Sustainability shown as a driving factor in packaging decisions

For the last five years, an exclusive annual study by  the global authority Packaging Digest, a leading media brand of UBM Canon,  and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition has shown sustainability’s steady growth as a driver of change and innovation in the packaging sector. New data from the just-released 2011 survey indicate that this momentum might be slowing.

The exclusive “Sustainability in Packaging” study - the longest-running benchmarking survey on this topic in the industry-indicates some slippage on key questions, according to John Kalkowski, Packaging Digest editorial director. He explains that this does not mean that sustainability’s importance among packagers has declined. Rather, its impact is still growing, although at a slightly slower pace.

The 2011 survey was conducted in September, drawing 674 responses from a cross section of the packaging industry that includes consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs), retailers, packaging services and converters, as well as machinery and materials suppliers.

”Packaging affects so many aspects of consumers’ lives and business. While it protects the investment in products, it also has a major impact on the environment through the use of materials, energy and the creation of waste,” says Anne Johnson, director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. “Packaging Digest and the SPC launched this survey five years ago because we recognized that the packaging industry was going through tremendous changes as a result of increasing concerns about sustainability across society. This annual study is one of the best benchmarks of how the packaging segment has changed each year and an excellent indicator of sustainability issues that are on the horizon.”

Kalkowski points out that packaging accounts for one of the largest employment sectors across all U.S. manufacturing. “At the same time, packaging is used and thrown away each day by virtually all consumers, making it an obvious target to control through sustainable activities,” he says.

Major findings from the study include:

• The number of respondents reporting high or moderate familiarity with the issues of sustainability dipped to 80 percent in 2011 versus 83 percent in the 2010 survey, still well above the 52 percent at the same level of familiarity in 2007, the first year the survey was conducted.

• A growing number of study participants (41 percent) say the emphasis on sustainability within their companies has stayed the same in the past year, compared to 31 percent a year ago, while 55 percent said the emphasis had grown within their company in 2011.

• When asked how they’d rate their company’s success in achieving sustainability, less than one quarter of respondents say the business they work for had achieved levels beyond similar companies.

• Consumer demand, pricing pressure and retailer/brand owner requirements were cited most often as the main influences on companies’ sustainable packaging efforts.

• Economic conditions were cited as a major reason that some businesses have scaled back their activities in sustainable packaging.

Again in 2011, study participants identify Walmart as the leader among retailers for its sustainability practices, followed by Target and Whole Foods Markets. Among consumer product goods companies, Procter & Gamble was most-recognized for sustainability, followed by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which both introduced plant-based packaging in 2011.

Further details of the study are available in the November issue of Packaging Digest at: www.packagingdigest.com/SustainableSurvey

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