May 6, 2021

Packaging – the Unsung Hero of Sustainable Supply Chains

by Alan Cuddihy, VP Sustainability

Packaging is one of the most important parts of a sustainable supply chain — it protects products, lowers storage, handling, and shipping costs, provides a great out-of-box consumer experience, and generates business benefits. For consumers, a product’s packaging is the first tangible brand experience.

And with more consumers demanding less wasteful packaging and use of responsible materials such as compostable, recyclable, biodegradable, or reusable, brands must make responsible packaging choices to reduce waste while optimizing their business.

With the exponential growth of e-commerce, brands have the opportunity to rethink their packaging to make it more sustainable. Taking a holistic approach to redesign is key — beginning with designing the most efficient and responsible supply chain that has a clear and transparent view of supply chain partners, the materials and the processes used, and the health and safety of factory workers.

Sustainable by design

Packaging should be specifically designed for the sales channel to reduce the use of valuable natural resources and lower carbon footprint. Compact, lightweight packaging made from recycled, reusable, or biodegradable products is key. Analyzing the full product family helps achieve packaging efficiencies – design modular packaging systems with limited shapes and sizes that fit the product family and can be palleted efficiently. This methodology also lowers shipping, handling and storage costs as well as reduces transport, storage, fuel, electricity, and other environmental impacts.

At PCH, we work with brands to develop the most efficient packaging for the direct-to-consumer channel, taking into account the full supply chain. To optimize for sustainable packaging and achieve business benefits, we support production based on demand (versus forecast demand). When producing based on real consumer demand (e.g., direct-to-consumer demand or pull demand), brands reduce the pitfalls of overproduction, which can be one of the biggest contributors to environmental impact. Most importantly, we provide real-time supply chain data (intelligence at every step of the supply chain) that allows brands to reduce excess inventory that hurts the bottom line and often ends up in landfills.

By measuring the full impact of packaging in the supply chain, we demonstrate that sustainable packaging is good for business. It is important not only to eliminate harmful materials but to reduce the use of natural resources. This analysis is essential to demonstrating both the environmental impact and the business benefits to sustainability.

Our holistic approach to packaging design

  • PCH approaches packaging holistically by looking at the entire supply chain and analyzing the environmental footprint. We consider all touchpoints and stakeholders in the supply chain, as well as the impact to the environment, communities and factory workers.
  • Typically, we advise our customers to consider packaging early in the product development phase. Packaging is a product itself and should fit and protect the product, be compact, durable and light-weight.
  • It’s also important to reduce over-packaging. With our direct-to-consumer customers, we often find ways to reduce packaging (i.e., “double-boxing”), while protecting the product and creating a great consumer experience.
  • We suggest alternative materials that reduce environmental impact (recycled, compostable, biodegradable, renewable, reusable) and eliminate health risks to factory workers (such as chemicals and adhesives that are caustic in the pack out or production process) and hurt communities.
  • When working with a family of products, we develop modular systems – designing packaging that provides reduced storage (environmental impact) and easy-assembly.