Experts say sustainability remains a dominant trend in packaging

By:Dan Hockensmit, PLASTICS NEWS

CHICAGO (Nov. 11, 1:30 p.m. ET) — Partnerships between packaging manufacturers, consumer products manufacturers and retailers to advance their common sustainability goals are firmly established as part of the cost of doing business in today’s environment.

Members of a panel at the Pack Expo trade show likened the continuing focus on eco-friendly packaging and cost-consciousness in manufacturing, supply and retail to a tsunami.

“I’ve been really encouraged by the fact that, in a tough economy, you really haven’t seen that wave wane much,” Ellen Feeney, White Wave Foods’ executive vice president for responsible livelihood, said during the Nov. 1 session. “I think that’s because people have been really smart in articulating how we can save money and be more sustainable.

“As long as the conversation is cached around our return on investment, it makes really good business sense.”

Dean Foods subsidiary White Wave Foods is a distributor for Silk soy milk, Horizon Organic dairy products, and other organic foods.

Feeney said her company has a customer base that is concerned about fair labor and trade practices, food miles and other environment impacts of products, as well as recyclability of packaging, and those concerns are reflected in White Wave Foods’ procurement decisions.

“Packaging is the most symbolic thing to a consumer. It’s what ends up in their home after the featured benefit of the product inside it [is exhausted]. At the end of the day, the consumer wants to know, ‘What do I do with it?’ and they want to feel good about it,” she said.

Wes Bean, senior director of strategic resourcing for Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., said that his company, which has been in constant reorganization since emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy late in 2006, has had to cut back on the number of staff involved in sustainability initiatives.

That means its suppliers’ decisions about sustainability — especially as they relate to meeting Winn-Dixie’s scorecard — have a direct impact on the supermarket chain’s procurement relationships with its suppliers.

“Regardless of what a company’s position is from a capital standpoint, it is finding the niche in which, relative to your space, you can play a role in sustainability, that makes the right sense for a business model,” Bean said.

As a retailer with some manufacturing of its own house brands, Target Corp. is in a unique position when it comes to meeting internal sustainability goals and those of its customers, Kim Lymn, the company’s senior manager of packaging, said during the discussion.

Target is a supporter of The Global Packaging Project, a group formed by the Paris-based Consumer Goods Forum, a group that brings together CEOs and senior managers from 650 retailers, manufacturers, service providers and other stakeholders across 70 countries.

“The whole premise of the Global Packaging Project is to have common [sustainability] metrics, so that we can make business decisions; we all have to make different decisions on behalf of our companies, but if we have a common metric, we’re all talking about it in the same way,” Lymn said.

“We want to be able to talk the same language to diofferent people, whether we’re bringing in packaging companies or national [consumer products] brands,” she added.

Pack Expo was held Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 in Chicago.