Sustainability and sustainable packaging survived the 2009 recession and even prospered in a few areas like recycled polyester (rPET) incorporation in frozen food and fresh salad trays and various beverage containers.

Sustainability continues to be grounded in the triple bottom line (TBL):

• Economic results – That make sense for the company

• Social responsibility – Gaining in importance with transparency and reporting metrics.

• Environmentally conscious – Packaging is very visible, and greenhouse gases are likely to be regulated sooner than later.

More importantly, it is becoming more mainstream across the value chain and with consumers, so it is just good business to incorporate sustainable thinking into your programs and projects.

According to a recent report by Pike Research, the global packaging industry will grow to $530 billion by 2014 and sustainable packaging will account for $170 billion in revenue.

So is sustainable packaging a good investment for dairy? You bet it is!

Brand owners and retailers continue to be key drivers for new sustainable packaging solutions, and companies need to always consider consumer insights and aspirations early in the package development process. There’s a lot of data and insights out there that support the growth for sustainable packaging. Look at the focus globally across the value chain.

Additionally, the dairy industry is taking sustainable farm practices very seriously by coming up with new options for methane capture as well as reduced water consumption.

How about packaging? There are many ways to look at moving the dial. Unfortunately, 2009 got many companies caught in the productivity game where they removed and reduced package components to get sustainability credit. Don’t get me wrong – this is good, but it is incremental at best. New, bigger ideas are the way to go – they can make and save big dollars and make more solid environmental and social impacts as well.

How do you get started on the high road to sustainable packaging opportunities?

Look outside your category and identify new opportunities – ConAgra has been very active in moving sustainable packaging forward, as have Coke, Pepsi and Kraft.

Look globally for new news and new commercial solutions – Ecolean is a new, flexible pitcher that is growing market share in China and other geographies. It is reportedly 60% lighter than HDPE and much more compact when empty, which enhances distribution and transportation efficiencies.

Where can you move from the cold chain to ambient conditions, look at aseptic and retort opportunities. While these processes are energy intensive, cold storage for long shelf-life products can more than offset those GHGs.

Think about the end in the beginning – go visit recyclers, landfills and special interest groups to find out about dairy packaging problems. You may just uncover some new and exciting opportunities.

And remember, packaging plays a major role in protecting the product and reducing food waste. It is key to be sure and always take that message forward to your customers and consumers.

This is only a short list. There are many opportunities to not only save money with sustainable packaging in dairy, but there are significant new growth opportunities just waiting for those who want to be leaders in all parts of the value chain.

Remember, you may not have a choice – don’t forget about the impending regulations for carbon (greenhouse gases) and look also at the great positive social impact opportunities; cause marketing also drives business growth.

Now go do something good for your TBL!

Michael Richmond, Ph.D., is president of PTIS, a strategic business and packaging consultancy, and co-founder of Global Sustainability Solutions Inc., a company focused on providing better sustainability solutions across the value chain.