Packaging’s Role in ESG Programs

June 29,2023 Category: Foundational Processes, Packaging Development, Regulatory Compliance, Sustainability
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programs have been a hot topic for brands across many industries in recent years, and packaging can play an important role in shaping positive ESG scores. A focus on sustainability, social responsibility and corporate governance is a way to ensure a company’s practices align with values shared by employees and consumers, as well as regulations. Reporting on ESG programs allows companies from global Fortune 500 brands to startups to signal to employees, investors, consumers and other stakeholders that they take these issues seriously and are pursuing measurable goals that align with the brand’s values.

While a robust ESG program is a broad, company-wide commitment, packaging departments can play a key role in its success. As leaders in sustainability initiatives and decision makers on processes that impact employee safety, packaging pros make a direct impact on ESG scoring metrics. In heavily regulated industries where compliance is imperative, experienced packaging pros can also play a significant role from a governance perspective.

Environmental Performance

Sustainability is not a new topic within packaging departments, but it takes on a renewed importance for brands that prioritize ESG. Setting aggressive sustainable packaging goals and making steady progress against them can provide an excellent opportunity to show a brand’s commitment to controlling its impact on the environment.

Phasing out plastics and other potentially harmful materials is a pillar of many brands’ sustainability goals. Other common sustainability goals include decreasing CO2 emissions, reducing waste within manufacturing facilities, leveraging recycled and/or recyclable materials, and sourcing materials throughout the supply chain sustainably. Packaging departments play a significant role in each of these categories, and the data and other insights packaging teams can provide are important for demonstrating clear, measurable progress against these initiatives for reporting purposes.

Social Performance

While the majority of the company-wide practices that impact social performance are beyond the reach of the packaging department, it can play an important role from a workplace safety perspective. In addition to developing the packaging for finished goods and the processes for packaging products, the department can also provide important input on packaging for inbound materials. Optimizing inbound packaging and outbound secondary/tertiary packaging for ergonomics and safe handling can reduce instances of workplace injuries in manufacturing, packaging and shipping operations. Packaging SOPs that minimize lifting of bulky and heavy objects can also reduce work-related injuries.

A workplace where on-the-job injury rates are low and the company can demonstrate efforts to further minimize injury risks is a strong asset ESG to scores for social performance.


As with social performance, a packaging department’s influence on the governance aspect of ESG is limited, but impactful. While governance covers a variety of topics including board composition, executive compensation and, for publicly traded companies, shareholder rights, it also includes regulatory compliance. Packaging departments play a key role in compliance, especially in the life sciences and food & beverage industries, and an experienced packaging professional should have detailed knowledge of the regulations that cover packaging for the company’s products.

Packaging’s role in regulatory compliance will only continue to grow as extended producer responsibility (EPR) and other sustainability-focused regulations spread at the local, state and potentially even federal levels. Ensuring packaging remains compliant, maintaining documentation that demonstrates the work done to ensure compliance and tracking potential regulations that may impact packaging in the future are all ways a skilled packaging team can support strong governance within the framework of an ESG program.


As the demand for transparency among investors, consumers and other stakeholders continues to grow, the importance of ESG reporting will grow with it. Opportunities for companies to showcase the work they do to follow through on their values, especially when it comes to sustainability and the wellbeing of their teams, go a long way toward reinforcing confidence in their brand. Contributions to ESG programs and the data to showcase those contributions provide packaging teams with a great way to demonstrate value beyond their day-to-day responsibilities.

If you need help aligning your packaging function with the company’s broader ESG goals or with demonstrating the ways that packaging can contribute, reach out. Adept group has experts in more than 60 specialized packaging disciplines, including sustainability, safe/efficient packaging processes and regulatory compliance, and our team can help you optimize your packaging and processes in support of those goals.