Drive Consensus in Sustainability

One of the biggest challenges about sustainability is defining it. As we found in our 7th annual packaging and sustainability survey conducted along with sister publication Packaging Digest and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, there appears to be no single definition for sustainability. Only 28% use the Global Protocol for Packaging Sustainability definition; 24% use the Sustainable Packaging Coalition definition. Several respondents are following industry priorities (45%) and internal priorities (44%). But could there be too much variability when comparing one company’s approach to another? 

Some respondents need more consensus. “There are a lot of misconceptions about the term ‘Sustainability.’ Getting everyone on the same page is a personal and business goal,” writes one respondent. Says another: “Hard to measure consistently; lack of standardization due to complexity.”

Another respondent reports that the “terms ‘sustainable,’ ‘commercially compostable,’ and ‘biodegradable’ are all misused and misunderstood.”

Nina Goodrich, director of GreenBlue, the nonprofit that drives the SPC, acknowledges that there is a “blend of approaches in determining sustainability.” Corporations often set specific corporate goals for measuring carbon footprint and energy and water use,” she says. “But when it comes to packaging, it may be easier to evaluate specific packaging attributes. We will see alignment when such packaging indicators are linked to corporate sustainability goals.”

To learn more about what corporate leaders are doing, Goodrich encourages pharmaceutical and medical device packagers to join SPC’s Industry Leadership Council on Healthcare Packaging. Together, members can discuss some of the more challenging aspects of identifying sustainable options for pharma/med described by our survey respondents, such as identifying bioplastics that feature barrier, the processability of recycled materials, and sterilization compatibility, just to name a few options.

In addition, SPC recently released a new web-enabled design guide for sustainable packaging, “Many of the strategies outlined in the guide can be used for healthcare packaging. The three broad design strategy categories are: sustainable sourcing, design for efficiency, and design for recovery,” she says.

The time has come for action, as one company points out: “We face tighter laws requiring us to reduce existing packaging by 10%. We face governmental challenges where industrial compostable packaging is useless. We face challenges with competitors sourcing their packaging from overseas.”

Collaboration and consensus could also help pharma/med companies address risk. When asked whether sustainability limits packaging innovation, one respondent wrote that it “makes taking risks more difficult and getting team agreement can [make] corporate investments more challenging.”

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--By Daphne Allen, Editor 

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