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'Sustainable packaging' focus is counterproductive

"Sustainable packaging as a term is no longer relevant today as the debate about good vs. bad packaging has moved on." That’s the conclusion of a new study by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC, which posed the question, "Sustainable packaging: myth or reality."
FILED IN:  Sustainability  > Supply chain

“Sustainable packaging as a term is no longer relevant today as the debate about good vs. bad packaging has moved on.” That’s the conclusion of a new study by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC (PwC), which posed the question, “Sustainable packaging: myth or reality.” According to the executive summary, the report set out to “revisit the packaging debate [addressed by PwC in 2010] and track the progress towards closer collaboration and common language that goes beyond the phrase ‘sustainable packaging.’”

Through interviews with representatives from the four key stakeholder groups driving the development of sustainable packaging—retailers, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies, packaging manufacturers, and government and trade bodies—PwC concluded that industry has moved toward a shared understanding that “the product, its packaging, and the related supply chain has to be viewed as a single solution.”

Relating the findings from discussions with packaging manufacturers, the report reads: “The past two years have seen the industry take an active role in the debate, but emphasizing that packaging is only a part of the wider sustainability story. The industry as a whole has argued that focusing on packaging alone in the sustainability debate is counterproductive and shortsighted. As a result the industry has increased its communication efforts, particularly in explaining to the public why and how packaging is used, the contribution that it makes to a sustainable society, and how consumers can play their part in the life cycle.”

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As part of the study, Jane Bickerstaffe, executive director of the U.K.’s INCPEN, is quoted as saying, “Companies have shifted their attention from addressing just one issue or a selection of issues on one topic to a more holistic approach incorporating economic, environmental, and social considerations.”

Another conclusion of the study, PwC relates, is that stakeholders are engaging in greater collaboration to ensure the objectives for sustainable packaging are aligned. Notes study participant Michael Wilson of Diageo, “Our approach hasn’t changed dramatically, but we are looking to collaborate more with our suppliers and customers. Collaboration up and down the supply chain is the way forward, with technology and innovation being the crucial components of progress.”


To facilitate this collaboration, PwC reports, the industry has come together to construct a uniform language around sustainable packaging, as well as standard metrics and key performance indicators, through the Global Protocol on Packaging Sustainability, launched by the Global Consumer Goods Forum in September 2011.

According to the study, “new packaging materials, improved efficiency processes, and ‘smart design’ products are all helping to improve the impact of packaging across the supply chain.”

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