Collaborating with Suppliers for Responsibly Sourced/Sustainable Materials

July 27,2023 Category: Foundational Processes, Packaging Development, Quality Optimization, Sustainability
As brands across all industries now recognize the importance of sustainability, packaging teams have more options than ever when it comes to sustainable materials. But using environmentally friendly materials alone isn’t the all-in solution brands need to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. Packaging teams need to take a holistic view of packaging that accounts for its environmental impact from material extraction through end of life.

Collaborating with suppliers becomes crucial in this pursuit, as they play a pivotal role in providing packaging teams with environmentally friendly options that account for the material supply chain. This blog post explores the significance of supplier collaboration in achieving sustainable packaging, the benefits of responsibly sourced materials, exciting new developments in the field and insights on identifying a sustainable supply chain while navigating potential red flags.

Benefits of Supplier Collaboration 

Effective collaboration with suppliers opens up a world of opportunities for packaging engineers. By involving suppliers in the early stages of the design process, packaging pros can tap into their expertise and gain valuable insights into the latest sustainable materials. Suppliers often have access to a wide range of innovative solutions, including bio-based and recycled materials, as well as cutting-edge technologies for reducing waste and carbon footprint. Some questions to ask suppliers include:
  • Do you offer any sustainably sourced materials or alternatives to traditional packaging materials?
  • Are your materials certified by recognized sustainability standards or third-party organizations?
  • Can you provide information on the carbon footprint and environmental impact of your materials?
  • Do you have a recycling or take-back program for your packaging materials?
  • How do you ensure social, ethical and environmental responsibility throughout your supply chain?

Identifying a Sustainable Supply Chain 

Identifying a sustainable supply chain requires thorough evaluation and diligence. Look for the following indicators to ensure that your suppliers align with responsible sourcing practices:
  • Certifications and Standards: Research and verify if your suppliers hold certifications such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for responsibly sourced wood. Look for compliance with standards like ISO 14001 for environmental management systems.
  • Transparency and Traceability: Seek suppliers who provide clear information on the origin of materials, manufacturing processes and any third-party audits they undergo. Traceability systems like blockchain technology can help ensure transparency across the supply chain.
  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): Collaborate with suppliers who conduct LCAs to evaluate the environmental impact of their products. This assessment considers factors like raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and end-of-life disposal or recycling.
  • Circular Economy Initiatives: Look for suppliers actively involved in circular economy initiatives, such as closed-loop recycling systems or partnerships with recycling facilities.

The Power of Responsibly Sourced Materials 

The use of responsibly sourced materials in packaging offers several compelling advantages. It helps reduce the environmental impact of the entire supply chain. By choosing materials that are sustainably harvested or manufactured, packaging teams can contribute to the preservation of natural resources, minimize deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While many brands now recognize the importance of swapping out plastics for more environmentally friendly materials, switching to paper-based materials that aren’t responsibly sourced can lead to deforestation, swapping out one sustainability challenge for another.

Responsibly sourced materials can enhance a brand's reputation and build consumer trust. Today's consumers are increasingly conscious of their environmental footprint and prefer products that align with their values. By showcasing a commitment to sustainable packaging through the use of responsibly sourced materials, brands can differentiate their products in the market and attract eco-conscious consumers.

Additionally, responsibly sourced materials often offer improved functionality and performance. Many sustainable alternatives are designed to be lightweight, durable and have a lower carbon footprint than traditional materials. This not only reduces transportation costs but also helps optimize the packaging process, leading to increased efficiency and decreased waste.

Exciting Developments in Sustainable Packaging
The field of sustainable packaging continues to evolve rapidly, driven by innovative research and development efforts. Collaborating with suppliers allows packaging engineers to stay at the forefront of these developments and incorporate them into their designs.

One exciting trend is the rise of biodegradable and compostable materials. Biopolymers derived from renewable sources, such as cornstarch or sugarcane, are gaining popularity as sustainable alternatives to conventional plastics. These materials can break down naturally, reducing the environmental impact of packaging waste.

Another promising area is the development of packaging made from recycled materials. From post-consumer plastics to paper and cardboard, recycled materials offer a closed-loop solution that minimizes waste and conserves resources. Collaborating with suppliers who specialize in recycling and upcycling can provide access to cutting-edge technologies and materials in this domain.

Furthermore, advancements in active and intelligent packaging are revolutionizing the industry. These solutions utilize technologies such as smart sensors, bio-based coatings and antimicrobial agents to extend the shelf life of products, reduce food waste and improve overall sustainability.

Red Flags to Look Out For 

While engaging in supplier collaboration, it is essential to remain vigilant about potential red flags that indicate unsustainable practices:
  • Lack of Transparency: If a supplier is unwilling to share information about their sourcing, manufacturing processes or certifications, it may be a sign that they are not prioritizing sustainability.
  • Non-Compliance with Regulations: Suppliers who disregard environmental regulations or fail to meet industry standards raise concerns about their commitment to sustainability.
  • Excessive Packaging Waste: Suppliers who use excessive packaging materials or fail to optimize packaging design for efficiency and waste reduction may not prioritize sustainable practices.
  • Limited Focus on Social Responsibility: Sustainable packaging extends beyond environmental aspects. Ensure your suppliers demonstrate a commitment to fair labor practices, worker safety and community engagement.

While there is no substitute for knowledgeable, sustainability-minded packaging engineers, collaborating with suppliers can be a vital step for driving environmentally friendly innovation. By asking the right questions, identifying a sustainable supply chain, and remaining vigilant for red flags, packaging teams can ensure their work aligns with their company’s sustainability goals. 

If you need help evaluating your suppliers’ sustainability or evaluating the environmental impact of your packaging, get in touch. Adept Group’s sustainability experts take a cradle-to-grave approach to evaluating design and materials to optimize packaging for sustainability.