Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
What Is Sustainable Packaging?

Welcome to Sustainable Brands' Issue in Focus on sustainable packaging! As a Senior Director at GreenBlue, the parent organization of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), I’ve spent a lot time over the last six years researching, writing, facilitating group projects, developing metrics and creating conference agendas on the topic. If you are new to the concept of sustainable packaging, a good way to get up to speed (besides reading the articles we will feature this month) is to visit the SPC website and click on the resources tab. Start by downloading the SPC Definition of Sustainable Packaging, which is also the focus of my introductory comments as one of the issue co-editors.

Figure 1 captures the essence of the SPC Definition, which focuses on eight key criteria*.*

Definition of Sustainable Packaging

Developing the definition was the first project of the SPC and was accomplished through a 15-month stakeholder dialog process. The Definition sets a comprehensive vision that addresses the three common pillars of sustainability (social/environmental/economic or people/planet/profit) and the full life cycle of packaging. It is intended to be considered, and really only makes sense, when considered within a systems context; the product package system as shown in Figure 2.

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Product-Package System

While the SPC stands by its “definition” and uses the language “sustainable packaging,” others are more comfortable talking about “packaging sustainability” and still others about “the role of packaging within sustainability.” I’ll leave it to you to decide which rings true. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer as long as whichever phrase you use is intended and understood holistically, which gets me to the second point I want to make — design.

One of the best if not the best way to ensure a holistic understanding and approach to sustainable packaging is to also understand the need to introduce sustainability at the earliest possible point in research and development, i.e. during design. The decisions made during the design phase will ripple positively or negatively across the entire life cycle of the package. It will affect raw material sourcing, raw material processing into a substrate, substrate conversion into a packaging format, product integration into the package (filling), packaged product distribution, warehousing, retail display, consumer interaction and end-of-life management options.

Many of the articles we’ve selected for your reading pleasure this month will talk about design. Some will discuss materials impact, some will look at metrics used to assess design decisions, and others will focus on innovations in sustainable packaging design. All will demonstrate that there are many opportunities to improve the product packaging system. Enjoy — and please share your comments!

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