Sustainability and sustainable packaging (SP) have not only survived the recession, but also have thrived. As a result, I think we can say this is not a fad but a legitimate trend.

Sustainability and sustainable packaging (SP) have not only survived the recession, but also have thrived. As a result, I think we can say this is not a fad but a legitimate trend.

Much of the effort over the past few years was focused on efficiency and cost-reduction – light weighting, package size, optimization, material substitution and so on. While these types of efforts will continue, we are seeing a newer move to SP investment for brand equity and delivery of improved social and environmental benefits.

We are also seeing more companies across the packaging value chain make strong statements toward packaging waste reduction and zero waste. There is new investment in green-chemistry initiatives from academia through leading raw material suppliers, including Dow and DuPont.

More companies are using post-consumer recycled PET (rPET) and HDPE in their containers. This effort takes bottles out of the waste stream. In some cases, consumer packaged-goods companies are incorporating rPET into new packaging, including Naked Juices (Naked Juice Co.) and ConAgra Frozen Meal. (ConAgra Foods).

Another important sustainable packaging growth and investment area is the development and capacity investment of biomaterials for rigid and flexible applications. In fact, Stonyfield Farm recently moved away from petroleum-based, non-renewable plastic cups to polylactic acid (PLA), a renewable-based polymer made from corn. (See Dairy Foods, November 2010, page 10). Stonyfield looked at the change from a holistic approach and was able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 48%, and also purchased offset credits for sustainable agriculture.

Changes like these are investment- and brand equity-based and will provide long-term, sound investment strategies from a few viewpoints, including consumer loyalty, potentially reduced energy consumption (better life-cycle analyses) and improved costs as more packaging-related laws and regulations are passed.

In order to really look at what SP investment can do for you, consider the following 10 key points:

1. What is your sustainability strategy, and how can you incorporate SP to be an enabler to help enhance the triple bottom line (financial, social, and environmental)? Be sure to consider all three pillars and you will identify bigger opportunities.

2. Consider the role of holistic design early. Think about systems and sensory elements like touch, smell and sound, and also consider universal design principles.

3. Conduct retail audits inside and outside your categories to identify best practices for potential opportunities. You will be surprised at how many new opportunities you will identify using this simple tool.

4. Conduct a sustainable packaging science and technology scouting effort to identify new opportunities and potential threats. We are just cracking the surface on this new platform for growth and innovation.

5. Use consumer research to understand the value of SP and really explore insights specific to packaging. Look to explore and understand consumers and shoppers to identify what kinds of SP aspects are important to them.

6. Develop cross-value-chain collaborations to openly share and discuss how SP can make a difference. Look at opportunities and issues.

7. Be proactive and talk to government agencies about packaging laws and regulations on the docket. There is a lot going on right now, from Green Guides to REACH to Extended Producer Responsibility. You need to get educated and get active in this area.

8. Remember to consider end-of-life packaging during the design phase. What happens when you are finished with the package? Can it be “up cycled” and turned into something more valuable?

9. Look to develop more equity through packaging. Think about building brand equity through new sustainable packaging initiatives.

10. Consumers get 84% of their information about products from the package. Are you communicating effectively? What can you do to help consumers understand the value of packaging in the communication? Remember: Packaging reduces waste and protects dairy foods.

As you can see, there are a lot of things you can do to consider the value and opportunity of sustainable packaging investment. SP is a key growth trend and will be an important bottom line contributor in the future. Think systems and consider all the benefits SP can provide to everyone in the packaging value chain. We are moving from lower-ground efficiency to higher-ground SP investment to deliver new growth and innovation.