Going green is no longer a fad. With the large-scale destruction of the Earth's ecology and natural resources, environmental consciousness has become absolutely imperative. The corporate world has responded by making it a high priority to "go green" and to implement sustainability initiatives in recent years.
Every stage in the packaging life cycle, including raw material sourcing, design, manufacturing, sales and final consumption, leaves a discernible impact on the environment. Hence, CPG companies need to assess the same and take informed decisions with respect to their packaging activities, such that their deleterious effects are minimal. The following strategies - the 10 R's - can help CPG companies arrive at greener packaging practices.
Raw materials can be procured from vendors that pursue policies aimed at sustaining resources - for instance, those that improve soil fertility, reduce water consumption and protect natural resources and the broader eco-system.
At UNILEVER, around 50 percent of the tea for Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe is being sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.
Designers can develop packaging using materials like recyclable jute, cotton, linen or recycled plastic and paper.
At Georgia Pacific, the introduction of Green Shield packaging as an alternative to waxed corrugated packaging reduced the injection of the latter into the waste stream.
Companies can use ergonomic design to minimize the use of packaging material and consequently save on transport and disposal costs. Ergonomically designed packaging, which consumes fewer raw materials, also saves fuel during production and thereby cuts emissions.
The use of pouches or hanger-type packages as an alternative to PET bottles or shoppers' carry bags can significantly reduce the consumption of plastic material.
Also, CPG companies can optimize the number of stock-keeping units in order to achieve higher cost efficiencies in manufacturing, transportation and inventory management.
Colgate continues its effort to reduce the amount of material in its toothpaste tubes while maintaining the required dispensing performance, toothpaste quality and packaging integrity.
During package production, hazardous and harmful substances like phosphates or other superfluous chemicals can be replaced with eco-friendly materials.
By using 30 percent renewable material from feed stock resin instead of petroleum-based PET in their bottles, CPG companies can minimize the quantum of PVC in packaging. They can also return more water to nature by optimizing its consumption within their production processes.
The Coca Cola Company and WWF have partnered to preserve and protect vital watersheds in North America, including southeastern rivers and Rio Grande/Rio Bravo of the Chihuahua desert.
Stringent post-production review processes can be put in place to inspect, monitor and control waste in package manufacturing.
Recently, Nestle initiated plans of introducing lightweight PET bottles to reduce its carbon footprint.
When companies discover that their packages are harmful on account of high concentrations of lead or mercury or any other reason, they must recall them immediately and take the necessary corrective measures to avoid a repeat occurrence.
CPG companies can collaborate with retailers and take back used packaging materials like sachets or plastic bags in return for discounts. These materials could then be re-cycled and re-used. Companies can also set up informal co-operatives of garbage collectors and scavengers and thereby achieve a dual objective of better package recovery and sustainable job creation.
CPG companies can set up centers of excellence within their organization to disseminate best environmental practices and knowledge among a wider audience. They can also partner with agencies such as The Nature Conservancy and WWF to tackle sustainability-related challenges that they cannot meet on their own.
CPG companies must register with environmental agencies as a waste carrier, broker or hazardous waste producer. They can also sign up for carbon reduction commitment initiatives at a country level through affiliation with packaging coalitions, EUROPEN, etc.
The 10 R's eco-strategy (Replenish, Reduce, Re-explore, Replace, Reconsider, Review, Recall, Redeem, Register and Reinforce) outlined above can help global CPG companies go green, starting with the outer packaging layer.
Global CPG corporations should undertake sustainability packaging and other sustainability initiatives unless environmental consciousness is at the heart of their corporate strategy and has the visible support of the CEO.
V. Sivakumar is a project manager, Retail, CPG and Logistics, with Infosys
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