Green Packaging - Viewpoint: The Journey to Sustainable Packaging
Vice President of Packaging,
Chief Environmental Officer of Corporate Packaging,
The Estée Lauder Companies
The idea of making packaging healthy for the environment is not new. For years, many companies have made protecting the world we live in a priority. Recently, however, sustainability has become a top priority for more companies such as Wal-Mart, which launched its Sustainable Packaging Value Network and Packaging Scorecard in order to drive its suppliers to make more eco-friendly packaging decisions.
A widely accepted definition of sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” For years, companies have taken the necessary steps to ensure that they are in compliance with global regulations, such as the EU essential requirements, and recovery standards. But we are now talking about going beyond compliance.
We are talking about designing for the environment so that the packaging that we produce will be healthy for the environment throughout its life cycle, and also so that it can be reclaimed after its use as a resource for future products. There are opportunities to reduce the amount of packaging used, or to use recycled content or renewable energy—and much more.
I am often asked what a company needs to do in order to become sustainable. What is the first step? Is it better to use recycled content or to use materials that can be recycled? There is no one correct answer to any of these questions.
If you look at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s definition of sustainability, you’ll realize that there are a lot of different opportunities to make your packaging more sustainable. These standards,
as set forth by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, can also serve as a useful guide when determining whether your packaging is sustainable.
1. Is it beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle?
2. Does it meet market criteria for performance and cost?
3. Is it sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy?
4. Does it maximize the use of renewable or recycled-source materials?
5. Is it manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices?
6. Are the materials used healthy in all probable end-of-life scenarios?
7. Is it physically designed to optimize materials and energy?
8. Is it effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial cradle-to-cradle cycles?
No package design will meet all of the above criteria. The definitions are meant to be used as what I call a “road map” for the journey to sustainability.
Don’t worry about finding the perfect solution. The important thing is to take that first step. Pick an opportunity that works for your brand or package. I like to quote my friends at Nike: “Just Do It.”
My introduction to the world of environmental packaging happened when I was put in charge of package development at Aveda. Little did I know how important saving the environment was to Aveda—or how much my experiences there would change my life. Aveda’s mission statement says it all: “Our mission at Aveda is to care for the world we live in, from the products we make to the ways in which we give back to society. At Aveda, we strive to set an example for environmental leadership and responsibility, not just in the world of beauty, but around the world.” When Aveda develops packaging, reducing packaging’s impact on the environment is prioritized above cost and design.
True opportunities lie in developing creative and innovative solutions that meet design, cost, and environmental criteria, all at the same time. I call this a win-win-win solution. Once companies realize their ability to do this, why wouldn’t they do the right thing all of the time?
I am fortunate to work for a company that appreciates the entrepreneurial spirit and allows its members to drive innovation and take creative ideas to new levels. At Estée Lauder, we realized that Aveda’s principles could be driven throughout the company—and through the packaging industry as a whole. Through our role as a founding member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, we have been able to take a leadership role in the world of sustainable packaging and to help to drive sustainable packaging solutions throughout the industry.
I have been extremely lucky to have the opportunity to take package development to the next level. I encourage all designers and developers to get on board. Designing for the environment is a journey. Everything you do is new and innovative. Never again will packaging be the same—or so rewarding.