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Sustainability through partnerships and 'thinking outside the jar'

By Catherine Diamond, Associate Editor | March 6, 2014

Smithers Pira's 8th annual Sustainability in Packaging conference features P&G's "Environmental Vision."

Smithers Pira kicked off its 8th annual Sustainability in Packaging conference in Orlando Wednesday with the announcement that it had partnered with GreenBlue to offer a new, joint event next year. Created to offer up-to-date information and strategic intelligence for the sustainable packaging industry, the first annual edition is slated for March 2015. The event is designed to serve the needs of the entire supply chain from feedstock and materials suppliers to converters and brand owners and other end users. Organizers say they will bring participants together to discuss, network, learn and debate the opportunities, technologies and challenges facing the industry now and into the future.

“We are looking forward to working with Smithers Pira to expand the reach of our sustainable packaging message beyond our traditional audience,” said Nina Goodrich, executive director of GreenBlue and director of the company’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

Nini Goodrich, director of GreenBlue, with John Lewinski, head of Us events for Smithers Pira
Following the partnership announcement, Lewinsky introduced the conference’s Advisory Board, which included: Alan Blake, executive director of Pac Next; Laura Rowell, director of sustainable packaging at Sonoco Packaging; Lisa Pierce, executive editor of Packaging Digest; Saskia van Gendt, captain planet (yes, this is her real job title) at Method; and Betsy Dorn, director of USA consulting at Reclay StewardEdge.

'We cannot do it alone'
Blake and Rowell moderated the first session, titled Sustainable Packaging Strategies Executive Panel. Len Sauers, vice president of global sustainability at Proctor & Gamble, opened the session by discussing the ways in which sustainability efforts can be achieved through partnerships.

“More and more,” Sauers said, “we are finding that we cannot achieve our sustainability goals by ourselves.”

Because P&G is such an enormous company – 4.8 billion people in 180 countries use its products – Sauers says that partnerships are not just an opportunity to further grow its business, but a responsibility in terms of achieving sustainability goals on both local and global scales.

To commit to its sustainability goals, P&G designed a long-term “Environmental Vision” for the company, which includes using 100% renewable materials or recyclate for all of its products and packaging; powering its plants with 100% renewable energy; designing products that “delight customers” while maximizing the conservation of resources, and having zero consumer or manufacturing waste go to landfill.

One of P&G’s sustainability goals for its products is fairly simple on the surface, but given the company’s wide-ranging influence, it could have tremendous effects. P&G would like 70% of its laundry detergent users to wash their clothes exclusively in cold water. According to Sauers, switching to cold water could reduce overall household energy usage by 4%.

Additionally, the company aims to replace 25% of petroleum-based materials with sustainably-sourced renewable materials, and also plans to have all of its paper packaging contain either recycled or third-party certified virgin content. Overall, it would like to reduce its packaging by a staggering 20% per consumer use.

In order to achieve all of these goals by 2020, Sauers says that partnering with companies throughout the supply chain is essential. “A company like ours really values sustainability,” he said. “But we recognize that we cannot do it alone.”

Thinking outside the jar
Later in the day, Dorn, of Reclay StewardEdge, chaired a session called Getting a Sustainable Packaging Project Started: the Balancing Act of Sustainability vs. Cost and Meeting Supply Chain Needs. During this session, Emily Erickson, R&D sustainability manager at Happy Family Brands, hit at the heart of sustainable initiatives with her presentation, Going Green for Babies. The desire for green products and packaging is driven not only by environmental stewardship, but also from concerned parents who want to be sure their families are safe and healthy. That concern, put plainly, translates to strong market demand and millions in sales.

As evidence of just how powerful this demand is, Erickson shared with the audience that only five years ago, the baby food packaging market was completely dominated by jars. Today, jars have been replaced with pouches. Even Gerber, by far the largest manufacturer of baby food with more than 70% of the market, offers baby food in pouches in both its organic and conventional lines.

Until now, baby food has only been sold in jars, which have historically presented recycling issues. Pouches, on the other hand, are not only highly recyclable, but are also conducive to travel (which parents love) and easily conform to a young child’s natural eating pattern (sucking). With all the benefits of pouches over jars, why did change take so long? The answer seems to be that many had simply never questioned changing it.

“Today,” Erickson said, “we think outside the jar.”

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