12 Steps to Sustainability in the Packaging Industry

You’re blazing through your calendar app, lining up appointments, noting approaching deadlines, and getting the weeks ahead in order. Your eyes drift up to “February 2021” in the title bar. A new year, and that means another year gone by.

And how things have changed. You’ve lived through a pandemic that upended not just the packaging industry, but global society. In spite of the challenges, you’ve furthered your career by leveraging your best assets: coworkers, customers, and ultimately yourself.

In our last two blog posts, we discussed procurement and research & development while touching on sustainability. Now, in this roundup, we’ll examine sage insights for building a sustainable packaging firm.

Steps to Sustainability in the Packaging Industry

Sustainable Procurement: A Sound Choice For A Better Tomorrow

Sustainability is the name of the game in the packaging industry. Aligning your procurement efforts with your sustainability strategy can go a long way towards becoming an industry leader in sustainable packaging.

Writing for Industrial Packaging, David Roberge notes:

“It doesn’t always have to be a drastic change in business practices, even simple changes can make a difference. There are many benefits that come along with being sustainable, and going greener with packaging brings many along with it.”

One step for companies procuring packaging is using smaller packaging. This reduces the amount of material needed and as Roberge points out, it shrinks the:

“Space required for transport, allowing you to ship more product than you had prior while still reducing your freight costs. This helps you cut down on the number of transports you have to make which saves you money in the long run.”

From : 6 Benefits Of Sustainable Packaging

Fewer transports may also reduce the greenhouse gases emitted by semis, ships, and the like. Your choice of transport matters too. Packaging firm Ebro Color notes:

“Businesses aiming to be sustainable need to assess their distribution channels to find ways to use them more efficiently and to consider alternative means of transport. Rail transport for goods, where it is possible, has a lower environmental impact that [is ] moving the same volume by road.”

From: Sustainable Packaging: Why Should We Care?

Another way to increase sustainability through procurement is building a circular economy. William Brittlebank writes for ClimateAction.org:

“Opportunities are sought to use recycled materials in their production and to facilitate subsequent recycling so that, after becoming waste, they can again be transformed back into a resource, thereby furthering the implementation of a circular economy in the packaging industry.”

From: Packaging design to prevent waste and emissions

‘Recycle’ is perhaps the hottest word in sustainability. However, during procurement ‘reuse’ may produce even more benefits. Kim Overstreet quotes Martin Blacher, the Director of Sustainability at Bockatech, who argues for:

“Low cost durable containers that allow innovative reuse models at scale.”

Blacher further states:

“Reuse is throwing down a challenge to materials and packaging manufacturers to come up with new solutions that really suit this format of packaging.”

From: Innovations in Reuse – a Sustainable Solution

Of course, recycle and reuse need not be one or the other. Both can contribute to systemic efforts to improve sustainability. Stepping back to consider larger systems, McKinsey experts Peter Berg, David Feber, Anna Granskog, Daniel Nordigården, and Suku Ponkshe ask:

“Can system-level approaches, including collaboration along the value chain, make our approach to packaging more sustainable?”

The answer:

“To truly achieve significant progress toward sustainable packaging, changes to the broader packaging and recycling system will be required where development and implementation costs are also much higher—and will be difficult to achieve by individual stakeholders.”

From: The drive toward sustainability in packaging—beyond the quick wins

High costs may scare some off, but by working together, packaging companies and their customers can share burdens and drive sustainability. Continued research and development will also contribute to a more sustainable future.

R&D Lights The Way To A Greener Future as Steps to Sustainability in the Packaging Industry

R&D Lights The Way To A Greener Future

R&D builds the future. Yet, the future is uncertain. Throughout the years, many of the world’s best and brightest have failed in their forecasts. So how can we predict where research and development will take us? Jana Iverson suggests:

“By analyzing emerging technology, global packaging trends, and market projections, we can get a pretty good glimpse into what the packaging industry will potentially look like by 2028 and beyond.”

Iverson bravely jumps into bold predictions for the years ahead, noting:

“As the world moves towards more advanced and sustainable methods, packaging manufacturers and consumers will benefit from efforts that will revolutionize customer experience, manufacturing & shipping, and environmental protection.”

From: Future of Packaging: Technology & Design in 10 Years and Beyond

This brings us back to sustainability, R&D, and innovation. Writing in Forbes, Matt Jones takes a gander at the world’s leading tech companies:

“Most of today’s top global tech companies got where they are very quickly. Their products and services are in a constant cycle of innovation to avoid being outdone by their peers or by disruptive startups.”

Jones further suggests a data-driven approach to R&D, noting:

“Data can also make R&D more cost-effective. It reduces research time by guiding research scientists to experiments with the highest chance of success and dismissing unproductive routes. Making R&D data accessible reduces duplication of research and allows new discoveries which may otherwise not have been considered.”

From: How To Gain A Competitive Advantage With Your Research And Development Data

Research and development can promote sustainability. Writing in the Harvard Business Review back in 2008, Andrew Shapiro states:

“R&D, of course, is a core driver of product innovation and critical to staying ahead in any changing market. Sustainability, in turn, is a lens on innovation that is becoming increasingly important in diverse industries – from energy and transportation to consumer products.”

From: Make Green R&D a Competitive Advantage

One area of active research that could drive sustainability is simplifying packaging. Writing in R&D World, Dr. Bob Maughon and Dr. Mark Jones urge us to simplify packaging, noting:

“Most users are unaware of the technical complexity contained in the packaging they encounter. Many packages are made up of multiple layers, with layers for structure, for barrier and for aesthetics. Multiple materials complicate recycling so efforts to provide more functionality from the same base resins continue to be ripe for innovation.”

From: R&D Efforts to Make Plastic More Sustainable

Ultimately, our products, packaging, and indeed global society as a whole are what we design them to be. Writing for Recycling Today, Megan Smalley quotes Joe Iles from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation who says:

“Everything is designed – from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat, and the buildings we live in. Considering the principles of the circular economy at the design stage can have a huge influence over how such items are produced, used, and what happens to them after use.”

From: DS Smith establishes Circular Design Principles for packaging

So when approaching R&D, it’s important to design it to be sustainable from the get-go. Let’s wrap this up with a wise quote from Amit Kalantri in Wealth of Words:

“Research doesn’t assure definite rewards, but it assures lesser risk.”

From: Wealth of Words

The Big Takeaway

It’s hard to say just how your packaging R&D efforts will pay off. Yet if you want to remain competitive over the long haul, R&D is a must. And packaging companies serious about building a sustainable future will have to ante up the resources to develop sustainable new products and to rework inefficient processes.

What does R&D have to do with recruiting? EVERYTHING! How to find the best and brightest thinkers in the packaging industry if you don’t know what they look like? We get innovation. We get thinking outside the box.

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Digitalization And Rapid Transformation In The Packaging Industry

Shopping may never be the same. Go back to 2019, and for many, shopping meant swinging by your favorite grocery store on the way home from work, or else popping into Best Buy for a gadget. And perhaps the UPS truck dropped off a package on the porch.

Now? The Amazon Fresh driver is pulling into the driveway in ten minutes, give or take. Then you’ve got to stop by Walmart for a curbside pickup order placed through an app. Walmart’s out of the secret sauce you like, but fortunately, you found it on the Kroger app. And your vitamins are in the mail, or was it UPS?

Consumers have felt the full impact of digitalization in recent months. Companies big and small are also feeling the influence and are utilizing digitalization to reshape operations and business models.

Wondering what digitalization means? There are so many terms tossed around these days, it’s hard to keep them straight. Fortunately, Gartner provides a succinct definition that suits the packaging industry well:

“Digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.”

Ultimately, digital transformation may improve business models, increase customer engagement, and generate valuable data. Change for the packaging industry could be immense.

We often think of packaging in physical terms, such as boxes, labels, and containers. However, digitalization is shaking up supply lines and packaging is gaining a digital life of its own. So let’s look at what transformation could mean for your business.

Digitalization And Rapid Transformation In The Packaging Industry

Honing Your Competitive Edge With Digitalization

It’s tempting to view digitalization as a threat to the packaging industry. If more things go digital, doesn’t that reduce the need for paper and packaging? Yes, but digitalization also creates opportunities. Writing for Bain, Ilkka Leppävuori, Will Poindexter, and Oliver Straehle note:

“Contracts, invoices and everyday communication flow without paper, and consumers are switching from print magazines and newspapers to online and mobile versions. There is, however, another side of the digital story in paper and packaging, one that creates opportunities for cost savings and product innovations with new revenue streams.”

Leppävuori, Poindexter, and Straehlefurther further state:

“Digital transformation offers tremendous opportunity in the paper and packaging industry, but success will require a significant investment in new talent and capabilities, as well as careful prioritization.”

Markets drive competition, and competition necessitates transformation. That means embracing emerging opportunities to spur innovation. Digital technologies hold a lot of promise for packaging firms, enabling smart packaging and allowing organizations to better control supply chains. Alexandre Pauchard, Head of Group R&D, BOBST, points out that:

“By and large, digitalization is not just the implementation of digital technologies into existing business architectures; it is about questioning existing business logic in the light of new possibilities offered by the latest digital technologies.”

Pauchard goes further, noting:

“The packaging industry is also undergoing a profound transformation, with brand owners shaking its value chain. They are under pressure from competition, market expectation and new local brands to reduce new product cycle times, from packaging design to arrival on the shelves.”

Pauchard also argues that the “packaging value chain remains segmented and poorly interconnected,” and suggests that:

“Through digitalization, the entire production chain will become more transparent, agile and flexible. Across the whole production workflow, timely decisions are made possible. We are entering a period where connected systems will contribute data to the entire production process for faster and precise optimization.”

As globalization has reshaped the world, managing supply chains has proven difficult. There are so many touchpoints, and countless products and assets are in constant motion. Writing for PTC, Prema Srinivasan says:

“Assets along the whole value chain will continuously send and receive information. Key data from raw materials suppliers to manufacturers to customers will be harvested and utilized. This will result in greater energy efficiency and less waste.”

And as digital transformation steams ahead, labels are especially promising.

Wondering how else technology could impact the packaging industry? Check out our blog (10) Key Insights From 2019 That Every Packaging Executive Must Know!

Digitalization And Rapid Transformation In The Packaging Industry

With Labels, Knowledge is Power

Some consumers rarely notice the labels on packaging and the products themselves. However, for companies, labels are essential for controlling supply chains and maintaining flexibility. Markets are more cutthroat now than ever before and efficiency is king. Those companies that can best streamline their supply chains are in a better position to compete. As Josh Roffman puts it in Packaging Strategies:

“Globalization and digital technologies are changing business, especially as companies look to accelerate growth and expand into new markets. To do this, companies must create efficiencies in their supply chain and be able to address complex and ever-changing supply chain dynamics.”

The Internet, improved shipping, and yes, improved packaging solutions, have made globalization possible. Globalization has spurred economic development in many countries and lowered the costs of goods for consumers.

Yet controlling vast supply chains can feel like herding cats. Josh Roffman notes in another article:

“As companies expand their supply chain to include new partners and regions, they need better visibility to ensure quality and faster reaction to events — from fake or falsified goods to counterfeit parts to faulty products that impact customer safety (which is especially critical when it comes to food and beverage).”

Improved and more intelligent labels may bring order to chaos. Roffman further points elucidates:

“The label provides that essential link so that companies can capture specific product information, which may include certificates of origin, PO numbers, lot numbers — all of which can be used to link back to the source.”

Big companies controlling massive supply chains dominated the first phase of globalization. In recent years, an increasing number of small and medium-sized enterprises have aggressively built global linkages. Now, producers must be more agile, catering to SMEs placing an increasing number of small orders. Writing in the Packaging Newsletter, Sebastian Reisig argues:

“Packaging producers need to adjust their production capabilities to handle a larger number of smaller orders, making their entire supply chain, from design to the final product, more agile. This transformation requires more digitalization, more automation and more data sharing across the entire production workflow with machines talking to machines for more intelligent and timely decisions, enabling ‘just in time’ packaging production.”

While we often think of labels in physical terms, digitalizing them is now essential for businesses big and small. The right online platforms allow companies of any size to more efficiently and effectively manage their labels, and thus their supply chain. Ken Moir, vice president of marketing at NiceLabel suggests:

“One further step is to move your labelling system to the cloud. As cloud capabilities become available to all businesses, not just large enterprises, using label management SaaS solutions mean that all your data is stored in a central location.”

Digitalization will continue to drive transformation in the decades ahead. Many of tomorrow’s most competitive companies may embrace digitalization to improve supply chains, increase agility, and provide transparency. This could include better labeling, leveraging the Internet-of-things (IoT), and utilizing as much data as possible.

What does this have to do with recruiting? EVERYTHING! Adopting cutting edge technology hones your competitive edge. The same is true with your senior leadership. When you retain us to find a cutting edge leader for your organization, we seek nothing less than the savvy executive that will elevate your brand.

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