Sustainable packaging was a relatively new topic when I first wrote about it for Dairy Foods last year.

Time For Dairy to Get Going

Sustainable packaging was a relatively new topic when I first wrote about it for Dairy Foods last year. Well, it’s in full swing, and nearly everyone is confused!

A bottled water company, Biota, made its bottles out of corn-based polylactic acid (PLA) and is now bankrupt, while newer players have moved into PLA for milk (Naturally Iowa). PLA is likely to perform better in the cold chain based on its material properties.

Wal-Mart has just commercialized the packaging scorecard, experienced sustainability retailers (including Tesco) have entered the market, and there are more rumblings about new “green” taxes coming in the United States, especially greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction based on climate change.

Sustainability seminars are popping up all over and terms like climate change, zero waste, sustainable value network (SVN), life cycle inventory (LCI) and post-consumer recycled (PCR) are all cited in the news. The net is, there is a lot of confusion out there, but at the same time, sustainable packaging is real and important – it is not a fad.

So we need to bring some sense and clarity to the topic, and this is especially important to dairy.  While packaging is seemingly on everyone’s mind, we need to think through the entire process when we think green or sustainable. Why? Because many manufacturing processes and distribution channels (like refrigerated and frozen chains in dairy) are major contributors to air and water environmental impacts.

A major household product manufacturer told me that the single biggest GHG contributor to its cleaning product was the use of hot water in the mixing and application of the product. So, it reformulated the product to be used with ambient-temperature water – same cleaning power and a positive GHG reduction. Another colleague in the carbonated soft drink industry told me the cold-chain distribution environment was the biggest LCI or environmental input to their process. And the stories go on and on.

Just think about all the issues and opportunities for dairy. There needs to be more clarity and understanding around this very important topic in order to move forward and make a positive difference for your customers, consumers and employees, for your business and for the planet.

Yes, you can make money and provide more environmentally friendly products, processes and packages.

Here is how:

  • Develop and implement a corporate sustainability strategy

  • Include all functions

  • Think holistically

  • Conduct benchmarking and best-practice studies

  • Develop your own personal program/story on the value of sustainability/sustainable packaging

  • Identify programs and projects

  • Develop metrics

  • Identify and implement education and training programs

  • Document, recognize and celebrate success

  • Think about packaging and supply chain as enablers

  • Get started – baby steps are good

    If you don’t already have a sustainability program, get started now! While strategies can be very sophisticated, they don’t need to be. In fact, we believe simple is better. Remember, start big (corporate level) and take the strategy down to your function (product, packaging, etc.). Work cross-functionally and you will spot low-fruit opportunities right away like energy (GHG) reduction and reduced waste. Both of these efforts also move more dollars to the bottom line.

    As you get going on the road to sustainability, you will begin to identify and develop game changing innovations and solutions that you would not have considered before.

    Remember, the best strategy or solution is an integrated solution. So while packaging is visible and transparent and a good way to get into the game, be sure and think about integrated solutions.

    Sustainability and sustainable packaging are only going to get stronger in and across the business and packaging value chain, so get your triple bottom-line programs going now – people, planet, profit – to deliver meaningful results to the top, bottom and planetary line!