The Need To Measure Sustainable Packaging Commerce Essay

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There are several factors driving the need to measure the sustainability of packaging systems. Packaging is an essential and visible part of product delivery and marketing. It consumes a significant amount of resources, has a short timeframe but is perceived by consumers as waste. Globalization is also driving development of packaging measurement systems. Every country has a different requirement of packaging based on the market needs and its demography. Also, many a times, packaging, like products, is designed in one country, manufactured in another and sold in yet another. This system of commerce creates a host of economic, environmental and social impacts that can vary significantly in terms of regional and local severity and implications.

Challenges in Sustainable Packaging:

Measuring the sustainability of packaging is complicated by a number of factors.

Packaging is produced from a variety of material types and in various formats even when used for the same application. For example, food is packaged in fiber, glass, aluminum, plastic and mixed materials formed into boxes, bottles, cans and pouches.

Packaging has a very complex supply chain. While there are a number of companies whose primary business is the production of packaging, packaging is often a small part of the focus of other members of the supply chain.

Packaging converters do not sell packaging in the consumer marketplace. They sell it to brand owners and retailers who, in turn, put their products into the packaging and then out into the market.

Consumers and other stakeholders look to brand owners and retailers (not converters) for information about packaging but brand owners and retailers don't have all the data.

The relevance and significance of sustainability issues varies across the supply chain as does the level of expertise with measurement standards and protocols.

The functional roles of packaging are not well understood by all relevant stakeholders. Since packaging is often disposed of after the use or delivery of a product, a common perception is that packaging is largely waste.

Sustainable Packaging Indicators and Metrics Framework:

Sustainable Packaging Indicators and Metrics Framework is a set of common indicators and metrics developed by Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) to help companies' measure progress against sustainable packaging. Sustainable Packaging Coalition is an industry working group dedicated to developing and implementing sustainable packaging solutions. Some of the member companies of SPC are Nike, Nestle, Kraft Foods, Unilever, Dow Chemical Company, ExxonMobil Chemical and Colgate.

The framework is divided into four sections - Introduction, Understanding Indicators and Metrics, User Guidelines and the Indicators and Metrics Modules. There is a stand-alone module for each of the key criteria of the SPC Definition, specifically material use, energy use, water use, material health, clean production and transport, cost and performance, community impact and worker impact. Not all of the indicators and metrics are relevant for all organizations, all packaging types or all supply chain functions. Organizations should select those that are most relevant to their goals and operations. The User Guidelines section provides information on the selection and use of the indicators and metrics and suggestions for getting started.

The framework is a resource that can help organizations to:

Better understand if and how they are making progress toward a vision of sustainable packaging

Provide a common approach to request, collect, normalize, and aggregate packaging sustainability data

Make well-informed decisions based on the economic, environmental and social benefits and impacts of their packaging

Identify opportunities and priorities for improving the sustainability profile of their packaging-related activities

Set future sustainable packaging goals

Performance Categories:

The indicators and metrics are organized in eight performance categories that relate to key elements in Sustainable Packaging. Each category is stand alone because it illustrates how the performance category is linked to SPC definition, why the measurements should be made and provides specific metric to be used. The eight performance categories are Material Use, Energy Use, Water Use, Material Health, Clean Production and Transport, Cost and Performance, Community Impact and Worker Impact.

Indicators and Metrics:

There are three main indicators that this framework utilizes to measure a company's sustainability.

Core Indicators: The most common indicators are the core indicators, which can also be referred to as key performance indicators. A core indicator is a quantifiable or qualitative representation of a measureable issue or characteristic considered to be of interest to most stakeholders. In aggregate, core indicators provide a robust evaluation of the big picture.

Supplemental Indicators: These indicators support the core indicators. A supplemental indicator is a quantifiable or qualitative representation of a measurable issue or characteristic, which augments core indicator data by providing a more specific or detailed measure of an aspect of the core indicator.

Correlating Indicators: A correlating indicator is a quantifiable or qualitative representation of a measurable issue or characteristic considered to be significant importance but may not be of interest to all stakeholders. Correlating indicators provide additional information relative to, but sometimes outside the scope of the core and supplemental indicators.

Each performance category has the three indicators (core, supplemental and correlating) which are used to measure the quantitative or qualitative aspects of an issue or characteristics an organization wants or needs to measure. . As such, an indicator provides conceptual cues and a way to express movement - whether positive or negative - toward a goal.

An example of these three indicators and performance category can be illustrated by considering how some of the indicators for Material Use relate to each other. Total Material Use, which measures a company's overall resource use, is a metric that most stakeholders will be interested in so it is designated as a core indicator. In order to accurately measure Total Material Use, companies will need to measure the amount of new and recycled material they are using. As a result, New Material Use is designated as a supplemental indicator because it provides more detailed information about the core metric and has a direct relationship to the core metric. Chain of Custody, which measures if material comes from a Source-certified location or not, provides some additional information about new material but that data is not directly related to the amount of material being used. So, Chain of Custody is designated as a correlating indicator because it provides some information that not all stakeholders will be interested in. Please refer to figure 1 in appendix for the complete list of performance categories and its indicators. Each performance category has the three main indicators divided into sub-indicators. This may vary from company to company.

User Guidelines:

The framework defines each indicator and the metrics to be used. However, it does not specify the unit of measurement. This allows the organizations to modify and use the metrics according to their needs and requirements. Not all indicators and metrics are relevant to all organizations. Some are not applicable to certain types of packaging and others are not relevant to some supply chain functions. Members of supply chain should measure performance only for the period in which they have control or ownership of the packaging materials, packaging components or units of packaging. Downstream members of the supply chain like retailers can assess the broad benefits and impacts of packaging by getting data from the upstream suppliers.


The framework has been designed to yield data that can support a variety of business goals related to sustainable packaging. Such goals may be related to resource conservation, measuring and managing energy use, reducing water waste and consumption, reducing worker exposure to toxicants and focusing on social responsibility. However, one should not use the framework until sustainable packaging goals are clearly defined. This can be done by implementing a simple process like SMART i.e. goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bounded. Thus, by using this framework, business can answer key questions related to each of the eight performance categories. This is shown in figure 9 in appendix.

Benefits of sustainable packaging:

While benefits of sustainable packaging might be obvious from an environmental perspective, for example reduced waste and resource conservation, it should also provide economic and social benefits.

Economic benefits can include:

1. Cost savings through more efficient use of materials

2. Value-adding in the supply chain: supply chain audits can highlight unnecessary costs or inefficiencies associated with packaging design

3. Regulatory compliance: investments in the evaluation packaging systems will help to identify opportunities for ensuring compliance with increasingly stringent regulations

4. Competitive advantage - sustainable packaging systems will help position products in packaging sensitive markets.

5. Closer relationships with customers and suppliers - the search for solutions to environmental challenges in the supply chain can help to build stronger relationships with customers and suppliers (customer loyalty)

Social benefits can include:

1. Increased consumer convenience in preparing and/or using packaged products, meeting life style requirements, including expectations about environmental performance

2. Minimization of packaging waste issues at various levels (community, government etc)

3. Enhanced community well-being

Companies practicing sustainable packaging:


Coca-Cola is the world's largest cola manufacturer, producer and distributor. Its portfolio encompasses a wide range of products like aerated drinks, fruit juices, energy drinks, coffee-based beverages and teas. A research of the carbon footprint produced by a 330ml can of cola indicated that out of the 170g of CO2 produced by the can, 56% is associated with packaging (See Figure 10).

To reduce this carbon footprint, Coca Cola started an initiative called lightweighting, which encourages recycling and using recycled content in its products and packaging. Using lightweighting, Coca Cola has not only reduced the weight of its packaging by avoiding valuable materials, but also has reduced carbon emissions over the entire lifetime of the container.

The company has reduced the size of plastic twist-off on sparkling beverages, and has reduced the weight of cans, Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles and glass bottles. It has begun reducing weight in secondary packaging by eliminating cardboard sidewalls on corrugated trays. These and other measures reduced the materials Coca Cola used in 2008 by approximately 31,000 metric tons.

Coca Cola has also recently unveiled a new packaging innovation - a plastic bottle that is made partially from plants called the "PlantBottle" which reduces the carbon footprint by 30%. Traditional PET bottles are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. The new bottle is made from a blend of petroleum-based materials and up to 30 percent plant-based materials. The "PlantBottleâ„¢" is currently made through an innovative process that turns sugar cane and molasses, a by-product of sugar production, into a key component for PET plastic.


Packaging is a significant cost in canned food manufacture. As energy and material prices continue to rise, reducing these costs becomes more important. Heinz worked with its suppliers to reduce the amount of materials used in its cans. The new can was 10% thinner that it's previous models. This saved Heinz 1400 tons of steel, Heinz could fit 18% more cans on each pallet and each truck weight is 83kgs less, which means more fuel efficiency. If all the cans are reduced in size by this amount, the amount of energy saved would be equal to 28.8 million kw/h or 2340 tons of carbon emissions per year.


Figure 1:

Performance Category - Material Use

Figure 2:

Performance Category - Energy Use

Figure 3:

Performance Category - Water Use

Figure 4:

Performance Category - Material Health

Figure 5:

Performance Category - Clean Production and Transport

Figure 6:

Performance Category - Cost and Performance

Figure 7:

Performance Category - Community Impact

Figure 8:

Performance Category - Worker Impact

Figure 9:

Framework Performance Categories Mapped to SPC Definition

Figure 10:

Carbon Footprint of a Coca-Cola can

Carbon Footprint of a 330ml Coca-Cola can