As a major retailer and member of the global community, Target knows sustainability is more than just an idea or set of standards: it’s imperative for the health of our business and our planet. In fact, we see our sustainability efforts as part of interconnected system, with impact across all areas of how we work to address climate, and drive opportunity and equity for our teams, communities, and partners. (You can read more about our sustainability strategy, Target Forward, here.)
With that in mind, we tapped Paul Nowak, Executive Director at GreenBlue, for their take on how sustainable packaging can be a competitive advantage for businesses. Here’s advice on how you as a founder can better think about and embed sustainability into your businesses – and in the process, help their brands earn a competitive advantage.
What does sustainable packaging mean?
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) has a nuanced definition of sustainable packaging, which includes specific environmental, social, economic, and packaging performance characteristics. Below is a easy-to-reference breakdown of how:
How should you think about sustainability for your business?
Sustainability literature has settled on a three-pillar approach to sustainability considerations: environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and economic sustainability. This is often referred to in business as a “triple bottom line”. A project, product, or solution can only be considered sustainable if all three of the pillars are accounted for. So, if you’re interested in marketing your business and products, consider asking yourself the following:
- How is my product helping people?
- Is my product’s packaging safe for the planet?
- Are my products or services prosperous?
What should I do next?
Because those in the industry use the terms “sustainable” and “environmentally friendly” interchangeably, a global agreement of 17 different priorities were adopted in 2015 by all member states of the United Nations that helped create the foundation for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development . Learn more about these priorities, also known as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and understand how and where your brand matches these goals.
While packaging improvements itself are not listed formally as one of the 17 SDGs, packaging is a valuable tool that can help enable the achievement of the SDGs. Most importantly a more sustainable packaging design can contribute to climate-related goals (13, 14, and 15) and responsible consumption and production (Goal 12). However, these are not the only goals where packaging can make an impact.
Sustainable development of packaging occurs when we all view packaging as a valuable tool to deliver the products that are developed to meet the needs of people with minimum waste, damage, or spoilage. Packaging can also act as a tool for reaching a higher goal to enable innovation in the design of more sustainable product-package systems. Now that you’ve read about what sustainability encompasses and learned about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, here are three takeaways from the SPC you should think about moving forward sustainably:
- Foundation – Collect your data and create a system to house and update revisions. This sounds simple but many organizations do not have the data they need to make good decisions on sustainability. Material specifications are key and as carbon tracking becomes more critical having a solid database will make your life easier.
- Set Goals – Set short and long term goals that can be tracked and reported on. Goals are a great way to “chunk” projects that seem overwhelming. They also allow you to build some short term wins that build momentum towards a long term strategy. Need help creating goals? Visit our resource on creating SMART goals.
- Collaborate – You can not be an expert in everything and it is important to keep up on the rapidly changing world of sustainability. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) is one partnership to consider as an easy way to stay informed and meet other partners to help you on your journey. https://sustainablepackaging.org/
- United Nations General Assembly. (1987, August 4). Report of the world commission on environment and development [PDF]. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/139811?ln=en and https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/5987our-common-future.pdf
- United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (n.d). Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://sdgs.un.org/2030agenda
- United Nations. (n.d.). Sustainable Development Goals – SDG poster and individual goals for web and print [Infographic]. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/news/communications-material/