Follow the Green

Nov. 1, 2006
"Corporate America is taking some initiative on environmental issues. The alternative is to let the government tell you how to do it."

Fall tends to signal the hunkering-down time of the year. For packaging, however, this autumn seems to foretell a global rejuvenation of recycling issues and sustainable packaging products. Pack Expo International, held at the end of October—the place to be if you were looking for trends in the industry—this year dedicated an entire area within its Allied Association Community to sustainable packaging and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC).

SPC began in 2003 with nine founding members dedicated to creating a positive vision for environmentally responsible packaging. The association now boasts 65 company members. It showcased various components of a sustainable packaging supply chain—backed with examples of innovations generated by member companies.

Another trend-setter has been Wal-Mart (Bentonville, Ark.) and its recent announcement to begin measuring its 60,000 worldwide suppliers on their ability to develop sustainable packaging and conserve natural resources. The initiative, slated to begin in earnest by 2008, is projected to reduce overall packaging by 5%. Five percent might not seem like a lot. However, when you're talking Wal-Mart, any percentage equals big numbers. Along with millions of pounds of trash not entering the waste stream, it's projected this initiative will save 667,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide—equal to taking 213,000 trucks off the road annually. And the money? Wal-Mart is poised to save $3.4 billion out of the projected $10.98 billion in savings for the global packaging industry.

Wal-Mart rolled out its vendor scorecard November 1, beginning with 2,000 private label suppliers. By February 2007 it will have tools and processes available to all the company's suppliers.

If, however, you're interested in learning how to reduce packaging costs and achieve greater sustainability—and you're not supplying Wal-Mart—Georgia-Pacific (Atlanta) introduced its Packaging Systems Optimization (PSO) Program in late September. Mike Adams, vice president sales and logistics, says early adopters have realized, generally, cost reductions of 3% or more. In its initial stages, the program has identified $40 million in cost savings for Georgia-Pacific's customers annually.

The PSO process includes a total cost analysis tool that quantifies supply chain savings and measures sustainability impacts, including fiber and energy use, along with greenhouse gas emissions. The process includes assessing the entire supply chain, including package design, material optimization, shelf impact, SKU consolidation, as well as line productivity, material handling and distribution. And the process doesn't take forever to complete. Most reviews are finished in three weeks and include a comprehensive plan that may encompass packaging designs and productivity improvements.

Along with these major programs, I've received some interesting product news releases as well. Compostable and biodegradable films and bags, along with recycled paperboard pallets are making either a comeback or a breakthrough—depends on what you remember of errors from the past.

My favorite, however, is an idea from a fellow in New York. He claims to have found a way to neutralize the weight of the U.S. mail. It uses a "helium filled envelope, magnetized and placed into a guide-way that propels the mail using electromagnetic energy." He claims we can save 90% of the energy needed to deliver mail. He's sizing up the system for transport of larger items. I suspect this came from one of the folks who used to send me nasty notes written in crayon. Someone has taught him to use e-mail.

Why is all this important? It shows that corporate America is taking some initiative on environmental issues. The alternative is to let government tell you how to do it.