Lux recently attended SustPack 2017, a conference focused on “the Inputs, Outputs and Impacts of Packaging in Supply Chain Sustainability.” Although the conference’s topics varied from sourcing sustainably to commercializing biopolymers to reducing food waste, three key themes emerged from the discussions:
- Sustainability is an afterthought for most companies: Although SustPack is a sustainability conference, it was clear that many participants had difficulties successfully commercializing products with sustainability as the key value proposition. In fact, the opening speaker noted many of the attendees were afterthoughts at their respective companies. This theme resonated throughout the conference. For example, during a panel on supply chain sustainability, Liza Blackwell, Packaging Sustainability Manager at Nike, claimed that although Nike emphasizes sustainability in all its business decisions, it chooses not to publicize that aspect because it fears backlash from its customers due to a perceived loss of performance. Nevertheless, successes in sustainability followed one of Lux’s key themes for 2017 – that performance is a key driver for sustainable products ([see the report “Redefining Bio-based: A New Taxonomy and Key Themes for 2017”] client registration required).
- The importance of collaborations throughout the value chain: Many of the startups attending the event were focused on finding new customers. However, larger companies emphasized the need for collaborations throughout the entire value chain. Diego Donoso, Business President of Packaging and Specialty Plastics at The Dow Chemical Company, focused on this theme throughout his keynote. Although Lux has noted the importance of partnerships from feedstock to products in successful commercialization (see the webinar “The New Face of Bio-based: How Performance Enables Sustainability in Tomorrow’s Products”), Diego took this theme a step further and noted how partnerships beyond a product’s lifetime are key for reducing waste. He exemplified this theme via the anecdote of Dow’s partnership with Reynolds Consumer Products, Recyclebank, First Star Recycling, ConAgra Foods, and Systech Environmental Corporation for the Hefty Energy Bag Program, which collects nonrecycled plastics and coverts them into energy for the production of cement. Because of this consortium of partners, previously unrecyclable plastics now have a nonwasteful end of life.
- The need for increased education on sustainable packaging: Although not surprising, consumers have many misconceptions about the packaging industry, signifying a need for increased education. For example, Daniel Daggett, Executive Director of Sustainability at Sealed Air, noted that consumers are more concerned with packaging waste than food waste – when uninformed, consumers will often pick the less-packaged product. However, when consumers learn that packaging can significantly prolong shelf life because of materials innovations ([see the report “Thinking Outside the Box: Identifying Materials Innovations in Packaging”] client registration required), they are more likely to choose the packaged good.
Although often considered a mature industry, the packaging space has significant room for innovation, from novel form factors to reduced material and better protected contents to emerging materials for packaging, such as biopolymers ([see the report “Global Biopolymer Outlook 2026: Forecasting Growth in the Next Decade”] client registration required). However, readers should consider the themes of performance driving sustainability, collaborations through the entire value chain, and the importance of consumer education if interested in sustainable packaging innovations.
By: Gihan Hewage