Sustainable packaging is on the minds of a lot of people. Recently, a call came pouring in from a reader vexed with having to create a report for her boss. What could her company do to create more sustainable packaging? I think her words were something like, "…being tossed into the game and not knowing the rules."

I responded that knowing the rules is just the beginning. You also have to understand the scorecard, referring to the Wal-Mart packaging mandate program. She cried, foul!

I realized, at the end of our chat, I did not note her name or company. I recall it was not something that could easily adapt to a reusable container program, one of the ideas we explored.

I'm not a packaging engineer. I find my voice in the words of others, so anything I offer on the subject, I warned her, is probably what I've heard others are doing. The object of the sustainable packaging exercise is to reduce the ecological impact of packaging; incorporate ideas you come up with into a package's design.

From Packaging 101 we learned packaging adds value. It extends shelf life of a product. Transport packaging, our focus here, not only protects, it can actually reduce transportation costs. Think about pallet loads, stretch wrapping and bulk containers versus individual pieces.

That packaging gets a bad rap is more a function of education, not material. People have to learn how to handle, and re-handle, packaging material. Companies that hope to remain in the game for a long time have to do more than just reduce their carbon footprint. Success in the long run will mean finding competitive packaging solutions that maximize social and environmental values.

I was unsure if I had put my caller to sleep. She picked up, however, on that "remaining in the game" line. She was still hoping for some rules. I told her there were no rules. There are some guide posts. I said she might want to review the ISO 14000 environmental management standards.

These standards are there to help companies minimize how operations, in general, not just packaging, negatively affect the environment. They provide some direction for how to comply with applicable state and federal laws, regulations and other environmentally oriented requirements. It's all part of the continuing improvement process we all used to talk about.

Just like ISO 9000, certification is per formed by a third-party. ISO 14001 is an internationally accepted specification for an environmental management system (EMS). It specifies requirements for establishing an environmental policy, determining environmental aspects and impacts of products, activities, services, planning environmental objectives and measurable targets, implementation and operation of programs to meet objectives and targets, checking and corrective action and management review.

Seeking sustainable packaging, and adopting an environmental management system in the process, can lead to more than just better packaging. Along with reduced waste, you get cost savings and more efficient use of nat ural resources. You head off fines from some environmental legislation that might come into play in the future. You might, potentially, create better ways of doing business.

In the end, my caller said she was amazed because she thought it was just about finding a better box. I told her she had to start thinking outside the box. That's when she hung up.

Clyde Witt has been reporting on transport packaging issues and trends for more than 20 years.

Clyde E. Witt
Editor-in-Chief • cwitt@penton.com

The object of the sustainable packaging exercise is to reduce the ecological impact of packaging …