Sealed for Sustainability – LogiSYM July 2019
Most people will be familiar with bubble wrap, that transparent and tactile plastic material used for packaging protection. In fact, you’re very likely to have seen and experienced it as a child, taking much delight in popping those air-filled pockets. It is likely, however, that not so many know that “bubble wrap” is actually a registered trademark (Bubble Wrap®) and invention of Sealed Air, a company established almost 60 years ago (1960) in New Jersey, USA, by its two founders, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes, and which today is a worldwide organisation encompassing 123 countries and employing over 15,000 staff. Sealed Air offers a wide range of packaging solutions that encompass food, e-commerce and general product protection sectors. For the full year 2018, Sealed Air reported net sales of US$4.7 billion.
At the recent LogiSYM Singapore event (May 14-15), the rather striking Sealed Air booth was busy with conference delegates keen to see and learn about the promised “future of packaging” and how the company is working with customers to reduce their total delivery costs while also allowing them to meet new sustainability goals.
LogiSYM Magazine took the opportunity to talk to Alan Adams, Sustainability Director, Sealed Air APAC , about why it is critical for companies to think about the packaging as well as the product and what sustainable packaging really means.
Q: Why do we need to think about the sustainability in the context of packaging?
A: When it comes to parcel deliveries, we’re living in a completely different world than we were 10 years ago. E-commerce has reached the stage where people routinely buy things online and all these things, of course, need to be delivered. In Asia, China and Japan are among the largest markets for parcel volumes globally, and here in Singapore, SingPost’s subsidiary SP Parcels delivered more than 580,000 parcels locally in November 2018, a 24 percent increase compared to non-peak months and a jump of 25 percent year-on-year.
Now I’ll be the first to acknowledge it’s great having that convenience of click-and-it’s-almost-at-your- door, but in the wider context of the supply chain, we need to think about what it takes to fulfill these millions of orders and how many more resources it will take in the future as e-commerce inexorably ramps up, notably across developing Asia.
For example, how many more trucks can fit on our roads to make all these deliveries? What about those items that are damaged along the way and have to be returned, repaired, repackaged, and reshipped? Given generous returns policies, what about all those parcels that need to make a second transportation journey? And even if recycling infrastructure is in place, how many more boxes can we push into our recycling stream? I know my recycling bin fills faster than ever today.
Q: How can packaging make a difference and help improve sustainability?
A: I think many people would, perhaps understandably, assume the link comes from using recyclable packaging material. While this is certainly valid and useful, it’s also much more than that. It’s about investing in innovation, like we do at Sealed Air, to develop packaging that is not only recyclable but also thinner and lighter, which reduces parcel weight. These sustainable materials can be just as effective at preventing product damage, which often triggers the host of costly and transportation-intensive activities that I mentioned previously.
Q: You call damage the missing piece of the sustainability picture. Why is that?
A: Companies have come to expect and accept that a percentage of products will suffer a certain amount of damage along the fulfilment route. But at Sealed Air, we believe companies shouldn’t consider any damage rate as acceptable. That’s because preventing damage during shipping isn’t just a better business decision, it’s a sustainability imperative.
Look at the figures. The manufacturing and disposing of the packaging materials accounts for just five percent of the environmental impact of the shipping. Compare this to 48 percent, almost half of the total environmental cost of shipping, that comes from damage and that’s assuming a damage rate of just one percent, which is very much on the low side. So, if you’re a retailer looking at the fulfilment process as a place to reduce environmental impact, making efforts to reduce your damage rates is clearly going to give you good returns in terms of sustainability.
Q: But are companies really concerned about sustainability beyond its undoubted good PR element?
A: We are seeing a new model emerge, one where sustainability is joining the traditional ranks of price and performance as a key driver of value. The first signs of this shift came when big players like Walmart, Amazon, Mars and Nestle started to announce mega sustainability targets. With Project Gigaton, for example, Walmart targets to save one billion metric tons of greenhouse gases from its global value chain by 2030. And at the country level, the Singapore Packaging Agreement will soon require firms that use packaging to submit an annual report to the National Environment Agency with information on the type and amount of packaging in their products along with their packaging waste reduction plans.
Done right, these programs equate to efficient business practices. The best solutions will result in things such as buying and using less packaging (lower packaging intensity), consuming less energy and water (lower carbon footprint), needing fewer source materials and requiring less labour handling. All of these are smart moves for a company that wants to gain operational efficiency, and not just improve sustainability. What is good for the environment should be good for business as well.
Q: How is Sealed Air helping companies understand the merits of sustainable packaging and realise the benefits?
A: Sealed Air’s approach to the new reality around sustainability is three-dimensional. Firstly, taking a holistic view of the environmental impact of packaging, and more specifically, helping customers understand the total scope including the environmental cost of damage. Secondly, investing in innovation leadership (purposeful innovation is one of Sealed Air’s core values). And thirdly, making a commitment to a circular economy through our Sustainability and Plastics Pledge.
And it’s a continuous process of customer education as we talk about how many trucks you can take off the road by making something a little bit smaller, how much fuel you can save by making something lighter, and how many barrels of oil can be saved or GHG emissions reduced by making something more energy efficient.
At Sealed Air, across our entire packaging portfolio, we are reinventing solutions not just based on how they are made or their end-of-life performance, but on what environmental impact they are able to prevent.
Sealed Air’s Sustainability and Plastics Pledge is to design and advance our innovative packaging solutions to be 100 percent recyclable or reusable by 2025. We will accelerate our use of recycled materials to 50 percent, expand reuse models for packaging and lead the collaboration with partners worldwide to ensure execution. It’s our responsibility to build a waste-free future, keep our oceans clean and leave a lighter carbon footprint.
Ultimately, we strive to partner with customers to find the balance between delivering on today’s intense consumer demand for fast, hassle-free, and efficient delivery of goods, and the cost – both financial and environmental – of the e-commerce supply chain.