On the pulse of the industry: Sustainability & Packaging
In a major industry survey, Berndt+Partner Creality asked 92 decision-makers from 85 leading, international companies in the consumer goods industry about sustainability and packaging, including 60 percent from the food sector. Creality CEO Christoph Waldau presents the results, addresses the differences in perspectives between Research & Development (R&D), Marketing & Sales (M&S), and Supply Chain & Procurement (SC&P), and provides insights on the biggest hurdles and best practices in developing successful sustainable packaging.
As early as the end of the 1980s, Professor Berndt, as founder of Berndt+Partner, had developed the concept of the three circles. According to this, the optimal packaging compromise is found in the intersection of performance, costs and environment. “That’s still the case today,” says Creality CEO Christoph Waldau, “except that the environmental circle has become larger and larger. Nevertheless, we still need the compromise that works. The task is to keep the balance and find a sustainable solution that prevails in the market.”
Strategies and activities in the area of sustainability
95 percent of all respondents report sustainability initiatives in their companies. 83 percent state that these follow an individually tailored, defined sustainability strategy. The focus of practical activities is primarily on reducing packaging materials (85.7 percent) and CO2 (76 percent) and increasing the use of recycled materials (70.3 percent).
Comparing the focus and preferences of the various players within the companies reveals some significant differences – which can become a stumbling block. For example, the topic of Design4Recycling & Circular Economy has a significantly higher priority among the decision-makers at R&D (78 percent) than among their colleagues at SP&C (33 percent) or M&S (31 percent).
Waldau believes that if departments each set their own priorities, there are dangers: “Then everyone is working on sustainability, but everyone is turning different levers. At best, this leads to disjointed results. Or something just happens to stick, which is then pursued and implemented, even if it doesn’t follow a holistic strategy.” The result is a patchwork quilt that ultimately satisfies no one. The lack of coordination also sometimes leads to a technology being selected simply because it is innovative, even though it does not do justice to either the market or the product. As examples, Waldau cites the use of compostable plastics or the hasty fixation on the use of paper.
“To pull together, you need a holistic strategy,” emphasizes Waldau. “But the different areas of a company often can’t do that as individuals. Because we speak both languages, marketing and technology, we can act as mediator, synthesizer and innovator. Our experience shows how valuable that can be.”
Importance in brand management
Important, but not decisive. This sums up the current importance of sustainability in brand management. But here, too, there are major differences. That sustainability plays an important role, but other brand characteristics are more important, is said above all by the decision-makers at SC&P (75 percent). This is the view of 47 percent of R&D decision-makers, and 43 percent of M&S decision-makers. The number of those for whom sustainability is only of secondary importance ranges from 8 percent at SC&P to 20 percent at M&S and 24 percent at R&D.
“The difference in importance for different players of the same brand is striking,” says Waldau. “Whether or not you have these details present in your own work makes a big difference. At Creality, we therefore always want to have our own hand on the pulse of the industry. We don’t rely on second- or third-hand insights. This is important because successful packaging development is always a triad. You have to get the brand right, you have to get the consumers right, and you have to ensure performance. For that, you need the appropriate insights.”
Why sustainability initiatives fail
When initiatives in the area of sustainable packaging fail, 75 percent of respondents believe the reasons are primarily due to excessive additional costs. However, system constraints due to existing machinery and processes (54 percent), lack of availability of potential new materials in the packaging market (52 percent) and the lack of a common denominator of costs, product protection, technology and the environment (52 percent) are also among the blocking factors.
“The reasons for failure are all valid, of course, for now,” Waldau says. “But even if they weigh heavily, there are solutions. Especially when you know that the packaging or the product will cost more, you need arguments that go beyond sustainability – for example, a new added value such as increased hygiene or resealability. Many things can be implemented without a fundamental renewal of machines or processes. And sustainability does not always necessarily require a specific packaging material. Thinking beyond mere material substitution is worthwhile. The possibilities are numerous and include refill packs, reusables, easier disposal or volume reduction, to name just a few examples. Still, innovations in these areas are few and far between.”
In fact, the survey figures show that there is still a lot of room for improvement in the successful operational transferability of sustainability strategies to packaging. The averaged self-assessment values are only just under 7 on a ten-point scale.
Sustainability guideline as the key to successful innovations
According to the Creality CEO, one important reason for this is that beneath the surface of the factors mentioned, there is often an additional structural problem: “If you want to successfully transfer your sustainability strategy operationally to packaging, you need a good guideline that specifies all the goals for packaging. However, this does not yet exist in all cases. In fact, the respondents in the food sector rate their own sustainability guideline on average at only 6.4 out of ten possible points. In the non-food sector, the average score is only 4.46 points.
Waldau continues: “The sustainability guideline is the key because it is the basis for successful innovation work. On the basis of this guideline, the players from Marketing & Sales, Research & Development, and Supply Chain & Procurement can jointly develop strong innovations for product and packaging that lead to better performance. The Guideline enables a framework of hard facts and also ensures an overarching win-win climate within the company.”
Part of an appropriate sustainability guideline for Creality “is, for example, a portfolio analysis that drives on two axes,” Waldau says. “On the one hand, we look at everything that has to do with sustainability, check all the relevant criteria and make them assessable. And on the other, we look at everything that has to do with the performance of the packaging, the product and the brand. Ultimately, consumers must be able to do something with the result, and the technology must be able to deliver it. Then you not only get sustainability, but also the desired performance.”