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Mars takes holistic approach to sustainability

As director of sustainability for Mars North America, Kevin Rabinovitch works with all of the company’s units (food, snack, and pet care) in the U.S. He develops and executes sustainability strategies and initiatives aimed at improving triple bottom line results—environmental, social, and economic.
FILED IN:  Sustainability  > Strategy

“Mars has always taken its usage of packaging materials very seriously and worked to use the smallest amount of the least harmful materials possible to accomplish our packaging goals—from protection to presentation,” Rabinovitch tells Packaging World. “We believe it’s important to look at sustainability holistically rather than taking the elements of packaging, the manufacturing process, and logistics as separate independent entities.”

One example of holistic thinking was the switch from a multi-wall paper to a woven polypropylene structure on the Mars 52 lb dry Pedigree® Food for Dogs product. Although the new plastic package had less than half the weight and carbon footprint of the (mostly) paper package, the biggest savings actually came from a reduction in damages in handling. The new, tougher bag decreased the company’s damage rate by 65% to 75%. This switch actually saved 350% of the emissions of the original packaging structure; 50% from the new package, and 300% from the product that wasn’t lost in distribution.

Successful partnership leads to new lightweight glass jar

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Rabinovitch’s advice to others interested in sustainability is to “Look for linkages between parts of the supply chain—everyone is focusing on their niche (distribution, packaging, manufacturing, etc.) and not enough people are looking for ways to leverage benefits across niches.”

For the development of a new glass package, Mars joined with its supply-chain partner and the Waste and Resource Action Program (WRAP), a government-funded organization in Britain set up to develop methods to reduce the amount of materials going to landfills. Late in 2007, WRAP announced the successful trial by Mars of a lightweight glass jar for its Uncle Ben’s sauce brand produced in the Netherlands. The weight of the jar was reduced by 6% from 258 to 243 g. The company annually packages 30 million of these sauce jars at its Netherlands facility.

WRAP said that the new lighter weight jar will save 450 tons of glass a year. This will produce the equivalent savings of 1,215 tons of CO2 emissions—the same as taking 192 automobiles off the road. While the molds for the jar were changed, the lighter weight glass packaging runs smoothly on existing production lines, said Frieda Sporen, packaging innovations manager at Mars.

These two cases bring up several important points about sustainable considerations in packaging. Often the environmental, social, and economic impacts of sourcing and converting the raw materials going into the product significantly outweigh the impacts of the package itself, as the Pedigree example showed. The entire lifecycle of materials, products, packaging, and disposal and/or recovery have to be taken into account.

When Rabinovitch was asked to identify the company’s most notable achievements in sustainability, he did not describe new packaging materials, energy savings at packaging facilities, or transportation impacts. Instead, he detailed the company’s significant international efforts for more than three decades to promote sound environmental, social, and economic production of a vital ingredient, cocoa. The implication is that without sustainable cocoa production, there would not be any need for innovations in packaging.

The issues of sustainability are bigger than one company as the Uncle Ben’s example illustrated, with Mars, its glass partner, and a government funded organization all making a contribution to a successful new package. Sustainability in its richest sense involves a complex series of interrelationships and lifecycle analyses. It is vital to calculate the sustainability of the complete package—contents, protection, presentation, and recovery—as the sustainable packaging movement matures.

Interested in being a member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition? Find out more at www.sustainablepackaging.org.

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