The Packaging System and Sustainability
COMPASS (Comparative Packaging Assessment) embodies life cycle thinking in the design process. It is a screening life cycle assessment (LCA) tool that puts into operations the Definition of Sustainable Packaging published by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition in 2007. This Definition emphasizes the responsible use of materials for packaging using a life approach.
Primary packages, the ones we take home and physically contain the product that companies want to sell, are typically the focus of brands. Innovative packaging design and materials are introduced to meet consumer preferences, changing market trends, regulations, and waste reduction efforts. Often, these changes are quite visible on the shelves of our favorite shops as the product packaging changes in subtle ways. Yet, there are other kinds of packaging that provide crucial services behind the scenes that shoppers may not think about and are necessary to deliver the product to the shop shelf.
These packaging are sometimes referred to as secondary and tertiary packaging, and are used for business-to-business (B2B) transactions. A common example of secondary package is the ubiquitous brown corrugated box. A wood pallet, the kind we see behind the grocery store or at big box stores, exemplifies tertiary package. Both secondary and tertiary packaging may be used to collate goods for delivery. Each type of package is developed to serve specific service for the goal of delivering the product safely and intact from the manufacturer to the end user.
The image below illustrates the different packages and their general role starting with the wine bottle as the primary package providing direct protection and marketing appeal for the product, the box with its foam cushion is the secondary package protecting the larger grouping of the product, and the pallet providing the support necessary for safe transport of the product to its destination.
Of course, this is a simplified illustration and there may in fact be many variables that need to be accounted for in order to deliver the product to the shop shelf. Factors that influence the types and combination of packaging employed may include weight and fragility of product, spoilage consideration, stacking strength, temperature and weather, and transport method to name a few. These complexities go into the ultimate design of the system, and sustainability outcomes need to be included in the design flow to assess the impact of delivering the product.
In order to improve the system one must be able to quantify the implications of everything that goes into making the components that make up the whole delivery system. In the illustration above, this includes all the materials and their amount (glass, metal, paperboard, plastics, wood etc.), the processes used to make the packaging, any supplemental components needed such as plastic wrap or straps etc., the transportation needed to move the parts and the whole, and ultimately to discard the wastes left behind.
The discipline of life cycle assessment (LCA) provides a convenient tool that is used by companies and designers to develop a model that quantifies the overall environmental burdens associated with product and service delivery. Once a designer understands the environmental impacts associated with a given design, she can optimize the various choices made during the design process to positively impact the corporate sustainability strategy.
Trayak’s COMPASS® (comparative packaging assessment) is a LCA tool tailored for packaging design evaluation and improvement, and ultimately to implement corporate sustainability priorities at the consumer packaged good (CPG) level. COMPASS can provide an environmental profile of the entire system illustrated above starting with the components that make up the shelf ready package at manufacturing to the loaded pallet used to move the good to the distribution center or retail environment. The beauty of COMPASS is its deceptively simple work flow that puts the power and science of LCA in the hands of design professionals to help them make informed material choices.