Posted by John Kalkowski -- Packaging Digest, 11/7/2011 10:21:39 PM The relationship between sustainability and packaging is a hot topic, and every participant in the packaging value network wants to know how to leverage their sustainability-related opportunities.
In this pursuit, it is common for each segment of the packaging community to acquire a slightly different interpretation of the overall concept of sustainability. This is understandable, since the key indicators of sustainability might indeed be different for each part of the industry, and each part of the industry does indeed have a unique interface to the supply chain, society and the environment.
The concept of sustainability, however, is more than a collection of indicators and attributes that may be summed up to infer some level of eco-efficiency. To understand the philosophy of sustainability as it applies to the entire packaging community, one must embrace a full system view of what packaging is and then examine the contribution that one's portion of the packaging community can make towards the concept of sustainable packaging.
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition's education course, "The Essentials of Sustainable Packaging," is an effort to get the packaging community on the same page in its understanding of sustainability. The SPC is in a fortunate position to study the entire packaging industry across all materials and all portions of the value chain. Thus, the course is deliberately intended to give attendees, who hail from companies across the supply chain, a full-system understanding of what sustainability entails for packaging.
Fostering a common understanding of sustainability within the domestic packaging industry has been a challenge, yet progress continues. Yet for the globally integrated supply chain, the next big challenge is to foster understanding across packaging industries in all parts of the world where significant manufacturing occurs. It is true that packaging is truly a global industry, and many value chains weave from country to country before a packaged good is sold on the store shelf.
However, just as the idea of sustainability varies from papermaker to plastic recycler, the context of any given country lends itself to a different understanding of sustainability considerations.
In the U.S., we are constantly reminded of our fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. In Brazil, the level of scrutiny on deforestation and loss of biodiversity may trump the attention given to their carbon footprint. In developing countries, working conditions and fair wages may be the most formidable sustainability challenges. To make progress on the sustainability challenges that are common to every country, packaging professionals of those countries must be aware of the same big-picture ideas.
The SPC recently tailored a new version of the "Essentials of Sustainable Packaging" for delivery in China and Mexico. This is an attempt to understand the baseline conceptual knowledge in those countries and to help elevate the conversation about packaging sustainability in key centers of global productions.
The project's goal is twofold: One, to share the collective knowledge gained from several years of dialogue between companies representing the full packaging supply chain within the SPC; Two, to bring back lessons learned from participants in China and Mexico to inform the domestic dialogue about packaging sustainability. The initiative is an attempt to connect the production centers of the world to conversations and concepts around packaging sustainability in diverse companies operating globally. Only with a common understanding of the global picture will it be possible for the international packaging community to achieve a reasonable level of sustainability in packaging.
The first session in Mexico City will be Nov. 15, 2011. For more information, please visit www.sustainablepackaging.org.
Adam Gendell is a project associate and Minal Mistry is a project manager for GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition (www.sustainablepackaging.org).
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