One of two interesting articles brought to my attention by Chris Arkenberg (@Chris23
)Wal-Mart Challenges Plastic Jewel Case Packaging
The CDSA Sustainable Packaging Committee explores alternatives for sustainable – and manufacturable – packaging
By Dan Daley
Hamburger Helper has straightened its noodles. That’s not a reference to corporate sanity; rather, it’s one of many ways that companies have adapted their products in order to make their packaging more environmentally friendly – Straighter noodles means a smaller box. Other solutions are more sophisticated: Skin-care company Pangea Organics packages its products in boxes made from 100 percent post-consumer paper combined with organic seeds like sweet basil and amaranth – so you can just plant the empty packaging to grow your own herb garden.
The redesign of packaging is also driven by Wal-Mart’s initiative, announced in 2006, to address its environmental footprint, with a goal to reduce packaging used by suppliers by five percent by 2013. In an effort to achieve this target, the retail behemoth has announced a Sustainable Packaging Scorecard enviro-accounting protocol that allows manufacturers to rank their use of packaging to help reduce environmental impact. The scores consider a range of relevant categories including greenhouse gas emissions produced per ton of packaging, raw material use, packaging size, recycled content, material recovery value, renewable energy use, transportation impacts, and innovation.Beginning this year, Wal-Mart will make purchasing decisions based on the scorecard results, a policy that will force manufacturers in a variety of sectors to reexamine their packaging processes. Wal-Mart’s unique position in the retail universe gives it the power to compel compliance – It operates the largest truck fleet in the world, has the largest electric bill in the country, and has more people in uniform than all the branches of the U.S. military combined. With more than 60,000 suppliers around the world, meeting Wal-Mart’s expectations would save 76 million gallons of diesel fuel in a year.
Optical Disc Packaging
However, while experts in sustainability circles agree it’s a positive start, and that the long-term results of this corporate commitment could be enormously beneficial to the environment, they also say that the scorecard is far from perfect. The values for many of the categories have been assigned in an arguably arbitrary fashion, and the scorecard is weighted according to a formula devised by Wal-Mart itself – it gives 15 percent of the total score to four rubrics: greenhouse gases, cube utilization, material value and product/package ratio; transportation costs, recyclable content and recovery value get 10 percent each; and five percent is assigned for renewable energy and innovation.
Unfortunately, these ratios are not very favorable to the packaging currently being used for optical discs, particularly music CDs and recordable CDs and DVDs. Addressing attendees at the CDSA Forum in April, Rod Streeper, director of customer operations at Entertainment Distribution Company (EDC) and co-chair of the CDSA’s Sustainable Packaging Committee, said that Wal-Mart accounts for 31 percent of music CD sales and added that the packaging “doesn’t look good [to Wal-Mart] in terms of where they want us to be.”
Streeper explained that Wal-Mart “arbitrarily” assigned a score of 1.0 to the current polystyrene jewel case, based on values attributed to the seven scorecard categories. He compared that to an ideal solution composed solely of paper, which achieves a score of 10, the goal Streeper says Wal-Mart wants the CD packaging industry to attain. “As close as we can come to that will determine their buying habits, and there are not a lot of options,” he said. “No one solution will come out the winner; there will be mixed solutions.”
The leading alternative that the packaging committee is studying is a proposed polypropylene package, which achieves a 4.75 score, based on Wal-Mart’s criteria. Streeper said that the proposed case had been successful in its packaging automation trials. “It doesn’t get us to 10, but it gets us a good part of the way there,” he said.
The polypropylene case has emerged as the only “drop in” solution for automated packaging. It adds up to three cents to the cost of the package, but that’s less than the 10 cents that the committee estimates a purely paper package would cost, and which would be non-automatable in any event. “[Content owners] don’t want to have to throw more capital against something that has declining revenue,”
Referring again to the Wal-Mart scorecard as “arbitrary and subjective,” Streeper cautioned that what might be ideal from an environmental perspective could be unmarketable to the supply chain. “The more [we] know about the tools we are measured against, the better we’ll be able to influence the discussions that are happening,” he said, adding that the Wal-Mart scorecard is not the only set of metrics trying to measure carbon footprints. “I sit on two organizations and neither can agree what constitutes certification. Any solution has to take a holistic view of the supply chain.”
At the Forum, recordable media maker Imation demonstrated several examples of how media packaging be reformatted to comply with Wal-Mart’s edicts. Imation reduced the footprint of its Memorex 30-unit disc packaging, reducing materials used by 80 percent, cube size by 30 percent, and increased container loading by 16 percent. Furthermore, it has increased the use of recycled materials in spindles: the top contains 25 percent recycled polypropylene while the base is comprised of 50 percent recycled polypropylene.
“What we did was to make a sustainable package,” said Joseph A. Grasso, manager of graphics & marketing services for Imation’s Consumer Brands Corp., adding that the package is also compliant with California’s stringent state Rigid Packaging Container law
What Grasso referred to as a “secret weapon” is its forthcoming patent-pending universal spindle, to be used on its “cakebox” 100-disc packages. “We value-engineered it, reduced the weight with less materials and reduced the volume, [and] it’s universal – we can apply it across our product lines.” The new cakebox cuts weight by 28 grams – 19.6 percent less than the current design – and it offers a volume reduction of 11 percent. Grasso said the effort to create new packaging designs has paid off in more ways than just meeting retail expectations. What he referred to as “right-sizing” will get Memorex’s music CD-R blister pack into the point-of-purchase areas of stores while also reducing shipping costs.
Imation has also experimented with paper packaging. It developed a proposed combined plastic/paper pack solution for its TDK headphones that was presented to Costco. However, in an outcome that’s becoming more and more common, the retailer said that it liked larger plastic packaging because the size helped reduce theft. “The trade is calling the shots,” said Grasso.
Grasso stated further that meeting retailer expectations isn’t the sole aim of pursuing environmentally friendly packaging. “It’s our corporate responsibility,” he told attendees at the CDSA conference. “It makes good business sense… and it makes us environmental stewards.”
The Real ChallengeStreeper’s exhortation to view packaging redesigns from the point of view of the entire supply chain underscores the real challenge presented by attaining scorecard goals. “When people ask me what’s the likely outcome of all this, I say there never will be one [outcome],” he says. “It will be a mixed bag of solutions.”
But Streeper did forecast that within a year or two polystyrene cases will have been eliminated from disc packaging – a “wholesale replacement of the polystyrene jewel case,” he predicts, but that what replaces it will be an array of solutions that will vary from vendor to vendor. “I doubt, with the lack of consolidation [in the packaging industry], that any one solution will be adopted,” he says. “But we need to influence the final solutions.”
To quote Kermit the Frog, “It ain’t easy being green.”
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So, what I'm drawing from this is that Wal-Mart is pushing this because a) it SAVES THEM MONEY, and b) it LOOKS GOOD to customers. So, to bind the corporate demons, push solutions that take these into account.
See also: Save More. Live Better.