In an age of increasingly mindful consumption, consumers are tired of greenwashing. They want evidence of brands’ compliance with sustainability standards for packaging. And it isn’t just Gen Z and millennials. Unsubstantiated claims are no longer enough for consumers of all ages.
Globally, regulators are responding to public outcry over examples of environmental harm and taking action by issuing hefty fines to hold brands accountable. In a recent analysis of regulations across 30 countries, McKinsey found significant variations in the terminology, policies and noncompliance penalties for sustainable packaging.
“The sustainability regulation landscape is becoming ever more complex,” McKinsey notes, adding that “the number of regulations, and the speed in which they can become effective, is increasing fast.”
It’s incredibly difficult for brands to stay informed of these diverse and ever-changing regulations, especially when relying on internal resources across multiple markets. However, you can deliver innovative and engaging packaging solutions while maintaining compliance by carefully selecting creative production and sourcing partners that comply with sustainability standards.
Here are three basic principles to help evaluate your potential partnerships.
1. Select partners with knowledge of sustainability regulations across markets.
Beyond acting on a fundamental desire to have integrity in sustainable practices, brands have extra incentive to comply with country-level regulations because they could face penalties, compromising the bottom line and brand reputation.
For example, the U.K. recently established a Plastic Packaging Tax that took effect April 1 as an economic incentive for businesses to use recycled plastic. Now, companies that produce or import more than 10 tons of plastic packaging will face a fine if the packaging is predominantly plastic by weight and doesn’t contain at least 30% recycled plastic.
To avoid unexpected expenses, ensure that your partners have mechanisms to track the development of such country-specific penalties, along with the evolving regulations worldwide.
2. Select partners with an internal and external governance framework.
To identify partners that go beyond greenwashed talking points and practice what they preach, assess whether they have a comprehensive governance framework. It should apply to internal practices, as well as the standards to which they hold external partners and suppliers.
For example, at Tag, our governance framework includes Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) policies, the Tag Code of Conduct, supply chain policies and auditing mechanisms.
SHEQ policies include waste and water management, energy monitoring and reporting, and sustainable construction and refurbishment. The Tag Code of Conduct addresses anti-bribery and corruption, information security, anti-fraud, risk, sanctions and legislations, modern slavery, whistleblowing and competition compliance. And the supply-chain related policies include sustainable procurement, contractor management, supplier code of conduct and supplier diversity.
Additionally, our governance policies drive us to memberships and certifications in multiple countries and regions: CDP and SEDEX membership, ISO 9001 quality management system certification, FCS certification, ISO 14001 certification and an EcoVadis gold rating. These facilitate our auditing processes.
Beyond assessment of vendors' governance framework, ensure that potential partners can flex to help you meet your brand-specific sustainability targets and are aligned with your company values.
3. Select partners that implement and monitor sustainable practices across the product lifecycle.
To effectively meet internal and external targets, work with partners that understand sustainable practices at each stage of the product lifecycle. Activities at each stage require an understanding of best practices for sustainability in the other stages.
Note the interconnectivity of the following stage-specific practices.
Sustainable design- and conceptualization-stage practices:
- Designing for reuse when possible or closing the loop for circular economy
- Optimizing weight and size to reduce waste
- Using only recycled materials when possible
- Avoiding materials like single-use plastics, PVC and electronics for temporary displays
- Designing for end of life and disassembly
- Estimating carbon footprint when possible
Sustainable manufacturing-stage practices:
- Using energy-efficient factories (local, when possible) and processesd
- Ensuring that all paper-based materials are recycled or FSC/PEFC
- Avoiding lamination
- Using cold foil not hot foil
- Using vegetable-based inks when possible
- Using digital production for short runs
- Grouping similar orders
Sustainable shipping-stage practices:
- Ensuring that packaging is reusable or recyclable, avoiding single-use plastics
- Using packaging that reduces waste
- Ensuring that packaging is labelled for recycling
- Optimizing palletization
- Choosing flat packing when possible
- Optimizing logistics and using “green fleets” when possible
Sustainable end-of-life-stage practices:
- Labelling for recycling
- Ensuring that “recyclable” materials match the recycling infrastructure
- Monitoring reuse of reusable items and recycling rates
- Providing disassembly instructions
Want compliant partners? Do your homework.
Achievement of your short- and long-term sustainability goals is dependent on your creative production and sourcing partners’ global regulatory prowess, governance framework, and practices that affect each stage of the product lifecycle. Choose wisely or risk the consequences.