December 16, 2020

Why Sustainability Matters in a Time of Crisis - Part 2

From sustainable packaging to waste reduction, sustainability remains top of mind for manufacturers and consumers alike. Find out in Part 2 of a two-part series why sustainable packaging matters.

The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to disrupt the nation’s global food production. Raw materials imported from other countries continue to experience delays. State lockdowns continue to break transportation links. And, consumers continue to stockpile essential goods, further upending the global supply chain system.

Pre-COVID-19, many states were making progress in reducing packaging waste. Fast forward to today, and the surge in plastic packaging resulting from the increase in e-commerce packaging and foodservice takeout is projected to increase the use of plastics by 40% in the next decade. 

That’s why sustainable packaging design continues to be increasingly important, especially as consumers become more focused on the environment.

When it comes to plastics, packaging professionals are hyper aware there is an attitude or perception problem. In fact, 69% of respondents feel a high level of environmental concern around plastic packaging; 70% believe environmental concerns for single-use plastic packaging are at an all-time high; 74% say bio-based plastics improves the environmental perception of plastics packaging; and almost half (47%) believe outright banning or regulating single-use plastic packaging is the answer.

What’s more is, 70% of “purpose-driven” shoppers are willing to pay an added premium of 35% more per upfront cost for sustainable purchases, such as recycled or eco-friendly goods, while 57% are willing to change purchasing habits to help reduce their negative environmental impacts.

Sustainability after COVID-19 looks more like a recovery effort than an innovation initiative. Many food processors such as General Mills, Nestlé, and Smithfield Foods have implemented a series of sustainability plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve packaging and decrease their overall footprint.

But, studies say cuts in sustainability investment, weaker commitments to climate and nature action and the impact of low oil prices create new risks for many sustainability agendas. 

“Companies will need to start thinking about what their goals for sustainability are, making sure they are bold enough to inspire but still achievable,” says Jason Cocek, sustainability specialist of C1S Inc.

“Net zero energy usage is a great long-term goal, but can seem a little overwhelming unless you’ve got some more short-term doable milestone to give you a push. Making sure there are good tracking systems in place for energy, water and waste can help get those sustainability goals defined.”

Plus, there is a lot of what’s called “low hanging fruit” energy or water savings projects “that companies can implement, like changes to lighting/HVAC schedules and setpoints,” he adds. “A lot of people think you have to spend a lot of money to be sustainable. There are lots of low-cost measures that can have huge effects on manufacturing facilities. Our most sustainable manufacturing clients also have a person/department to champion the sustainability effort. These teams usually have their pulse on the latest technology available to reduce the carbon footprint.”

Despite a global pandemic, sustainable packaging still matters, today – and in the future.