Upon launch of the Greener Package Database, product information submitted to the site will not only be available to GreenerPackage.com visitors, but it will also feed ECRM’s MarketGate™ application suite, maintained for Walmart’s private use with its modeling software.
In the following exclusive interview with GreenerPackage.com managing editor Anne Marie Mohan, Sam’s Club director of packaging Amy Zettlemoyer-Lazar discusses the agreement and the new Greener Package Database in more depth.
GP: Why did Walmart decide to ask ECRM to merge its database with Greener Package?
AZL: ECRM initially created MarketGate as a virtual trade show to support our Sustainable Packaging Expo by housing the packaging suppliers’ sustainability information. Greener Package has a broad audience of packaging professionals who may find this information useful, and therefore, merging the two seemed like a good fit of information and an audience.
GP: What are the benefits of this database to packaging suppliers?
AZL: With the Greener Package Database, packaging suppliers will have one place to post their company information, and it establishes a uniform way to talk about their packaging materials, their components, and any environmental claims associated with both.
GP: What are the benefits of this database to your product suppliers, i.e., consumer packaged goods companies?
AZL: CPG companies can use the database as a source to find more sustainable materials and packages, which ultimately provides our customers and members with more choices. Walmart Stores, Inc. holds an annual Sustainable Packaging Expo in Rogers, Arkansas, and this database allows suppliers who can’t travel to the exposition access to the same information year-round. Because it doesn’t require travel, the virtual trade show also provides an opportunity for us as a company to provide low-cost innovation.
GP: Can you explain how the data in the Greener Package Database will link to the Walmart Packaging Scorecard Modeling software?
AZL: The modeling software is currently used to compare packages for multiple environmental metrics. When the user makes material selections for comparison within the software, the product information is visible. So the system provides suggestions for packaging suppliers that can help improve their modeling score. For those product suppliers that are interested, when they compare their packages, they have a direct link to those packaging suppliers who can help them make that improvement.
For Walmart, it’s really important right now to push better packaging and more sustainable choices because Americans are being very thoughtful about the purchases they make. It’s really important to make sure that we are continuing to drive waste and inefficiencies out of the business, which is why more sustainable packaging plays a good role in that goal for us as a company.
At Walmart, efficiencies and sustainability go hand-in-hand. So our motto is really “Save money. Live better.” At Walmart, we are providing value through our products, and that value translates into quality and more sustainable products and more sustainable packaging. So we are driving more efficient products and more efficient packaging, and making better material selections, and that has a direct link into more choices and better-value products for our customers and members.
GP: The Greener Package Database will provide suppliers with the opportunity to have their product claims reviewed by a third party. Can you explain why this is important?
AZL: The Document Review process will verify that the information that the packaging supplier is sharing is being reported using industry-standard terminology, making sure that claims are being made in a similar manner across multiple suppliers. So when a CPG company looks at the site, they understand what’s being claimed, and there is no confusion between the way one supplier may make that claim versus another supplier making that claim. It’s important to verify what statements are being made or what claims are being made and how they could be interpreted by the CPG customer or a retailer. Then ultimately, those claims can be passed on to our customers or members. So we want to make sure that at the start they are accurate.
GP: Can you talk about the how the Document Review process will address greenwashing and bogus claims by suppliers?
AZL: We found that some of the guidelines out there may be confusing to packaging suppliers. There is potential for misunderstanding that the Federal Trade Commission Green Guides pertain to all marketing claims. They are not only marketing claims to the consumers paying for a product that’s in a package, but they are also meant for business-to-business marketing claims.
And so, the Document Review process will ensure that when the product supplier makes an environmental claim, they have done the tests to back that claim up. Or, that they can prove that the material is being recycled as per the FTC guidelines. There has been a lot of confusion in this space in the last couple of years, and it has the potential to lead to greenwashing. Greenwashing is a concern because we really want to make sure that we are communicating accurate information to our customers and members, and we want to be sure that they have better information to make better purchasing decisions. In general, we are basing the Document Review on the FTC Green Guides and strict interpretation of those guidelines.
GP: Can you give some examples of how claims of biodegradability or recyclability might be reviewed?
AZL: Sure! The claim of compostability would actually need to have a test report from a lab stating that it has actually been tested and meets the requirements of the testing outlined in ASTM D6400 or D6868 pending the material. For recyclability, that would be based on the package type.
Some things in order to be claimed for recyclability must be able to be recycled or collected in a significant majority of municipalities. That doesn’t mean that it’s capable of mechanically being recycled. So that’s where there has been a big difference. If a supplier is making a claim that their package is recyclable, then they must talk about the actual packaging components that are being collected. There are several studies and reports that show what is being collected across the United States that are going to be used to verify that claim.
So suppliers need to talk in detail if they are using a PET bottle. Does it use color or not? If it’s glass, what type of glass is it? Based on the packaging components and the FTC guidelines and several reports, a decision will be made whether that really meets being able to be collected in a significant majority of municipalities.
GP: Do you know what a significant majority is?
AZL: I have heard some numbers, but it would need to be above 51% and around 60%. But that is not outlined, to my knowledge, in the FTC guidelines.
GP: Originally the Greener Package Database was going to focus on questions pertaining more to the environmental impact of a product, but the merger with ECRM brings far more data points with extensive performance data. Can you explain what the benefits are of having one database for both performance and environmental data?
AZL: The benefit is that suppliers don’t make decisions based on one or the other. If you have a packaging material or a packaging component that is more sustainable but doesn’t perform, then it really doesn’t meet all the requirements of the marketplace. It’s very similar to when our customers and members come to Walmart and Sam’s Club; they are looking for a more sustainable product that meets all of their expectations in performance. So it’s important to have both together because decisions cannot be made on one area without considering the other. Walmart is recommending that when you look at performance data, you also look at environmental areas of the product and vice versa.
GP: What is the benefit to suppliers who pay to have their data reviewed? How will it affect how their data is displayed in the database?
AZ: Packaging suppliers who pay the fee to have their data go through the Document Review process will have the benefit of having it clearly identified in the database that they have gone through the review process and that their packaging material or packaging component meets the requirements to make all the claims. Whereas, if the supplier does not go through the audit, it will be clearly identified in the database that they have not provided documents to prove this claim. It doesn’t mean that the packaging does not meet the claim, but that those claims haven’t been verified. And so it will be clearly identified if the product has been reviewed or not reviewed in the database.
As a result, after August 1, 2009, the modeling software will not show a link to any packaging suppliers that have not gone through the Document Review process.
GP: I would think that the Document Review process is something that packaging suppliers would almost need to have done anyway if they are going to be selling their products based on environmental benefits. What are your thoughts?
AZL: The Document Review helps to substantiate their claims and helps to give them credibility. I think it will be a benefit to those packaging suppliers in that they won’t have to worry about establishing credibility with every product supplier that they are trying to sell to. They will have been able to do it once in the database and can refer to that Document Review to show that they have provided the compostability claims or the recyclability claims, and that it has been reviewed by a third party. Instead of every one of their customers having to verify that information, they can double-check on the Web site themselves and feel confident on the level of Document Review.
It’s also due diligence to make sure that the application the CPG is selecting meets the requirements, but it is a nice first pass to make sure that it is by starting with the verification. Definitely every package is customized for the product and for the customer. So it’s important that after that customization, any claims that they are making on the label are also verified.
GP: Any final thoughts on the new agreement and on the future of the Greener Package Database?
AZL: In my opinion, the database is nice because it takes the Sustainable Packaging Expo every year and makes it year-round. It also helps our product suppliers, our customers, and our members find better products and better options. It makes that information more accessible, and it is not going to require as much travel or as much investigation upfront. So it opens innovation to a whole new group of people.
GP: Although Walmart is gearing the database information toward its suppliers, the database can help move everyone ahead. It isn’t only available to people who are working with Walmart. It’s available to anyone who is interested in making positive changes in their packaging, correct?
AZL: Right! To make packaging more sustainable, in many instances, you need economy and scale. So having a package that only works for one retailer may not be the right solution for a more sustainable package. So it is important that other retailers, even our competitors, have the visibility to these suppliers as well. While Walmart wants to lead with innovation, it is definitely important to have other competitors have access to the same information.
Anne Marie Mohan is managing editor of GreenerPackage.com.