companies) as well as to potential external stakeholders including retailers, CPGs, national data bases (such as MERGE and the U.S. LCI data base), NGOs (such as the Sustainable Packaging Coalition), EPA, the international corrugated community, academics, LCA practitioners, software providers and packaging professionals who are required to understand and use the information in decision-making. Many of these audiences require specific formats to meet their needs for scorecards, data templates, ISO standards, U.S. LCI data base, etc. The corrugated industry is also requiring a final report that is explained in "plain English" for maximum communication value. All the required formats were considered in the initial study design.

Why Do an Impact Assessment?

A life-cycle inventory (LCI) quantifies the inputs (raw materials, energy, etc.) and outputs (emissions, waste, toxicity, etc.) generated by a process or industry. This information is vital but can be misleading without a full impact assessment. For example, 1,600 kg of CO2 shown in a sample inventory seems highly significant compared to just 2.5 kg of CFC 11; but an impact assessment shows the smaller amount of CFC would have a far greater negative effect on the environment. Without analyzing the actual environmental impact, one might wrongly conclude that the CO2 was a more important reduction goal. Inventories provide important numbers, but impact assessment tells you what matters most and becomes a meaningful baseline for improvement.

LCA Practioner and Expert Review Panel

It is equally important to identify the best practitioner for conducting the corrugated LCA and engage reviewers from key stakeholder groups. Check references and make sure the experts you engage are committed to the same level of transparency and credibility that you'll need to defend your findings. The corrugated industry retained Five Winds International, a world leader in life-cycle analysis that emphasizes these critical ground rules in its scientific, expert-reviewed approach, and deliberately steered clear of firms whose past work has fallen short. Retaining a broad-based panel of LCA experts is critical to ensure the study's goal and scope, system boundaries, functional units, etc., all meet the requirements of the ISO 14040 LCA framework as well as the informational needs of external stakeholders, helping optimize value.

Never-Ending Journey?

When it's done, an LCA may prove to be the start of a never-ending journey. Properly used, it is an investment in baseline understanding that helps an industry or an individual company measure changes. It also serves as a comparison tool for industry improvement and as a benchmark against competing products/materials. In addition, it will provide tools for the corrugated industry to use in performing consistent calculations and allows our members to uniformly respond to customer inquiries.

In summary:

  • Begin with the end in mind
  • What is important to you and your audience(s)?
  • Follow ISO 14040 guidelines
  • Ensures you're open, objective, and transparent
  • Provides a credible basis for communications and comparisons
  • Choose the best LCA practitioner and reviewers
  • Use the results to improve your industry, company or product

Sustainability and life cycle approaches are strategic bridges to prioritizing and implementing sustainable initiatives that will create value for key stakeholders. That's been the guiding principle in planning a useful LCA for the corrugated industry. In addition, the CPA will work through the EPA, NGOs, and the academic community to replace the less accurate and considerably dated information that is being used by broad audiences to judge products. And lastly, we will work though the International Corrugated Case Association (ICCA) and its newly established Sustainability Committee, to persuade the international corrugated community (the U.S. is already aligned with Europe) to utilize common methodologies—including goal, scope, boundaries and functional unit—to allow for meaningful comparisons in what has become a global marketplace for corrugated containers.

The Fibre Box Association (FBA) is a nonprofit organization representing and serving the corrugated industry. It brings together, in a lawful manner, the industry's North American manufacturers to improve the overall well-being of the industry and to provide an array of services that enable member companies to conduct their business more effectively, responsibly and efficiently. The Corrugated Packaging Alliance is a corrugated industry initiative jointly sponsored by the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), the Association of Independent Corrugated Converters (AICC) and the Fibre Box Association (FBA). Its mission is to foster growth and profitability of corrugated in applications where it can be demonstrated, based on credible and persuasive evidence, that corrugated should be the packaging material of choice, and to provide a coordinated industry focus that effectively acts on industry matters that cannot be accomplished by individual members.

Dwight Schmidt may be reached at [email protected].


Noteworthy Items Gleaned From the World News

By Steve Sterling, Editor

Reader Robert L. Haag asked the following question. Do any of our readers have an answer for him? We will post your answers in the next issue.

    Dear Readers,

    In our effort to go green, we are looking at different options. One of the options I am researching is biodegradable PCMs, specifically vegetable oil-based cold packs. Some of the articles I have read report their performance is on par with the current lines of cold packs available. Do you agree? Have you had any experience with vegetable oil-based cold packs? Thank you for your response. I enjoy your newsletters!

  • The EU will invest $9.4 million in a project to develop sustainable and renewable packaging materials using nanotechnology. The four-year SustainComp project involves 17 European organizations, including packaging material manufacturers Alcan, SCA, and Novamont, plus chemical companies and associations. All participants will put research money into the project for a total budget of $13.8 million. Read more.

  • Wal-Mart named HP the winner of its Home Entertainment Design Challenge, singling out the technology company for further reducing the environmental impact of personal computers. The HP dv6929 Entertainment notebook features an innovative design that reduces product packaging by 97%, conserving fuel, and reduces CO2 emissions by removing the equivalent of one out of every four trucks previously needed to deliver the notebooks to Wal-Mart stores and Sam's Club locations. HP radically redesigned the packaging of the notebook computer by replacing conventional protective shipping materials and boxes with the HP Protect Messenger Bag, a protective accessory with fabric made from 100% recycled materials. This allows for a dramatic reduction in overall packaging content and size while delivering equal, if not better, product protection when compared to conventional packaging. Consumers who purchase the can take advantage of free recycling of their old PC. Read more.

  • Alcan Packaging Food Americas, Chicago, is now offering high-barrier packaging solutions with Ceramis-brand polyactic acid biodegradable and compostable barrier films. The new offerings feature a silicon oxide nanocoating, which offers protection against oxygen, water vapor, and other gases, while maintaining optical clarity and high gloss. Ceramis is machinable, allowing processors to use established converting equipment. Read more.

  • UPM Raflatac, Inc. has received chain of custody certification from the world's three prominent forest certification organizations—the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI), the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The certifications cover UPM Raflatac's North American label stock manufacturing facilities located in Fletcher, North Carolina, and Dixon, Illinois, and the company's slitting and distribution terminal located in Ontario, California. Read more.

  • Metabolix, Inc. announced that in recently completed greenhouse trials switch grass plants engineered using Metabolix multi-gene expression technology produced significant amounts of PHA bioplastics in leaf tissues. This result is the first successful expression of a new functional multi-gene pathway in switch grass. Metabolix said the trials demonstrate that its bioengineering capabilities are a powerful tool for maximizing the potential of biomass crops for both bioplastics and biofuels production. Read more.

  • Trends in Ethical and Sustainable Packaging is a new management report published by Business Insights that examines the new innovations in ethical and sustainable packaging by category, region, and material. It profiles major innovations within ethical and sustainable food and drinks packaging, including the latest packaging technologies and materials. Read more.

Upcoming Events

  • Innovation Takes Root—the industry's first polylactide biopolymer technical conference will be held September 16 -18 at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, Las Vegas. Read more.

  • The Retail Industry Leaders Association's (RILA) first-ever comprehensive retail conference on environmental sustainability and compliance will provide a collaborative forum to discuss methods, means, and vision surrounding compliance practices. This groundbreaking conference is set for September 22-24, 2008, at the Embassy Suites in Frisco, Texas. Read more.

  • SustainCommWorld - The Green Media Show brings together top executives, media professionals, and suppliers who are all striving to find sustainable solutions. To be held October 1-2 at the Marriott Copley Square Hotel, Boston. Read more.

  • Sustainable Plastics Packaging 2008 is the second conference organized by Plastics and Rubber Weekly (PRW) and European Plastics News. It takes place on October 7-8 at the Wellcome Conference Centre in London. Read more.

  • The Cofresco Institute and its cooperation partners are hosting a Round Table on Tuesday, October 21 at the University of Wageningen, Netherlands. Sustainability and Efficiency of Consumer Packaging will feature speeches by well-known experts from all over Europe. The Round Table will include a guided tour through the famous Restaurant of the Future. Read more.

  • Amy Zettlemoyer-Lazar, packaging director of Sam's Club and co-manager of the Wal-Mart Sustainability Value Network, will deliver a special keynote address entitled Keeping Score: How Wal-Mart and its Suppliers Continue to Advance Packaging Change, Innovation, and Stability during Pack Expo International 2008. The keynote will be given on Sunday, November 9, at 1 p.m., in a special stand-alone session of the conference. Read more.

Send your sustainability news and questions to [email protected]

Upcoming events:
CP 08: Succeeding with Contract Packaging
Join us at the Chicago Marriott Schaumburg September 16 and 17 at CP 08: Succeeding with Contract Packaging for an exceptional educational and networking program designed for users and providers of contract packaging and related services.
Packaging Line Performance Workshop
Two-day intensive workshop held in four cities throughout the U.S. teaches how to boost packaging line efficiency. Learn to measure and boost OEE, implement actionable improvement strategies, and receive a line performance improvement spreadsheet tool.
Shelf Impact's Package Design Workshops
Learn which packages fly off store shelves and why, and all about the latest package-design strategies that can give your brand the edge with today's retailer and consumer preferences. Each workshop is a roll-up-your-sleeves, interactive event that will give you the "must-knows" in less than a day.

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