In Part 1 of this series on sustainable procurement, I laid out my vision of the heart of a sustainable, green supply chain that runs through its procurement function.  It’s simple to show how every product has a hidden human health, environmental and social impact along the entire supply chain.  However, it’s been challenging to bring sustainable procurement into a central decision making role in line with organizational business goals.  The results to date have been a mixed bag, as I alluded to when I mentioned Aribas new Vision 2020 report and companion dialoguing process, now underway.


Sustainable Procurement: back to management!


On the heels of the Ariba effort comes a promising benchmark report recently released by HEC-Paris and Ecovadis. Entitled Sustainable Procurement: back to management! this study (available for download on Ecovadis’ site) has risen to rescue and tempered my fears of devolving sustainable procurement.  In fact, the report may suggest a positive "tipping point" in favor of sustainable procurement.  The efforts behind the 2011 edition of the HEC/EcoVadis Sustainable Procurement Benchmark were carried out between the fall of 2010 and early 2011.  This benchmarking process started in 2003 and the 5th conducted since that time.


The objective of the benchmark is to provide a snapshot on what’s trending in the area of Sustainable Procurement practices.  According to the authors, the following overarching questions were explored:

  • How has the vision of the Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs) evolved?
  • What tools and initiatives seem to be the most effective over time to drive changes?
  • How is Sustainable Procurement progress measured?
  • What are the remaining challenges faced by most Procurement organizations?


The study identified three main drivers behind Sustainable Procurement initiatives: Risk Management, Value Creation,and Cost Reduction.  These findings mirror some of the trending areas and critical issues identified in the Ariba report.  HEC and Ecovadis suggested that these three drivers’ shows that many organizations are now facing new expectations in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability from the Procurement Departments of their clients and, suggest that having a sustainable procurement program in place can become a competitive advantage.


Sustainable Procurement Remains High on Executives Agenda


  1. 92% of the surveyed Companies consider Sustainable Procurement a “critical” or “important” initiative, even though for the 1st time this year, “Risk Management” took over as a priority initiative.
  2. The major progress made in 2011 is on the support from the Top Management (+24%) thus demonstrating that Sustainable Procurement is attracting more and more interest from Executive Committees, and significant progress was made in implementation of tools and organizational changes.
  3. Significant organizational changes have been implemented: 45% of companies already have “dedicated teams” and 57% report having trained a majority of procurement staff on Sustainability.
  4. Whereas in 2007 only 1/3 of companies were using formalized methodologies for assessing their suppliers’ sustainability performance, in 2011 two-thirds of them are now implementing dedicated tools (either internal or leveraging 3rd parties).
  5. Finally 92% companies have increased (56%) or maintained (36%) their budgets related to Sustainable Procurement, which should yield more changes in the future years.

Tools for Sustainable Procurement on the Rise


The HEC/Ecovadis study found that basic tools such as “Suppliers Code of Conduct” ,  “CSR contract clauses” and “Suppliers self-assessment“ were now the rule rather than the exception among companies surveyed by a ratio of 2 to 1,  but interestingly were still found to  limited value in terms of risk management.  What I found encouraging was that the study found maturation in the types of tools used, including “Supplier Audits” and “Supplier CSR information databases“.  This type of work has clearly been evident in what I have reported in the past, especially among multi-national companies with contractor manufacturing operations in developing economies (like China, India and Brazil). 


These advanced tools offered more opportunities for suppliers to engage directly with buyers, allow for data verification, and offer direct recommendations for supplier CSR and sustainability improvement.  Over half of the companies surveyed had advanced to this next level.  Finally, when asked what the most effective uses of resources were in developing a Sustainable Procurement Program, respondents mentioned 1) top level support, 2) creation of cross functional teams and 3) training, as key success ingredients.   All three of these success factors had shown substantial improvement over the past several benchmark cycles, according to the study.


Sustainable Procurement Creates Value


This is not the first study that has come along that demonstrates value and return on investment from sustainable procurement.  I wrote earlier of a joint study by Ecovadis, INSEAD and PriceWaterhouseCoopers that demonstrated similar results.  In that study, payback from most green procurement activities was huge. Companies surveyed were able to benefit quickly from risk management reduction and potential revenue growth opportunities, due in part to sustainable procurement.  The study also found that there were additional ‘value creation’ opportunities that could be realized if procurement departments collaborated more closely with the marketing and R&D departments upstream on the projects.


Also, a study in 2009 by a company named BrainNet (Green and Sustainable Procurement: Drivers and Approaches”)  looked at sustainable procurement and value creation and found that "… procurement with an ecological and social conscience is not a cost factor, but a value factor…Companies that pursue a consistent approach to green and sustainable procurement receive an above-average return on capital deployed."  The study produced what they describe as an “evolution curve for sustainable procurement” that describes the maturity of various approaches of sustainable procurement.  This curve compares well with the most recent EcoVadis/HEC findings and suggests that there may be a widening gap between leaders and laggards.

Sustainable ‘green’ procurement embraces a holistic approach, one that encompasses organization, people, process, and technology to create greater product value along the entire supply chain.  This type of value creation can managed by establishing firm triple bottom line based metrics from upstream suppliers to downstream users and using the procurement function to support product and process innovation and accounting for total cost of ownership (TCO).


What’s Next?


According to the most recent HEC/EcoVadis benchmark report, it is clear that new green and social business models depend upon innovation, and a gap still among many organizations to implement a truly Sustainable Procurement vision.  This was clearly in evidence by the lack of mentions by Chief Procurement Officers that I discussed last week in the Ariba study.


The HEC/Ecovadis report suggests that when implementing Sustainable Procurement practices, a three phase process can get the ball rolling, starting first by orienting and energizing the procurement function through:


“1. Communication activities: Building awareness among employees regarding the approaching change, the benefits and the steps to be implemented.

2. Training and Performance support: ensuring that the initiative is being understood among those who are to execute the change or be part of it, and leading to buy-in of the key stakeholders.

3. Rewards and recognition: ensuring that employees – and suppliers – who embrace change are properlyrecognized and rewarded. This final step is when implementation is not only measured, but also celebrated.”


I’m going to say it again…and again. All sustainable business roads lead through the procurement function.  The procurement function is the perfect nexus and a critical organizational player that touches product designers, engineers, multiple tiers of suppliers and subcontractors, manufacturing operations, logistical warehousing and distribution and the end users.  Yes indeed, things are looking up for sustainable procurement…it’s ‘game on’.

4018985290_3c5ef1e74b.jpgTo paraphrase  a timeless Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are A’ Changin’” is no understatement.  You can read the details from across the globe in the news every day and are rapidly happening simultaneously on political, economic and social levels. And business is also making radical changes in the sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR)  frontier.

 

One area that appears to be in movement is Procurement. You know, those folks on the third floor in the back that order stuff?  Well, wrong! I’ve maintained that the heart of a sustainable supply chain runs through its procurement function.  That’s because every product- every single purchase- has a hidden human health, environmental and social impact along the entire supply chain.  My previous posts have discussed how the procurement function is a vital cog in product value chain.

 

Purchasing staff are the “gatekeepers” that can access powerful tools and serve as a bridge between supplier and customer to assure that sustainability and CSR issues are taken into account during purchasing decisions.  2010 was a watershed year for sustainability initiatives and supply chain management and I predicted that 2011 would see greater progress.

 

So I was incredibly excited when I recently got my hands on a relatively new white paper from Ariba, entitled “VISION 2020 -Ideas for Procurement in 2020 by Industry-Leading Procurement Executives”.  According to the conveners of the document, the “objective [of the effort initiated in 2010] is to initiate a dialogue on the future of procurement and to create a roadmap for how to get there.”  For that, they connected with leading practitioners and executives from around the world and across a variety of sectors to share their ideas, best practices and to read the tea leaves as to where procurement might be in 10 years.

 

And while the initial report laid out some pretty intriguing and widely varying trends and predictions about the state of procurement in the corporate function, I was unfulfilled.  I was all ready to read about how the emergence of sustainability in the marketplace was going to drive procurement decisions.  I expected to hear how top flight companies around the world were collaborating with their supply chain, implementing staff training on ‘green purchasing’ practices, and implementing sustainability driven supplier audits and ratings scorecards.

 

Boy, was I wrong!  Only ONE  mention of the word “sustainability” (thank you Dr. Heinz Schaeffer, Chief Procurement Officer, Northern and Central Eastern Europe for AXA), and no mentions of “responsible sourcing”, “green supply chain” or “sustainable sourcing”.  I would have expected more from chief procurement representatives from the likes of KeyBank, Maersk, Sodexho, and former execs from Hewlett- Packard, General Motors, and DuPont.  Most of these companies are generally considered leaders in the sustainability space.  So why would there be a disconnect between what companies are doing in design, manufacturing and product life cycle management and the procurement function?

 

Sustainable Procurement- a Systems Based Approach

 

Before we go too far, its helpful to define what "sustainable procurement" is.  While there is no singular definition for it, I like the definition offered up by the  UK-based Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS).  CIPS definition is “a process whereby organisations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organisation, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimising damage to the environment.".  And what CIPS defines as  ‘whole life basis’ is that "sustainable procurement should consider the environmental, social and economic consequences of design; non-renewable material use; manufacture and production methods; logistics; service delivery; use; operation; maintenance; reuse; recycling options; disposal; and suppliers capabilities to address these consequences throughout the supply chain" [emphasis added].

 

cover_vision2020.gifKey TakeAways

 

It’s a good thing that the authors from Ariba stated that “The [2020 Vision]report is intended not as an end, but rather as a point of departure for much discussion and debate around where procurement can and should be setting its sights for the year 2020 and beyond.  In fact, Ariba invites readers to “join the debate and to extend the discussion with new ideas by joining the conversation.  I have and I hope you will too.  But I think I’ll start right here first.  Here were some of the key findings, captured in six major themes:

 

  1. Procurement devolves- with spend management requirements shrinking, companies are being forced to optimize what resources they have and make better informed decisions.  More work at the business line level will occur, possible eliminating the central procurement function entirely.  Money and metrics will drive most decisions as companies face leaner profit margins.  There will be a need to engage end customers more and more and leverage relationships.
  2. The new supply management emerges- some traditional sourcing functions may become outsourced.  Strategy “will tie directly to an enterprise’s end customers and it will be more cognizant of the diversity of desires and requirements within the customer base”.
  3. Skill sets change.  The Chief Procurement Officer and staff must have broader skills that allow them to not only create opportunities for revenue enhancement internally and optimized “spend”, but also be more in touch with end customer values-driven needs. Procurement staff need to be tuned into multiple tiers of the supply chain, dive deep “inside the supply chain and bring [issues] forward to the designers within [individual] companies”.
  4. Instantaneous intelligence arrives.    Market pricing will become more transparent [the Cloud forces transparency to some degree].  Companies will have to rapidly extract innovation and other value from supplier bases, and build exclusive commercial relationships with leading suppliers that share both risks and rewards.
  5. Collaboration reigns- There will be as the report notes a “big emphasis on driving and taking innovation from the supply base… the supply role will be less ‘person-who-brings-innovation-in’ and more ‘person-who-assembles-innovation-communities-and-gets-out-of-the-way’.  Suppliers are being asked more often to participate in early design and product development as a way to leverage risk and control overall product life cycle management risks.
  6. Risk management capacity and demands soar- as companies are already realizing, effective procurement relies on response to risk management variables (financial, ethical, and operational performance).  Companies must create “360-degree performance ratings and provide greater transparency into market dynamics, potential supply disruptions, and supplier capabilities”.  A few participants noted that  there will be a “big expansion in the kinds of risks companies address in their supply chains, considering, for example, such things as suppliers’ sustainability, social responsibility…."

      Now if I read in between the lines, I can easily pluck out a number of key procurement trends from the 2020 report that transfer well to sustainability and responsible sourcing.  Risk Management.  Collaboration.  Design phase (life cycle) engagement of multi-tiered suppliers.  Key performance metrics. Responding to consumer demands. Supplier performance ratings.

       

      3654840791_173b5d6aa4.jpgOne takeaway for me appears that there may be a disconnect still between the procurement function and other functions within organizations. So is the procurement function still operating in obscurity in most organizations?  It all depends who you talk to but also on your skill at reading the tea leaves.

      Rest assured that compared to only a few years ago, more companies that are seeking to manage the life cycle environmental impact of their productsfrom design and acquisition of materials through the entire production, distribution and end of life management.  They’re finding sustainable procurement to be a valuable tool to quantify and compare a product or component’s lifetime environmental and social impact early on in a products value chain while positioning the company for smart growth in a rebounding economy.  We may be at a sustainable procurement "tipping point" and Part 2 will present the results of a very promising benchmark report recently released by HEC-Paris and Ecovadis, which tells a much different story.

       

      The times they are [indeed] a’changin’.

       

     

    “I make my living off the evening news

    Just give me somethin’, somethin’ I can use

    People love it when you lose

    they love dirty laundry”(Don Henley)



    4953991560_e1d7ec2854_m.jpgI was reminded of that Don Henley (The Eagles) solo hit from back in the 1980’s when I read about Greenpeaces latest initiative and report…aptly  titled…you guessed it, “Dirty Laundry”.  The report focuses on the high  levels of industrial pollutants being released into China’s major  rivers like the Yangtze and the Pearl and commercial ties between a  number of international brands such as Adidas, Nike and Li-Ning with two  Chinese manufacturers responsible for releases of those hazardous  chemicals.  Greenpeace has also launched the challenge ‘Detox’ Campaign, calling “brands, especially Adidas and Nike, to take the initiative and use their influence on its supply chain.”  The organization unfurled its characteristic banners at Adidas’s main retail store in Beijing this week. There are several nuances to this story that are important to pass on  and collaborative opportunities (rather than the finger-pointing that  has plastered Twitter and other media the past 24 hours) to explore.


    Supply Chain Challenges …Again!


    This latest supply chain environmental wrinkle underscores the  challenges multi-national organizations (MNC) are facing daily in  oversight and enforcement of first tier, second tier or lower contract  manufacturers.  If it’s not Apple under the radar, its Nike, or Adidas,  or GE…who’s next?  Recent events concerning Apple Computers alleged lax supplier oversight and reported supplier human rights and environmental violations only  shows a microcosm of the depth of the challenges that suppliers face in  managing or influencing these issues on the ground.


    To be fair, although the pollution is real and the threat of toxics  contamination very real, it’s possible that Greenpeace may be  sensationalizing Nikes and Adidas’s culpability.  In fact, neither  company directly is involved with the key manufacturers labeled in the  Greenpeace report.  The two manufacturers are the Youngor Textile  Complex in Ningbo, an area near Shanghai along the Yangtze River Delta,  and Well Dyeing Factory Ltd. in Zhongshan, China, along the Pearl  River.  The Younger Group is China’s biggest integrated textile firm.

    “Game on, Nike and Adidas.  Greenpeace is calling you out to see which one of you is stronger  on the flats, quicker on the breaks, turns faster and plays harder at a  game we’re calling ‘Detox’,” “Whether you’re ‘All in’ with Adidas or  believe in the Nike motto to ‘Just do it,’ you can challenge the brand  you wear to win the race to a clean finish.” -Greenpeace DeTox campaign’s website.

    TextilevalueChain.png


     

    Both Nike and Adidas admitted jointly that said their work at Youngor is limited to cut-and-sew production — not “wet processing” such as dyeing and fabric finishing that Greenpeace says is the cause of the chemical discharge.  Greenpeace did not hide behind that fact but made the point (perhaps rightly so) that “As brand owners, they are in the best position to influence the environmental impacts of production and to work together with their suppliers to eliminate the releases of all hazardous chemicals from the production process and their products”. I agree on the grounds that effective supply chain sustainability practices and corporate governance must be driven by the originating manufacturers that rely on deep tiers of suppliers and vendors for their products.



    That being said, I think that to call out Nike and Adidas  specifically (along with other companies like Puma) is to suggest that  they are not doing the right thing as regards sustainability in the  apparel industry.  For instance, Nike has learned from its mistakes if the past (especially on the labor/human rights side of social responsibility)  and implemented aggressive governance frameworks and on the ground  oversight programs. Also, the  Nike Considered Index evaluates  solvents, waste, materials, garment treatments and innovation, and the  company has an internal working group constantly evaluating Restricted  Materials lists.

    Kick ‘em when they’re up

    Kick ‘em when they’re down

    Kick ‘em when they’re up

    Kick ‘em all around- (Don Henley)

    Chinese Laws and Regulatory Oversight- Not in Sync


    As I noted recently,  China is still in the “ramp-up” phases of economic development.  Plus  it’s been evident for some years that enforcement of environmental laws  and regulations by government agencies has not been on par with the  intent of the laws.  According to the report, samples taken from the  facilities contained heavy metals and alkylphenols and perfluorinated  chemicals, which are restricted in the United States and across the  European Union.  These chemicals have reproductive and hormone  disruptive effects Therein lies another institutional problem…the laws  in the home countries of the MNC’s are not in sync with those in the  host manufacturing country- in this case, China.


    Writing yesterday in China Hearsay,  Beijing based lawyer Stan Abrams offered this up.  “This is a classic  law versus CSR problem. The law here in China allows for this activity,  yet the allegation is that this is a harmful activity. Should the  companies in question merely follow the law or “do the right thing” and  either sever ties with the polluter or pressure it to change its  behavior?”


    It’s likely that (for the foreseeable future) Chinese political and  economic systems will remain focused on rapid development at all costs.  So it’s critical that local/in-country government policies be aligned as  well to support capacity-building for companies to self-evaluate, learn  effective auditing and root- cause evaluation, institute effective  corrective and preventive action programs and proactively implement  systems based environmental management systems (can you say ISO 14001?).


    Multi-Sector Collaboration is the Answer


    The apparel industry as a whole has taken a very proactive stance in  looking at ways to redesign sustainably, produce its goods taking a  cradle-to cradle perspective, and manage toxic chemical use and waste  streams so that human and environmental exposures are minimized.  The  multi-stakeholder Sustainable Apparel Coalition ironically includes Nike, the Gap Inc, H&M, Levi Strauss, Marks  & Spencer, and Patagonia (some of whom are also being targeted by  Greenpeace).  Over 30 companies have committed to collaborating in an  open source way to drive the apparel industry in developing improved  sustainability strategies and tools to measure and evaluate  sustainability performance.  In addition over 200 outdoor products  companies from around the world have been working together on  sustainability best practices and standards, called the Eco-Index, led by the Outdoor Industry Association and European Outdoor Group.


    The most successful greening efforts in supply chains in “tiger  economies” are based on value creation, sharing of intelligence and  technological know-how, and support in developing environmental  regulatory frameworks that have the force of law. MNC’s and contract  manufacturers can collaboratively strengthen each other’s performance,  share cost of ownership and social license to operate and create  “reciprocal value”.  Greenpeace wants MNC’s to establish “  clear  company and supplier policies that commit their entire supply chain to  the shift from hazardous to safer chemicals, accompanied by a plan of  action that is matched with clear and realistic timelimes”.  Agreed with  that sentiment, but many hurdles remain to cross.


    Youngor Textiles, Adidas and others cited in the report have not  hidden from the findings, and Youngor has committed to working jointly  with Greenpeace to find a workable solution to remove potentially  harmful toxics from the apparel manufacturing supply chain.  Solving  this problem on the ground will take a multi-stakeholder effort to 1)  balance contractual arrangements among many parties, 2) craft good law  and enforceable regulations, 3) drive clean chemistry, 4) redesign  production processes and use advanced manufacturing technology, and, 5)  develop, implement and maintain robust contactor monitoring.


    I will be watching carefully to see how this collaborative effort  with an NGO giant and big business unfolds…er, should I say “unfurls”.

    660164754_06a1c58079.jpgThe pea pod is possibly the greatest sustainable packaging nature can  provide.  It packs a lot in a small space, efficiently uses the minimum  amount of resources…and best of all it's compostable…well sort of unless I eat it!


    And like the simple pea pod, few sustainability attributes in a supply chain come together across the value chain than packaging. Packaging and repackaging is ubiquitous along every step of the chain,  from product design, prototyping, procurement production, distribution,  consumer end use and post consumer end-of-life management. And the more  parts that are in use in making of a product, and steps along the way  to deliver the parts, the greater the packaging (and hence environmental  footprint) involved along that chain. And for every packaged part that comes from someplace else to make a product, a similar carbon, energy  and resource use can be measured.


    That’s why sustainable practices in packaging are so important in  driving supply chain efficiency…and why innovation in the “green”  packaging sector has been “white hot” the past several years. A study by Accenture found that retailers can realize a 3 percent to 5 percent supply chain  cost savings via green packaging initiatives. So if you extrapolate that  type of savings out across multiple tiers of supply chain activity, where packaging is the common denominator, the efficiencies and savings can rack up quickly.


    A new report from research organization Visiongain finds that because of a variety of drivers such as carbon emissions, extended producer responsibility and waste reduction targets plus  advanced packaging technologies, the sustainable and green packaging  market’s worth is expected to reach $107.7 billion in 2011. Their report  shows varying degrees of growth from developed to developing nations; however what’s striking is that the growth trend is weathering the slumping global economy and higher production costs.


    Sustainable Packaging 101


    Sustainable packaging solutions deliver around two colors according to the Accenture report: black (deliver reduced costs) and green (reduce  environmental impacts). Sustainable packaging relies on best engineering, energy management, materials science and lifecycle thinking to minimize the environmental impact of a product through its lifecycle. Given the past decade or so of science and engineering work around sustainable packaging, there are some discovered and tested attributes, such as:


    1. Reducing packaging and maximizing the use of renewable or reusable materials
    2. Using lighter weight, less toxic or other materials which reduce negative end-of-life impacts
    3. Demonstrating compliance with regulations regarding hazardous  chemicals and packaging and waste legislation ( such as the European  Directive 94/62/EC on Packaging and Packaging Waste)
    4. Optimizing material usage including product-to-package ratios
    5. Using materials which are from certified, responsibly managed forests
    6. Meeting criteria for performance and cost (e.g., minimize product damage during transit)
    7. Reducing the flow of solid waste to landfill
    8. Reducing the costs associated with packaging (i.e., logistics, storage, disposal, etc.)
    9. Reducing CO2 emissions through reduced shipping loads


    Best in Class Examples


    I have seen companies stress the importance of the 6 R’s of sustainable packaging (refill, reduce, recycle, repurpose, renew, reuse; Walmarts 7 R’s of Sustainable Packaging (Remove Packaging, Reduce Packaging, Reuse Packaging , Renew(able),  Recycle(able), Revenue (economic benefits), and  Read (education); and even the 10 R’s eco-strategy (Replenish, Reduce, Re-explore, Replace, Reconsider, Review, Recall, Redeem, Register and Reinforce).

     

    Associations are stepping up to the plate as well as manufacturers in  a variety of consumer product markets. In March of this year, the  Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) announced the results of survey research by McKinsey that indicated elimination of more than 1.5 billion pounds  (800 million pounds of plastic and more than 500 million pounds of  paper) since 2005, and another 2.5 billion pounds are expected to be  avoided by 2020. Over 180 packaging initiatives were identified and  evaluated. The GMA estimated that the reduction would be equal to a 19  percent reduction of reporting companies’ total average U.S. packaging  weight.


    In the fast moving consumer goods category Coca Cola’s packaging  efficiency efforts just in 2009 avoided the use of approximately 85,000  metric tons of primary packaging, resulting in an estimated cost savings  of more than $100 million. The company rolled out of short-height  bottle closures, reducing material use, implemented traditional  packaging material light weighting; and used more recycled materials in  packaging production. At the end consumer point, the company has also  supported the direct recovery of 36% of the bottles and cans placed into  the market by the Coca-Cola system and continues to work with  distributors on increasing recovery efforts.


    5459146564_d3bfa01d6c.jpgIn  the electronics space, Dell Computer committed in 2008 to reduce cost  by $8 million and quantity by 20 million pounds of packaging by 2012  centered around three themes (cube, content, curb):

    • Shrinking packaging volume by 10 percent (cube)
    • Increasing to 40 percent, the amount of recycled content in packaging (content)
    • Increasing to 75 percent, the amount of material in packaging to be curbside recyclable (curb).


    As an example, Dell wanted to find a greener, more cost efficient way  to package its computers by eliminating foams, corrugated and molded  paper pulp. The solution was sustainably sourced bamboo packaging  certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.  So far, Dells efforts have  resulted in eliminating over 8.7 million pounds of packaging, and they  have nearly met their recycled content goal.


    Perhaps most significantly, WalMart took a huge step in 2007 to seek  supplier conformance around packaging. Since then, despite the initial  uproar, there has been an uptick in design and innovative product  activity by thousands of key suppliers in response to the mega-retailers  challenge. By reducing packaging in the Wal-Mart supply chain by just  five (5) percent by 2013, that would 1) prevent 660,000 tons of carbon  dioxide from entering the atmosphere, keeping 200,000 trucks off the road every year (that’s a green attribute) and save the company more  than $3.4 billion (a black attribute). Walmarts bottom line was to put more products on its shelves in the same space, and also recognized the  sustainability attributes that change would make. They also knew that most consumers (me included) just despise excess packaging.  Here are  two examples of Walmart supplier efforts from a small and large supplier:


    Alpha Packaging: the company has a new bottle design for Gumout Fuel Injection Cleaner. The company concentrated the product and switched from PVC bottles (which are not  recyclable) to much smaller bottles made from PET (which is recyclable and has 30% post-consumer recycled content). This led to 1) reduced  product weight by up to 51% and 2) capability to transport a truck  filled with new 6 oz products (formerly 12 oz) equating to 153,600 bottles as opposed to 61,000 originally.


    General Mills: the company took a novel approach and they looked at the product first.  They straightened its Hamburger Helper noodles, meaning the product could lie flatter in the box. This,  in turn, allowed General Mills to reduce the size of those boxes. According to the company, that effort saved nearly 900,000 pounds of  paper fiber annually. The company effort also managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent, took 500 trucks off the road and  increased the amount of product Wal-Mart shelves by 20 percent.


    Win-Win-Win.  For the environment, for manufacturers and suppliers, and for consumers.


    Full Circle Collaboration is Vital to Drive Sustainable Packaging


    What makes sustainable packaging compelling is that it’s one of the  key elements of a product that consumers can see, touch and feel.  Over  packaging or improper packaging can produce high reaction levels, right?  (Remember last year’s noisy Sun Chips compostable bag dust up?)  But in  an interesting post last year in Packaging Digest by Katherine O’Dea of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, she  mentioned the critical importance of collaboration between brand owners  and retailers. What was a scary statistic is that “brand owners and  retailers may have direct control over as little as 5 percent of the  environmental impacts of packaging and only indirect control over the  other 95 percent.” On the other hand, another study conducted by the market research firm Datamonitor showed of U.S. consumers surveyed, 49%  felt that packaging design has a medium or high level of influence over their choice of food and drink products.


    Just as there are challenges to drive consumer acceptance of more  sustainable types of package designs (especially aesthetics), there are  equally challenging design factors (such as package strength,  permeability, and other physical factors that may compromise product  integrity during shipment.


    Opportunities to Leverage the Supply Chain from Design to Post Consumer Package Management


    High performing manufacturing companies are clearly using sustainable packaging design and manufacturing as a way to lever efficiencies  through the product value chain. Companies are finding that using less complex packaging helps cut sourcing, energy production and distribution  and fuel costs across the supply chain. The glory days of corrugated packaging as the one stop solution are being replaced with reusable  packaging options. Also, reducing the consumption of raw materials, carbon emissions and waste generation reduces manufacturing costs.


    Since disposal by consumers is one of the largest waste streams in the supply chain, using less packaging of direct-to-consumer shipments also offers great opportunities for supply chain optimization. The previously mentioned Accenture report recommends that  through route planning and sourcing software, “collaboration across the  companies in the supply chain is necessary to maximize freight  utilization. In particular, retailers need to proactively encourage vendors to provide pallet or “trailer feet” specifications for  collecting shipments…retailer’s planners can determine the optimum transportation mode and look for multi-stop opportunities.”

    Optimized Supply Chain (Accenture)


    As shown in the accompanying diagram above, Accenture suggests there are  opportunities to reduce the packaging/un-packaging cycle by addressing  the product lifecycle and optimized material use. Through ongoing  recycling and the use of alternative materials throughout the product  value chain, opportunities are created to reduce the volume of packaging  waste. Also, take back programs create a two-way transportation flow, with reusable packaging materials being sent back up the supply chain rather than to a landfill.


    Remember too that there are several key association and initiatives that can be tapped into, including:

    1. Sustainable Packaging Coalition: http://www.sustainablepackaging.org/default.aspx
    2. Greener Package: http://www.greenerpackage.com/
    3. Sustainable Packaging Alliance: http://www.sustainablepack.org/default.aspx
    4. Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative http://www.sustainablebiomaterials.org
    5. Reusable Packaging Association: http://reusables.org/


    Some final pointers to consider when designing packaging for sustainability:

    • Source alternative sustainable packaging materials--the innovative options are plentiful.
    • Evaluate product lifecycle impacts as a way to discover design options that could lead to less packaging.
    • Anticipate the total energy and resource use over an entire products package life
    • Evaluate materials disposal and post consumer end-of-product life opportunities
    • Design products for efficient transport