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Ken Chrisman

Management

Reducing Damage Is the Key to True Sustainability

Recycling isn’t enough

Published: Thursday, September 8, 2016 - 13:36

It’s no surprise to many consumers that some retailers and brands think that packaging—although necessary—isn’t really something to invest a lot of time, money, or effort in.

Consider the box. Many would look at it as an inconsequential container. It’s the thing you must rip, cut, tear, or surmount to get to what really matters—the item inside.

Well, I’m here to tell you that consumers do care about packaging. They care a lot more than you might think, particularly when it comes to attitudes on sustainability. Of course, I’m biased. My company, Sealed Air, built a more than 50­-­year-­old business on selling packaging, so of course we believe that it matters.

How do we know?

I have proof for that belief. We conducted a Harris Poll survey of more than 2,000 U.S. consumers ages 18 and up, and here’s what we found:
• First, we found that 66 percent of U.S. citizens believe that an item’s packaging tells them something about how much the brand cares about them.
• Second, we found that 59 percent believe the retailer and the package carrier are equally responsible for damage to a product that was ordered online.
• Finally, 77 percent of consumers are of the opinion that packaging does and should reflect the environmental values of the brand they’re buying from.

Taken separately, each of these statistics lends credibility to the idea that consumers do care about packaging and the role it plays in protecting the items they paid for.

But together, they tell a much more powerful story: That consumers care about sustainable packaging practices, and that these practices aren’t just about swapping out peanuts for something recyclable or biodegradable. It’s much bigger than that.

There are no barriers anymore as to what can be bought online. If you want it, chances are it can be purchased and shipped to your home. But this opportunity means that a lot of fragile, heavy, and oddly shaped items are now being put through a delivery chain that wasn’t designed to handle them, employing packaging solutions that weren’t designed to fit them.

It also means that there are just more items, period. That means more items getting packed onto trucks and into the cargo bays of airplanes, and getting handled day-in and day-out to get where they’re going.

The result: damage, damage, and more damage. Reducing that damage isn’t just a customer experience imperative—it’s also a sustainability imperative.

Why?

This is important because there’s no amount of recyclable, biodegradable, reusable packaging that any of our expert engineers in any of our labs around the world could design that can counteract the increased carbon footprint of a damaged item.

Damaged items have to get back on a truck or back on a plane and go back to their origin point.

Damaged items have to get rebuilt, repaired, restocked, re-handled, and sometimes they just get relegated to the landfill.

Damaged items have to get reshipped, making another journey through the supply chain, in another box filled with packing materials that will have to be reused, recycled, or disposed of.

Take, for example, a laptop computer. According to data publicly shared by Apple, manufacturing and shipping a single laptop computer creates approximately 460 kg of CO2e emissions.

If that item is damaged in transit and has to make a return trip and be rebuilt, repaired, and reshipped, that number goes up anywhere from 150 to another 200 kg of CO2e. That’s as much as a 43-percent increase for just a single computer.

There were approximately 194 million laptops shipped worldwide in 2015 alone (per Statista). That’s not even including tablets or desktop PCs. If you want to be a more sustainable company, reducing damage is the most effective thing you can do.

If you can do it with packaging materials that are also reusable, recyclable, and responsible, then even better. Performance and sustainability are not and should not be mutually exclusive.

As brands around the world shine a light on sustainability, I urge and implore business leaders and consumers alike to take a closer look at the true cost of damage to our economy and to our global resources.

Discuss

About The Author

Ken Chrisman

Ken Chrisman is President of the Product Care Division and Corporate Vice President at Sealed Air Corporation.  Sealed Air is a Fortune 500 company and a leading global innovator and manufacturer of a wide range of packaging and performance-based materials and systems that serve an array of food, industrial, medical, and consumer applications.  Product Care resolves the demanding protective packaging challenges of moving products from global source, through complex and changing supply chains, to consumers, safely and securely.  Product Care includes a number of iconic brands including Bubble Wrap, Jiffy Mailers, Ethafoam and Instapak.