As the Millennial generation continues to increase their buying power, they also prefer to purchase products from brands that have sustainable manufacturing methods and ethical business standards. According to a Nielsen study, Generation Z is also willing to pay for products and services that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact—up from 55% in 2014 to 72% in 2015.

Beyond changing consumer demands, government regulations are dropping the hammer on major companies’ business practices. In the United Kingdom, prime minister Theresa May announced that the government plans to eliminate plastic waste in the country by 2042.

Consumer packaged goods companies (CPG) and global fast food chains recognize that they need to take responsibility for the full lifecycle of packaging created and have used corporate social responsibility and sustainability initiatives.

What do sustainability initiatives for these CPGs and fast food chains have in common? All companies look to reduce overall packaging waste, reduce waste in the packaging production process and increase the recyclability of packaging materials.

These are ways to help the entire packaging value chain reduce ink consumption, use less packaging substrates while also reducing carbon footprint during shipping and handling. One of the easiest ways to incorporate more sustainable practices is obtaining the right tools for the packaging production process, such as extended color gamut printing, packaging right-sizing and pallet optimization software. Beyond reducing overall costs in the value chain, packaging technologies can drive sustainability initiatives as well.

How does color technology help brands save ink?

In 2017, digital printing accounts for 2.9% of the volume. Smithers Pira reports this volume will reach 3.9% by 2022. Demand for shorter packaging product runs for targeted campaigns are increasing. With these shorter runs, printing presses need to be set up more frequently and substrates and inks need to be changed over with every job. This setup process occurs regardless of substrate and of printing process. Unfortunately, substrate is commonly wasted in the process of bringing the newly setup press up to the right color and ink is wasted when cleaning the press.

One solution is to standardize the print process on a fixed set of inks, also known as Extended Color Gamut (ECG) or Fixed Palette Printing. This process ensures that printers rarely have to clean the press, regardless of what type of job they are running and regardless of what brand colors they need to reproduce accurately.

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Spot inks can lead to ink leftovers at the converter that may eventually be thrown away. With Extended Gamut Printing, you no longer reproduce brand colors with specific spot inks, but with a fixed set of five, six or seven process inks. This not only has a monumental impact on reducing downtime and waste between jobs but also on the overall environmental impact of packaging production. The printer no longer has to clean ink off the printing press while changing jobs, the only thing they change on the press is the substrate. Extended Gamut Printing helps printers save time, ink, substrate and reduce the water and chemical cleaning solvents required to wash down the press.

How does CAD design software help brands save packaging materials?

Designers use CAD software to repackage a consumer product in such a way that less packaging is required or that less space is taken up by the package. When designing the package using CAD software, the structural designer can visualize how the product fits in the package and make smarter design decisions about material selection, reducing the overall package size and therefore positively changing the packaging’s environmental impact. When you can actually see how a two-dimensional flat design will render as a three-dimensional object, it’s easier to make decisions that reduce overall packaging.

Let’s also consider printed materials adjacent to the product packaging such as product displays or signage. Signage is typically printed on wide format flatbed digital presses on rather expensive substrates. To help reduce material waste, sign and display shops use sheet layout tools and CAD software that leverage artificial intelligence, helping them to combine different shapes and designs on a single sheet which reduces the amount of scrap material.

How does palletization technology help brands reduce shipping?

IKEA is an excellent example of how brands can use packaging technology to help with both materials and shipping. In their 2017 catalog, IKEA included an article revealing that their packaging strategy is a large part of the overall brand. IKEA’s packaging principles include: focusing on packaging as part of the product, optimizing for total cost throughout the value chain, ensuring a positive impact on people and the planet.

How do they implement these principles? Their packaging solutions are integrated into the product development process, resulting in flatter packs. Maximum usage and minimal waste is what they strive for, not just for packaging but also for the loading of each pallet, each container and each shipment. For example, GLIMMA small tea lights were originally sold as 100 lose items in a plastic bag. IKEA’s team worked to improve the packaging, saving space on pallets and becoming more sustainable at the same time. They worked to protect the candles to ensure they reach stores in good shape. The new packaging saves 30-45 minutes per day on in-store handling; they can also fit 108 more packages on each pallet, reducing the number of trucks on the road with the product by approximately 400, simply by shipping less air.

One of Esko’s CPG customers worked to reduce their packaging, transportation and distribution for their pre-packaged desserts line. The new package style optimized product sizing and increased the number of products per pallet.

The environmental impact was large; the new package used 78 percent less material by weight, and 66 percent less corrugated board per 1000 pallets of product. Breaking it down further this initiative:

  • Saved 933 million British Thermal Units (BTUs) per 1000 pallets.
  • Saved 194, 9843 pounds (or 884,433 kilograms) of CO2 per 1000 pallets.
  • Saved 465,281 gallons (or 1,761,280 liters) of waste water per 1000 pallets.
  • Saved 51,670 pounds (or 23,437 kilograms) of solid waste per 1000 pallets.
  • Reduced 32 percent of fossil fuel consumption over the old package.

A typical CPG that utilizes a pallet optimization software can also save approximately 10 percent in product packaging, palletizing, store and shipment costs. In 2014, a global beverage company stated their lightweighting program resulted in an estimated cost-savings of USD $180 million.

With many large consumer goods companies declaring their intentions to reduce the impact of packaging on the environment, they will need all the help they can get. It’s easy to accomplish any task when you have the right tool for the job. If you’re struggling to determine a starting point for your sustainability initiatives, start with packaging technology tools. They can achieve surprisingly meaningful results; playing a small part in saving the planet and impacting your bottom-line.

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