Packaging industry is split on sustainability


Leading companies in the packaging sector are split in their efforts, and corporate belief, in sustainability. While some major packaging companies are forging ahead with their net zero plans others lag far behind, with many yet to even start their journey.

“Being a sustainably-minded company is central to everything we do,” says Leanne Osborne, managing director of BioPak UK, whose company has recently gained B Corp Certification after achieving one of the world’s highest scores by any packaging company.

B Corp certification has become the recognised benchmark for measuring a company’s sustainability, accountability and transparency. A B Corp certified company is required to consider the impact of its decisions on its workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.

Packaging under scrutiny

BioPak has taken a pro-active approach with packaging under intense scrutiny as a major polluter and new regulations designed to accelerate the sector’s net zero transition, but many packaging firms are, at best, delaying their sustainability efforts.

Eight out of ten packaging professionals (83 per cent) think their business’s supply chain is either not as sustainable as it could be or not sustainable at all, according to a survey of senior industry leaders carried out at the SPC Impact 2023 conference in Texas.

The poll of experts from a range of global brands, conducted by packaging sustainability consultancy Aura, also found that one in five (22 per cent) are currently unsure if their company is on track to meet its announced sustainability targets.

With the UK Government aiming to deliver Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in 2024, and at least fourteen US States set to have full EPR schemes in place by 2027, the research suggests packaging sustainability is an area of concern.

Packaging and data is key to net zero

More than half of industry leaders (61 per cent) say their brands are only educating the public on packaging sustainability with information on the packaging itself, rather than investing in marketing campaigns or other channels to bring the message home.

Three-quarters (74 per cent) also feel either that there’s room for improvement when it comes to having good enough data on the environmental impact of their packaging, or that they lack that data entirely.

Greg Lawson, managing director at Aura, said: “With new legislation on packaging on the horizon in multiple territories, it seems a lot of packaging professionals remain unconvinced about whether their supply chain has what it takes to ensure greater sustainability.

“Data is at the core of both making packaging more environmentally-friendly and recyclable, and ensuring brands make the right upstream decisions. Meanwhile, better education on sustainability is vital to ensure consumers make the right choices and don’t, for example, try to compost packaging that is not compostable.”

The survey also revealed that most industry leaders (52 per cent) think a genuine circular economy for packaging is still twenty years away, while a quarter (26 per cent) don’t see it happening for fifty years or more.

“If brands want to meet their sustainability targets – and it sounds like many of them may be struggling – they’re going to have to up their game when it comes to tracking their packaging,” Lawson says.

“The industry can no longer rely on packaging optimisation after the fact, we need to put controls in place that reference data to drive the right decision making and ensure the right packaging enters our waste streams”.

Eco-leaders drive industry change

While many companies seek to delay net zero action and see only barriers to creating eco-friendly packaging, others are taking an industry lead in sustainability.

BioPak was confirmed to have achieved a B Corp score of 88.8 out of 100. The required score to pass the certification is 80 and the median score for businesses is 50.9. The certification applies for all of BioPak Group’s global office premises, including its locations in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Chris Turner, executive director of B Lab UK, says: “We are delighted to welcome BioPak to the B Corp community. This is a movement of companies who are committed to changing how business operates and believe business really can be a force for good. We know that BioPak are going to be a fantastic addition to the community and will continue driving the conversation forward”.

“Business is a powerful force and B Corps demonstrate that you can do good in any sector. Welcoming BioPak is an exciting moment because they have an opportunity to lead the way within the packaging industry.”

There are currently over 1,400 B Corps in the UK and 6,889 worldwide. Achieving B Corp certification comes with a number of benefits, including recognised differentiation from competitors, as well as an increased ability to attract socially-conscious customers and to recruit top talent that can help to drive a business forward.

In order to achieve the B Corp certification, a company must pass a series of assessments and audits and undergo this verification process every three years in order to re-certify, helping to commit businesses to continuous improvement and long-term resiliency.

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