Is Packaging a hopeless case?

One of the biggest challenges for the transition to sustainable and circular economy is the packaging issue.

On one hand, packaging is important for preserving goods, especially food, and preventing damage and thus waste. It protects goods along the logistic chain, conditioned by the ways in which it is distributed, its shape and composition influenced by multiple factors: from the marketing strategies to the business model and many subjects along the Value Chain.

As I have already written elsewhere, too seldom the “no packaging” option is considered by the clients who consult us in order to get a “more sustainable packaging” solution for their products. Sometimes over-packaging is consequence of a non-decision somewhere along the Company’s processes. The problem is that over-packaging is killing our society’s future, needlessly and irresponsibly. But how can we make it a priority challenge?

The packaging in the picture is of a pharmaceutical product, homeopatic, from a Company reputed for being attentive to the environment. And yet…

Most likely this apparently meaningless over-packaging is the consequence of some need, arising from secondary packaging for shipping or from the way in which it is displayed on shelves, or organized in the drawers of a pharmacy… I cannot imagine that it doesn’t result from the requirements of some step in the Value Chain. But why this incredible extra costs, in terms of environmental impact and also in terms of the cost of the actual cardboard box, are not addressed and eliminated? Why do Companies have so many wastes in their Value Chains that are completely out of control?

The question has a very simple answer: Sustainability is not part of the core strategies and Sustainability objectives are not integrated with the business and operational ones. As an outcome, because of this regrettable situation Sustainability is not everyone’s everyday job. This entails a huge overall cost for the Company, for its customers who have to pay extra price, for the environment as the final stakeholder.

How to deal, then, with such a situation?

First: from top down, Sustainability objectives should be incorporated in the Company’s strategic ones. Its targets should be cascaded down through all operations until the lower stage, really to the actions of the single worker and machine. 

It the appropriate Sustainability and business objectives are cascaded down as it should be, then the action plans at the factory floor level should set the concrete goals, asking the simple question: how the actions consequent to this plan will contribute to the Company’s objectives? 

A designer, or a supervisor informed and engaged in the pursuit of the strategic objective of packaging reduction, lowering of logistic footprint and cost saving – and also encouraged to make suggestions – would certainly address this issue. People behave smarter when they are stimulated and engaged in the collective challenges. Who could overlook this? I have immediately noticed the inconsistency of the packaging as soon as I opened the box: can you imagine people on the floor to overlook it if they were hunting for waste, costs, access material, useless consumption of space, lesser logistic footprint? Nay!

Other option: does the requirement come from the pharmacy, i.e. the direct customer of the producer? Here we come to the fact that Sustainability – much less the Circular Economy – is not something that one can achieve alone. Engagement of the customer should be priority here with the aim to develop, perhaps through sessions of our CASE Method®, a win-win solution that brings advantages to both, while benefiting the environment. The same applies in the case of the transporter or whoever requires this box shape.

This box case is just a small example of a much bigger problem: the fact that too many unsustainable things occur due to unconsciousness of their implications, lack of clarity of objectives, insufficient sharing and engagement along the process and throughout Companies and their Value Chains.

The margins of improvement in performance that Sustainability, when appropriately implemented and embedded throughout the Company’s processes and Value Chain, can deliver are huge and those fruits are still hanging untouched by many organizations.

The insight that we at Exsulting have wanted to provide to executives and managers through the Embedded Sustainability Index® stems exactly from the awareness that we have of how complex the Sustainability challenge is and how holistic the response has to be.

I hope this article has given you some food for thought and helped make clear some elements of the problem and its possible solution.