Protecting Products, and the Environment

With sustainability initiatives firmly rooted throughout most of corporate America, packaging engineers have undoubtedly begun programs to reduce their material consumption and their environmental footprints. But how does an engineer whose primary responsibility is to protect products scale back without risking product damage?

ISTA (International Safe Transit Association) will be helping engineers address that question through its guidance, “Responsible Packaging by Design,” at its upcoming International Transport Packaging Forum, held April 18-21 in Orlando, FL.
For instance, during the two-and-half days of conferences, speakers will discuss ISTA’s approach. In “Responsible Packaging by Design,” Larry Dull, partner, Packaging Knowledge Group, will cover ISTA’s standard design protocol, which is described on ISTA’s site as “a logical, sequential, step-by-step process for creating a package that meets the objectives of sustainability. It is intended to be ‘LCA and LCT driven’ and assesses the packaging in the context of the product and its functional role.”
In addition, Karen Proctor, Professor, Rochester Institute of Technology, Packaging Science, will present “A Closer View: ISTA’s Responsible Packaging by Design Standard in Use,” which will look at how to optimize packaging without increasing product damage.

I had the chance to first learn about ISTA’s standard at Pack Expo International 2010, where Joan Pierce, vice president, packaging sustainability, Colgate Palmolive, unveiled ISTA’s standard to a packed room. “The purpose is to provide instructions for packaging professionals on how to create a new package and analyze the environmental impacts of alternative packages, while controlling project risks and capturing opportunities,” she presented. She then described the flowchart approach, which includes such functions as devising the scope of projects, defining metrics, and considering the impacts of existing and proposed designs, among other steps.

What first impressed me is that ISTA is looking at the total packaging system, including in its considerations the primary package (consumer unit), the secondary package (merchandizing unit), and the tertiary (transport) unit.

This is a much-wider-looking stance for ISTA, but packaging engineers should welcome the approach. Looking at how proposed design changes to one level could affect others is absolutely critical, because all three packaging levels work in concert to deliver a product to the end-user. The work may involve different packaging engineers or even different departments, but I have always advocated a team approach when it comes to package—and even product—design.

In addition, ISTA references CEN’s Report on Criteria and Methodologies for Life-Cycle Analysis of Packaging, TR13910:2010. The report cautions against single-impact categories, such as carbon, water, or energy, Pierce explained.

Limiting the influence any one element has on life-cycle analysis is important, I feel, because it could help deter changes made solely because of a consumer backlash against use of a particular material or resource, for instance.

ISTA’s approach takes engineers through the entire redesign process, including production scale up, postlaunch review, and continuous improvement.

For details about ISTA’s Responsible Packaging by Design standard, register to attend the International Transport Packaging Forum at

Daphne Allen, Editor

No votes yet