Sponsored By

Greening of an Industry: Brandowner and retailer perspectives

March 25, 2008

4 Min Read
Greening of an Industry: Brandowner and retailer perspectives

Orlando—You needn’t look further than the titles of assembled speakers at the recently completed Sustainability in Packaging Conference (March 11-13; Royal Plaza Hotel; Orlando, FL) to understand that a green perspective now colors many business decisions at leading retail and consumer goods OEMs, especially their packaging strategy. Group sustainability manager, global director of sustainability, director of sustainable packaging, VP of natural resources, and VP environmental affairs were just some of the position descriptions for speakers at the conference, organized by Intertech Pira, which drew presenters from the likes of Whole Foods, Microsoft, Nestle, Mars, and Coca-Cola, among others.

All agreed sustainability is viewed as a chief concern going forward on the basis of consumer interest, the potential for governmental regulation, positive impact on the bottom line, and, last but not least, environmental benefits. Fabian DeGarbo, sustainable packaging program advisor for specialty grocer, Whole Foods, said his company is tracking a number of trends, including the so-called food miles, or distance items travel to get to stores, and the overall carbon footprint, up and down the chain.

DeGarbo said Whole Foods had weighed bioresins for a number applications, including in-store cutlery for its deli, but at the time, “bioforks”, as he called them, cost $60/case, compared to $12/case for the polystyrene (PS) standard, leading him to question, “Could that money be better spent elsewhere?”. Suppliers of bioresins have said that prices have dropped substantially, reaching parity in some cases.

Localized supply, which can reduce a product’s total carbon footprint, has been a key target for Whole Foods, with the company currently sourcing 25% of its produce locally, pushing towards a 2050 target of 50% local produce.

Joe Bowers, director of packaging at IPC (Independent Purchasing Cooperative; Miami, FL), which is a franchisee collective that supplies sandwich chain Subway with packaging, also targeted distance traveled, changing to one central redistribution point in Texas for plastic and paper packaging. To lower the footprint further, in 2007 it went from a thermoformed oriented PS salad container made in West Virginia to a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) one made in Abilene, TX.

In addition to cutting the miles the packaging is sent, it has added 10% post-consumer recycled (PCR) PET to the container. In addition, the company shifted from PS to PP cups, which allowed lightweighting. Altogether, IPC’s moves saved 676,361 lb of virgin resin in 2007 and cut costs $4.5 million, according to Bowers. After a study concluded that 30% of its customers dine in, Subway is currently having reusable sandwich baskets molded so instead of a customer receiving a sandwich wrapped in paper and placed in a plastic bag, they will receive a basket only, saving waste.

Andrius Dapkus, director of innovation and renovation for Nestle Waters North America, told the conference about the launch of the Eco-Bottle last year. A container that consumes 30% less PET, cutting bottle weight from 14.8g to 12.2g, while using 100% recycled PET. The company also switched to a smaller, clear PP cap, removing titanium dioxide used to make it opaque, to ease recycling. The company is in the midst of shifting its entire .5-liter line (90% of its business) to the Eco-Bottle. Dapkus says for Nestle, sustainability means source reduction, decreases in packaging waste at all stages, increasing the level of recycled materials used, and easing product recycling.

Beverage giant Coca-Cola has a similar emphasis, according to a presentation from Scott Vitters, director of sustainable packaging. His company also reduced the amount of PET used in packages in 2007, cutting 10% from bottles last year. The company has also set up what it calls the largest bottle-to-bottle recycling plant in the world at Spartanburg, SC.

Beyond heightening earth-consciousness among consumers, one big reason the many of the conference’s sessions were standing-room only is the push by retailers like Wal-Mart to green up their supply chains. Jane Severin, a professor at Michigan State University’s packaging school and president of MARSpkg, which educates companies on the Wal-Mart Scorecard, offered an update on that initiative to tally the impact of all product packaging. Severin said as of January, Wal-Mart had “scored” 97,000 of its 200,000 SKUs (stock keeping unit), with data sent from 7000 out of 60,000 suppliers. Each SKU has approximately 200 data points, with some auto populating in the online program. Quoting a Wal-Mart statement, Severin said Wal-Mart offers the following guidance on package design: “If more material is used to create less damage then [Wal-Mart] needs to understand, or if a more sustainable material leads to a shorter shelf life, we need to know.”—[email protected]

Sign up for the PlasticsToday NewsFeed newsletter.

You May Also Like