Achieving breakthrough improvements in sustainable packaging is more difficult than simply substituting virgin materials for recycled content. Many companies are seeking to improve product stewardship, achieve waste-reduction goals, and save money by re-thinking the value chain and developing “disruptive” improvements to packaging. These improvements have the potential to not only reduce waste, energy, and raw materials, but also differentiate from other products and capture a new and growing market of consumers who prefer more “responsible” products.
Collaboration and creativity required
There is a range of packaging improvements that can be considered, from passive materials replacement to more radical supply chain redesign, as shown in Figure 1. Conducting a current state packaging analysis can help surface which improvement opportunities make the most sense. A good place to start is with a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) — a quantitative assessment of the environmental impact of packaging which illustrates environmental “hot spots” and improvement opportunities. These studies can also be used to conduct scenario analyses to understand how a switch in materials or processes may alter costs and environmental impact.
More radical improvements require greater effort, but they have the potential for greater environmental and financial benefits. These disruptive improvements require a healthy dose of creativity and coordination across multiple groups including product development, manufacturing, merchandising, procurement, marketing and even suppliers — challenging each other to break free from traditional notions of packaging.
An example is Method’s creation of an “8x” concentrated laundry detergent. The product reduced overall packaging volumes by 36% compared to its 2x concentrated product, and reduced the average lifecycle carbon footprint by 35%.  Changes that affect the size, weight, or shape of a product should be coordinated with logistics & distribution and merchandisers, since they will affect how a product is shipped, stored, and displayed.
Realization of packaging changes often requires active collaboration and innovation with suppliers. However, collaborating with suppliers can be tricky, and it’s helpful to learn from others who have been down this path. Click here to learn more.
A biopharmaceutical company found a way to substantially reduce packaging and fuel from transporting temperature-sensitive medicines. Working closely with hospitals and specialized carriers, the company switched from using cold packs and insulated boxes to a system of refrigerated trucks. The increased cost of using refrigerated transport was more than offset by the decrease in packaging material and weight transported. A pilot project carried out in just one city resulted in savings of roughly 100 tons of packaging per year, as well as reductions in fuel consumption. The change also made life easier on its customers, the hospitals and pharmacies, who no longer had to break down boxes and throw away dumpsters' worth of cardboard and insulation.
Potential rewards await those who think innovatively about packaging. Although most sustainable packaging solutions have focused on altering current packaging processes to accommodate more environmentally friendly materials, those who develop more transformative approaches to packaging could stand to gain even more. The process starts with a whole-scale assessment of the value chain and rethinking the role of packaging from the customer's perspective. Companies who take this step may be able to capture cost savings, increase brand awareness, and grow market share.
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Deloitte Consulting LLP
 Method Laundry Detergent, http://methodlaundry.com/
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