Eight Steps to Sustainable Packaging

Once upon a time – say, maybe a decade ago — few companies mandated socially responsible products and practices in their day-to-day business operations. The climate has changed, and sustainability isn’t just a sound business objective: It’s producing healthy bottom-line results.

Businesses are moving away from eco-unfriendly parcels to environmentally responsible packaging such as recyclable paperboard mailers made from post-consumer content. And they’re finding that shifting to sustainable packaging doesn’t require a seismic shakeup inside the mailroom.

Here are eight easy steps you can take to help move your business toward sustainable packaging:

1. Adopt a company mandate. Many companies are requiring paper-based product suppliers to provide products made from sustainable materials. Even without a corporate policy, purchasing departments often include sustainability requirements in RFPs and only purchase packaging products made from FSC- or SFI- certified paper, recycled paperboard or, at the very least, materials that can be recycled.

2. Reduce filler materials by using fitted packaging. For instance, paperboard mailers are designed to accommodate contents of various thicknesses with no dead air space to fill. This versatility eliminates the need for bubble wrap, foam peanuts or other environmentally unfriendly filler materials.

3. Consider two-way mailers. These paperboard packages have a second flap that can be pulled out to allow the envelope to be resealed. Two-way mailers make a significant statement about a company’s commitment to sustainable packaging, and the benefits are immediately apparent.

4. Insist on eco-friendly ink. Whether companies need a simple return address printed on a package or a full-color marketing piece, water- and soy-based inks are the most environmentally friendly. If using color, the graphic designer or marketing firm needs to understand any sustainability goals.

5. Eliminate packaging containing non-recyclable materials — such as padded mailers containing non-recyclable plastic bubble liners. Replace these packaging options with products made with FSC- or SFI-certified paper or paperboard containing a high degree of post-consumer recycled content.

6. Show off sustainable practices. Consumers and other businesses respond to companies that use socially responsible practices. Once a business makes the move to sustainable packaging, marking paperboard mailers with the appropriate sustainability information can generate goodwill with customers and business partners.

7. Know the true environmental costs. Companies should consider the total carbon footprint of sustainable paper products when comparing prices. For example, if wood is harvested in Asia and transported to a U.S. plant thousands of miles away from the end user, the carbon footprint is far greater than purchasing from a manufacturer that gets wood from an FSC/SFI-certified forest located near its manufacturing facilities.

8. Consider the Five Rs. Keep in mind the basic environmental hierarchy:
–Restore. Use materials and companies that practice sustainability
–Respect. Packaging has many aspects—from the source of the material to final distribution. Keep these in mind when choosing products.
–Reduce. By using fewer materials with less weight, the cost of transporting the packages will be less.
–Reuse. If what’s already been made can be used again, then practice reusing.
–Recover. Recycle what can’t be reused.

Consumer demand has fueled the increased availability—and affordability—of environmentally friendly packaging options. Now it’s up to companies to practice their commitment to the three Ps: people, planet and profit.

Bob Makofsky is vice president and general manager for Conformer Expansion Products.

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