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Sustainable packaging design: A holistic methodology for packaging design

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  • NORSUS Norwegian Institute for Sustainability Research

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This study describes a holistic methodology for sustainable packaging design. This methodology studies the combined systems of packaging and the packaged products across the whole distribution chain from manufacturer to end consumer and the life cycle from raw material extraction to the waste phase. It contains a number of indicators that are grouped into the following main categories: environmental sustainability, distribution costs, product protection, market acceptance and user friendliness. The methodology integrates a number of different analytical methods. It is intended to be used in packaging design and optimisation, for idea generation, decision support and as documentation of properties of existing packaging systems. The study describes experiences with the methodology from one case study in the Norwegian Food Industry. The experiences show that the methodology is very comprehensive, and gives a good overview of the properties of a packaging solution. It enables quantitative comparisons between different packaging solutions throughout the design process. The methodology reduces the risk of implementing sub-optimal packaging solutions. An additional benefit of the methodology is gained by working in cross-functional teams. One potential drawback is that the methodology can be resource and data intensive. The methodology can be used as a tool box in packaging design, i.e. it is not necessary to use all methods and quantify all indicators to gain benefit. However, all indicators and requirements should be evaluated and considered. In all cases, it should be considered to include additional indicators if important sustainability issues have not been addressed. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
PACKAGING TECHNOLOGY AND SCIENCE
Packag. Technol. Sci. 2010; 23: 161–175
Published online 4 February 2010 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/pts.887
* Correspondence to: E. Svanes, Ostfold Research, Environmental Protection, Fredrikstad, Norway.
E-mail: erik@ostfoldforskning.no
Sustainable Packaging Design: a Holistic Methodology
for Packaging Design
By Erik Svanes,1* Mie Vold,1 Hanne Møller,1 Marit Kvalvåg Pettersen,2
Hanne Larsen2 and Ole Jørgen Hanssen1
1Department of Environmental Protection, Ostfold Research, Gamle Bedding vei 2b, 1671 Kraakeroey, Norway.
2Department of Food Safety and Quality, Nofi ma Mat, Osloveien 1, N-1430 Aas, Norway.
SUMMARY
This study describes a holistic methodology for sustainable packaging design. This methodology studies
the combined systems of packaging and the packaged products across the whole distribution chain from
manufacturer to end consumer and the life cycle from raw material extraction to the waste phase. It contains
a number of indicators that are grouped into the following main categories: environmental sustainability,
distribution costs, product protection, market acceptance and user friendliness. The methodology integrates
a number of different analytical methods. It is intended to be used in packaging design and optimisation,
for idea generation, decision support and as documentation of properties of existing packaging systems.
The study describes experiences with the methodology from one case study in the Norwegian Food Indus-
try. The experiences show that the methodology is very comprehensive, and gives a good overview of the
properties of a packaging solution. It enables quantitative comparisons between different packaging solu-
tions throughout the design process. The methodology reduces the risk of implementing sub-optimal
packaging solutions. An additional benefi t of the methodology is gained by working in cross-functional
teams. One potential drawback is that the methodology can be resource and data intensive. The methodol-
ogy can be used as a tool box in packaging design, i.e. it is not necessary to use all methods and quantify
all indicators to gain benefi t. However, all indicators and requirements should be evaluated and considered.
In all cases, it should be considered to include additional indicators if important sustainability issues have
not been addressed. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Received 8 May 2009; Revised 11 December 2009; Accepted 18 December 2009
KEY WORDS: sustainable packaging design; distribution chain; product quality preservation; life cycle perspective
INTRODUCTION
As the awareness that products and services cause serious environmental degradation has increased,
attention has shifted from fi nding end-of-pipe solutions to designing products that prevent such deg-
radation from occurring in the fi rst place or reduce such problems. Ecodesign is an example of such
an approach; however it is easier to envision than to carry out in practise. The number of environ-
mental problems that occur and the number of processes that a product goes through from cradle to
grave is great. Hence designers are often looking for tools that are simple to use and give clear and
precise answers on a products’ ‘environmental sustainability performance’. Many Ecodesign tools
exist, but few studies on their usability have been published.
Waage19 comments that the proliferation of sustainability assessment principles, strategies, actions
and tools has created confusion for designers rather than a clear-cut path towards sustainability. What
tool should be used for what application? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each tool? How
can the usefulness of the tool be evaluated? Rather than presenting a new method, tool, strategy or
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action; Waage gives the outline of a roadmap towards sustainability. The roadmap consists of a four-
phase process for integrating sustainability perspectives into product design and manufacturing deci-
sions. The phases are: (a) establish sustainability context, (b) defi ne sustainability issues, (c) assess,
(d) act and receive feedback.
The main idea is that designers and other involved personnel should, rather than using a tool or
method not developed for, and perhaps not fi tting their own situation, investigate what sustainability
means in their particular situation. In the same way as designers regularly start with a concept phase
where the degree of freedom is high, there ought to be a ‘sustainability concept phase’. An example
of a question in such a phase: Should we design a product to fulfi l this particular need or could the
need be fulfi lled in another way?8 Once the context has been defi ned designers can proceed to inves-
tigating solutions and implications of the solutions. The next phase is a quantitative and qualitative
assessment where appropriate tools can be used and the last phase is the implementation and monitor-
ing phase.
Byggeth and Hochschorner2 evaluated 15 different Ecodesign tools with a special view on how
trade-off situations were handled. They argue that such a tool should contain a valuation to support
trade-off decisions. They further argue that one important principle for such valuation is a strong link
to overall sustainability principles such as avoidance of build-up of substances in the earth’s ecosys-
tems, destruction of said ecosystems, as well as future generations’ capacity to fulfi l its needs. They
further opined that an Ecodesign tool should contain all sustainability dimensions, i.e. ecological,
economic and social and cover the entire life-cycle.
This study is concerned with packaging design. Packaging design has been developed as an inte-
grated process in companies over the last few decades, both theoretically and practically. Klooster18
has described the processes and methods available for more effi cient and effective packaging design.
Klooster18 draws attention to the need to consider all functional requirements for packaging systems
in the design process. Olsmats14 emphasises the strategic role of packaging for companies, and the
need to strike a balance between the important functions of packaging. In these studies, environmental
and resource effi ciency is discussed as important properties of packaging systems, and both Klooster
and Olsmats emphasise the potential confl ict between environment and economy as driving forces for
packaging design. Both authors use the terms ‘packaging minimisation’ or ‘packaging waste minimi-
sation’ as the key issue with respect to environmental impact.
Environmental sustainability has become an important target for the industry. Most often, compa-
nies have focused on one or two aspects, e.g. low weight of packaging per unit product or the non-use
of materials viewed as environmentally harmful, such as PVC. However, there is a need to consider
a products’ environmental perspective in a more systematic and holistic way than has been realised
in the last years. Several methods have been proposed for assessing a product’s total environmental
impact from cradle (raw materials acquisition and processing) to grave (waste treatment phase). Life
Cycle Assessment (LCA) has emerged as a leading assessment method with a complete life cycle
scope. One of the major advantages of this method is the emphasis on function, which means that a
product’s effectiveness, e.g. its ability to perform a certain function, is taken into account.
A large number of studies have been done on packaging. The scope and goal for these studies vary
a lot. The most common usages are for documenting a packaging’s environmental performance for
external communication and for internal improvement analysis. Detzel and Krüger4 compared packag-
ing made of PLA with equivalent packaging made of petroleum-based materials such as PP. The
system borders of this study included waste treatment in order to get a good picture of the product’s
environmental performance during all life phases. The functional unit defi nes the minimum top load
strength of the packaging, thus, covering one key quality issue. Detzel et al.5 studied PET packaging
and included the potential benefi t of several end uses for recycled packaging. Bovea et al.1 calculated
the direct environmental impacts of packaging, and evaluated the effect of packaging minimisation
options by using LCA. These packaging studies attempt a holistic approach by including as much of
the packaging life cycle as possible, including waste treatment and even new utilisation after recycling.
One important dimension seems to be missing. The studies do not quantitatively assess the packag-
ing’s effect on the packaged product. Assessment of packaging is more complex than assessment of
other product groups because it has a ‘double’ environmental impact that is evaluated through system
enlargement, where the packaging system and the product system are seen in combination:
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Direct impacts related to the packaging itself and indirect impacts, through the packaging systems,
impact on the packed product (e.g. product loss, transport effi ciency, etc.).
In a holistic design approach, both effects should be taken into account. There are, however, a
number of requirements that have to be balanced in packaging design, in addition to environmental
impacts.
Williams et al.21 have listed many important quality indicators, especially for consumers. Among
these are, protection and preservation of product, declaration of contents, easy to empty completely,
recyclable material, communicates a certain brand, fi ts in storage spaces and contains just the right
quantity. The packaging must in addition fulfi l all legal requirements for food safety, environment
and labelling. Chien-Chung and Hwong-Wen3 introduce a new framework for incorporating the tra-
ditional LCA approach with qualitative methods to assess important aspects of packaging, in particular
environmental assessment, but also functional characteristics. These authors also (as does the Detzel
papers) put great emphasis on the potential positive environmental effect of materials after recycling
or incineration.
The following review of sustainable packaging design methodologies show that most Ecodesign
methodologies and tools do not consider a broad spectre of the requirements mentioned above. The
Australian packaging evaluation tool PIQET17 measures several environmental impacts of packaging:
global warming/climate change, cumulative energy demand, photochemical oxidation, water use, solid
waste and land use. The tool also evaluates other packaging properties such as product protection,
shelf-life and consumer knowledge/labelling. The packaging scorecard evaluation method designed
by Olsmats and Dominic15 has a wider scope than PIQET. It takes into account practical aspects and
other parts of the distribution chain. Important indicators are machinability (i.e. runnability, convert-
ability), product protection, fl ow information, volume and weight effi ciency, right amount and size,
handleability, other value-adding properties, product information, selling capability, safety, reduced
use of resources, minimal use of hazardous substances, minimal amount of waste and packaging costs.
The large international retail company Wal-Mart has developed and implemented a Scorecard Method
for packaging evaluation. All suppliers of products to Wal-Mart are obliged to use this tool to declare
their packaging systems. The indicators considered in the scorecard are greenhouse gas emissions,
material value, product/package ratio, cube utilisation, transportation effi ciency, recycled content,
recovery value, use of renewable energy and degree of innovation.
The mentioned studies contain more than just a list of relevant indicators. Williams21 studied the
environmental relevance of the quality indicators. Olsmats and Dominic15 and Wal-Mart20 have
described methods for rating a packaging’s performance in relation to those indicators. In Olsmats’
method, the supplier, transporter/distributor/wholesaler, retailer and consumer rate these criteria (only
those criteria relevant for each group) as being more or less important (0–100%). For each product,
a value is assigned to show how the product performs in relation to that criterion (0 to 4). Based on
those weightings and scores, normalised total score or score for each actor (supplier, consumer, etc.)
can be calculated for each product. Wal-Mart’s scorecard online tool is used by suppliers to be given
as a single score. Designers often request methodologies and tools that take into account as many as
possible of the above-mentioned properties throughout the design process. Each method described
above covers a certain number of important requirements. However, there seems to be a need for a
more comprehensive tool that takes the whole distribution chain and life cycle into consideration, that
views the packaging/product system as a whole and that gives quantitative output that can be used to
optimise packaging.
In this study the aim has been to view the environmental and resource challenges related to packag-
ing systems in a holistic and sustainable perspective. Rather than packaging minimisation, the focus
is on packaging optimisation. The aim has been to include all three pillars of sustainability (environ-
mental sustainability, economic viability and social equity) but this aim has only partially been
achieved. The methodology includes mainly environmental dimension of sustainability, although total
distribution costs, market acceptance and user friendliness are relevant factors in evaluation of eco-
nomical sustainability. Social dimensions have not been included because it is very diffi cult to quantify
in relation to products.
In this study the outline for such a methodology for sustainable packaging design will be presented.
Furthermore the experiences gained with using the methodology in one practical case study are
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presented. This study also discusses how the methodology can be further developed for practical use
in packaging design processes in companies. The study further contains a qualitative comparison with
other sustainability design tools.
SCOPE OF THE STUDY: PROBLEM DEFINITION
The main scope of the study is to present and discuss a comprehensive methodology for sustainable
packaging design, which takes into consideration, as many as possible, important requirements on
packaging solutions. The study will discuss experiences with the method in design of new packaging
solutions, and if the results are meaningful in relation to the purpose of developing sustainable pack-
aging solutions. A qualitative comparison with other methodologies will also be presented. The
method is intended to be used in real packaging design processes, as an input to idea generation in
the early phases, as decision support in choosing between alternative solutions from concept develop-
ment to fi nal design and as a system for declaration of the properties of packaging systems to the
customers and to society (authorities, consumers, etc.).
METHODOLOGY AND DATA
In this study, we will present a comprehensive methodology for sustainable packaging design, with
a set of methods that can be used throughout the design process. Not all methods have been used in
the case that is presented in the study, but all methods have been tested in one or more case studies
over the last fi ve years.
The methodology for sustainable packaging design has been developed with a basis in a number
of important preconditions:
1. The whole packaging system is considered as a combined system, including primary packaging,
secondary packaging and tertiary packaging.
2. Product and packaging systems are considered as interconnected in the method.
3. The whole distribution chain is included from packing process to consumption.
4. The whole life cycle of both the product and the packaging systems are considered, from raw
material extraction to the waste phase.
5. The effectiveness of the packaging and product systems are assessed in relation to a functional
unit (see LCA literature10), which in the case of a packaging system, is defi ned as ‘packing and
distribution of 1000 kg of product from a manufacturing company to the fi nal consumer’.
6. The external conditions that the packaging systems will meet in the distribution chain should
also be taken into consideration. Ideally, these conditions should be monitored. Important indica-
tors include temperature and humidity stress (and duration of stay under the specifi ed tempera-
ture and humidity), handling in transport, in storage and by the consumers as well as lead time
from production to opening by the consumer.
One important basic element in the methodology is the LCA method. LCA is a standardised10 and
widely used method. There have been several approaches to simplify LCA by focusing on some key
environmental and resource indicators, and/or only include part of the life cycle and/or the most
important processes in the life cycle of products. This should ideally be done based on knowledge
from full-scale LCA studies, where the main impacts and life cycle stages have been identifi ed (see
Hanssen9). For reference cases, specifi c data are used as far as possible. In the design process, this is
normally estimated based on available data from life cycle inventory data related to the different
materials and processes or activities.
The described method for sustainable packaging design consists, fi rst of all, of a number of methods
to characterise different properties in relation to the most important requirements of packaging
systems. These requirements can be grouped into the following main categories evaluated over the
whole life cycle and distribution chain:
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1. Environmental performance of the total packaging/product system.
2. Total distribution costs of the packed product. This includes, for example, cost of all materials
and processes along the distribution chain such as packaging, packing process, storage, transport
and retail costs.
3. Preservation of product quality.
4. Market acceptance, branding and exposure.
5. User friendliness.
In addition to the mentioned categories, the methodology contains an additional element: monitoring
of conditions in the distribution chain.
At the present state of development of the methodology, there is no weighting between the fi ve
categories into one or two common scores or indexes. All categories are thus regarded as equally
important. The method also contains no weighting between the indicators within each category, for
example, between material intensity and climate effect. However, there are presentation alternatives
that display many indicators in one diagram and in this way gain an overall view, e.g. spider diagram.
In the methodology, each of the fi ve categories contains a number of indicators. These indicators
are described below.
Environmental performance of the total packaging/product system.
Six different indicators have been defi ned in the methodology related to environmental and resource
impacts:
Gross material intensity (GMI). GMI shows total mass of packaging materials of fi ve main types
(fi bre, plastic, glass, metal and wood) that are used in the total packaging system. This parameter
takes reuse into account, by the functional unit. If packaging is reused, it carries more product, but
without the initial burdens of production of the raw materials and packaging. This parameter is an
indication of the total burden caused by material usage.
Net material intensity (NMI). NMI shows the mass of packaging materials that is not being recycled.
Net material intensity is thus an estimate for the total amount of packaging waste generated from the
systems. Recycling rates are based on data from the National Material Recycling Schemes in the
relevant markets. This indicator is a vital supplement to the gross material intensity indicator because
it shows how much material is not recycled into new products. If the NMI is low, it indicates that the
material used is fed into other applications, hence, reducing society’s total need for virgin
materials.
Degree of fi lling. This is divided into three indicators:
percentage of total volume of the pallet that is fi lled up with the secondary packaging,
percentage of total volume of primary packaging in secondary packaging and
Percentage of total volume of product in primary packaging. Degree of fi lling is thus a measure
of the effi ciency of the packaging system with respect to transport work.
This parameter is a very good indicator of transport effi ciency. Since the number of pallet spaces in
a lorry is fi xed and volume is normally the limiting factor, this parameter shows truck volume
utilisation.
Cumulative primary energy use. Cumulative primary energy use over the total life cycle and dis-
tribution chain of the packaging system is measured as total use of primary energy. Important con-
tributors to total energy consumption are production of packaging and its raw materials, the packing
process, transport and storage in refrigerators or freezers.
Greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions over the total life cycle and distribution chain
of the packaging system, measured in CO2-equivalents.
Amount of product waste. Amount of product waste generated from the whole distribution chain,
is measured in mass of product loss. The amount of product waste is used both to correct the amount
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of product that is necessary to produce and pack to make 1000 kg product usable for the fi nal con-
sumer, and to estimate potential improvement in environmental effectiveness and distribution costs
through improved packaging solutions.
Impacts from treatment of waste are accounted for in the indicators, e.g. energy recovered in incin-
eration of used packaging or emissions from land fi lling.
Total distribution costs of packed product
As far as possible, total distribution costs related to 1000 kg of packed product should be collected.
Examples include:
cost of packaging materials;
cost of packing process;
cost of transport from producer via wholesaler to retailer;
costs of handling by users along the distribution chain; and
cost of product loss.
The methodology will give a better focus on distribution costs rather than traditional cost calculations,
where cost per unit of packaging has been the most used criteria. Total distribution costs per 1000 kg
product will give a better overview when applying a functional approach to packaging design and
packaging purchasing.
Product quality preservation
Product quality preservation can be measured in a number of ways, depending on the type of product
and distribution solution (frozen, chilled, canned, etc.). Some examples of typical tests that can be
carried out to evaluate if a given packaging solution is fulfi lling requirements to product quality
preservation are:
microbiological analysis, normally carried out on well controlled test samples that are stored in
a laboratory to have the same external conditions as are assumed to be in the distribution chain
(Pettersen et al.,16 Larsen et al.,11 Hansen et al.6); and
sensory analyses where a test panel evaluate the quality of the product with respect to odour,
taste, colour, etc. All tests are done in accordance with standardised methods, where a qualifi ed
and trained test panel is used. Descriptive sensory profi ling (a QDA method) according to
‘Generic Descriptive Analysis’ described in Lawless and Heymann12 are performed using a
qualifi ed and trained panel (according to ISO 8586:1993) and laboratory design (according to
ISO 8589:1988).
Physical and chemical analysis of the product, e.g. pH, texture analysis, liquid and colour mea-
surements among others (Larsen et al.,11 Hansen et al.8)
All the tests are done repeatedly over a number of days or weeks until the shelf-life period is beyond
the defi ned quality limit set by food authorities or food standards. In the fi nal evaluation, the specifi c
quality factor which is the limiting factor in relation to shelf-life of the product.
Market acceptance, branding value and exposure
Market acceptance can be measured with two principally different approaches, depending on the stage
of development:
Studies of the response of potential customers to new design solutions, where test persons
are presented a number of alternative solutions, and asked to state their preferences. This can
be done either individually or as focus groups in test laboratories. There are also more sophisti-
cated test laboratories with ‘eye-seeking’ technologies available. These types of tests are nor-
mally done in different stages of the design phase, before the fi nal packaging solution is decided
upon.
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Studies of the response by customers after introduction of new solutions in the market, where
the sales results (total turnover and increase/decrease in turnover) compared with competing
solutions or with a reference solutions can be studied.
User friendliness
User friendliness related to packaging solutions can also be measured with two principally different
approaches:
Interviews or questionnaires fi lled out by key persons along the distribution chain giving their
opinions about alternative solutions for packaging, both reference solutions and potential new
solutions. Questions can be focused on prioritised requirements to packaging solutions or on
comparisons between alternatives. Those studies will show relative preferences by different users
or priorities of requirements the packaging is expected to fulfi l by users.
Quantitative observations of handling of packaging solutions in real life situations, for example,
the time needed to handle different solutions in the packing process, in repacking, in refi lling
shop shelves, in opening the packaging by the consumer and fi nally processing the packaging
into the waste collection system. Time can also be used as a basis for calculating costs of handling
by the different users group, and be one of the inputs to the distribution cost assessment as
described above.
The methodology for Sustainable Packaging Design also includes assessments of the conditions in
the distribution chain. The results are important as a basis for defi ning specifi c requirements to the
packaging solution. Detailed knowledge about these conditions can also be important to evaluate
strategies and options for improving the external conditions for the packaging system, as an alternative
or supplement to redesign of the packaging system itself.
The following conditions can be assessed as part of the study of the reference system in the sustain-
able packaging design methodology:
Lead time from production to the product normally is sold in the retail shops, estimated on the
basis of data from suppliers and from analysis made in a sample of retail shops.
Temperature conditions in the distribution chain, with special focus on transport and during
storage in shops. Temperature loggers are used to measure temperature conditions both within
primary packaging and in secondary packaging.
Lighting conditions, with special focus on light sensitive products like meat products, cheese,
fruits and vegetables, especially in the retail shops.
Presentation of results is, in our experience very important for the usefulness of the methodology.
Figure 1 shows the preferred presentation mode for the methodology. In this presentation mode the
indicators in four out of the fi ve main categories are shown. User friendliness is diffi cult to present
in such a way because it is a more complex area that is diffi cult to quantify. Even though some indi-
cators are missing, it can still be useful to display the full diagram. In this way, users of the results
are made aware of the fact that these indicators are missing.
Data gaps and data quality
Since this methodology contains many indicators, it is to be expected that data gaps will occur.
However, the method works without using all the indicators. Not all indicators are relevant for all
situations. Users should start with evaluating which indicators are meaningful for them. For example,
products aimed at professional users have different demands on them compared to products aimed
at regular consumers. Another example: food products have different quality and safety indicators
than other products. Hence, data gaps are often not problematic. If data gaps occur in chosen indica-
tors the problem could be dealt with by making estimates based on expert advice. Proxy data, e.g.
data from similar products or same product for slightly different purposes, could also be used to fi ll
data gaps. Data quality should be recorded. When the method has been used, usually some key indica-
tors can be identifi ed. If some data that is of vital importance to these key indicators are of a low
quality an attempt should be made to increase the quality of the data.
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Figure 1. Methodology for sustainable packaging design.
SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING DESIGN 169
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Use of the methodology in real cases
In the case study reported in this study, most of the assessment methods that are described in the
sustainable packaging design methodology have been applied and tested. However, so far all the
methods have not been used in the same case. Experiences from application of the methodology have
been gained in a number of cases being carried out with industrial companies, covering different ele-
ments of the total methodology.
RESULTS
The following presents the results from using the methodology in one case. In the case study, the
following main areas have been included: environmental effi ciency and effectiveness, distribution
costs, product quality preservation and user friendliness. Monitoring of the external conditions in the
distribution chain was also carried out in this case.
Fresh meat product
The case example is from a study where packaging solutions for three different meat products were
analysed. This was a part of a research project that focused on new and optimal packaging solutions.
The reference product and the product labelled ‘packaging 2’ are the same product with two different
packaging solutions. The product labelled ‘packaging 3’ is a third type of packaging solution, but for
a slightly different product. The reference product was a vacuum-packaged product, where the inten-
tion was to identify the main challenges with the existing solution, as input to the design of new
alternative packaging solutions. The other two included modifi ed atmosphere packing. The case study
focused on product quality and environmental impact.
The results for the reference product compared with the two alternatives are presented in Figures
2–6, where the score for the reference product is set as 100%.
Figure 2 shows the results from the environmental analysis. Six categories of environmental impacts
were assessed in this case study. The new solutions seem to have a higher environmental impact than
the reference case, as all of them are equal to, or worse than the existing solution for all key indica-
tors. Both gross material intensity, net material intensity, emissions of climate gasses and especially
energy consumption was signifi cantly higher than in the reference case. The amount of product waste
was not measured, during the short period of time for the project, but it was assumed to be no change
in product waste as a consequence of changes in packaging solutions.
Figure 3 shows distribution of costs. The method includes fi ve economic indicators (cost of loss of
product, cost of packaging materials, cost of packaging process, cost of transport from producer via
grocery stores to retail shops and cost of handling by users). In this case, four indicators are used;
Figure 2. Environmental Effi ciency.
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cost of packaging materials, cost of packaging process, cost of transport from producer via grocery
stores to retail shops and cost of handling by users. Loss of product was not assessed due to lack of
data. The analysis showed that the new solutions are more expensive than the old ones for all the
measured indicators.
Figure 4 shows product quality. The method includes the following quality indicators: microbiologi-
cal tests, water loss, oxidation due to light, texture quality, sensory tests and colour of product. The
two new products were assessed as equal regarding all the analysis. Packaging 3 seemed to give
slightly decreased quality on the microbiological tests and colour of product.
Figure 5 shows market acceptance. For market acceptance, market position of product group,
number of claims per year and market change per year are the suggested indicators. In this particular
case only, one indicator was used for all three cases. The indicator was market position of product
group, measured as total sales, see Figure 5. The sales fi gure was increased for both of the new pack-
aging solutions.
Figure 6 shows user friendliness. User friendliness indicates how easy it is to handle the packaging
(and packaged product) across the distribution chain all the way to the end consumer. This case study
did not include a comprehensive study of user friendliness of the product. A qualitative assessment
between the solutions was made based on the suggested key factors (‘easy to open by customer’, ‘easy
to handle in use’, ‘easy to handle as waste’, ‘easy to handle in transport’, ‘easy to handle in shops’).
No differences were found in the indicators: ‘easy to handle as waste’ and ‘easy to handle in transport’,
Figure 3. Distribution costs.
Figure 4. Product quality.
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since materials and transport systems were the same. The new solutions seem to be easier to open,
but they are a bit more sensitive to light and also need more complicated display systems in
shops. A subjective judgement by the project members (from whole value chain) gave the results in
Figure 6.
The study concluded that the new solutions are less environmentally effi cient and have higher
distribution costs whereas quality and the market acceptance were higher, relative to the original
product.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
Discussion of the methodology
In the study, we have described a holistic methodology for sustainable packaging design. The meth-
odology has been developed to assist packaging designers to evaluate all requirements to packaging
and product solutions throughout the packaging design process, and be able to balance between the
different requirements. It is intended to be used by cross-functional teams.
With respect to the sustainability aspect of packaging, the aim of the methodology is to evaluate
different options for improving environmental and resource effectiveness and effi ciency of specifi c
packaging systems. Another important aim has been to enable simulation how changes made in the
packaging system change environmental and resource impacts and other important characteristics
Figure 5. Market acceptance.
Figure 6. User friendliness.
172 E. SVANES ET AL.
Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Packag. Technol. Sci. 2010; 23: 161–175
DOI: 10.1002/pts
(economy, user friendliness, market acceptance) in the design process. The methodology as such is
not a guarantee for developing more environmental and resource effi cient packaging systems, as the
design team and the company still must fi nd a balance between the different properties of the packag-
ing/product system. In the end, market considerations might prevail. However, by making environ-
mental and resource impacts as well as distribution costs visible as part of the decision support, those
impacts will probably get higher priority in packaging design in the future. It is especially important
to implement such a methodology in the early phases of packaging design, as the degree of freedom
to fi nd more optimal solutions decrease further out in the process. By seeing all requirements in a
holistic perspective in the early phase, the design team might get ideas to solutions that give more
synergy.
In the development of the methodology, it has been necessary to fi nd a balance between compre-
hensiveness and usability. If the methodology is too complicated it will not be used.
Some important environmental and resource impacts are not included, like biodiversity, water
usage, build-up of persistent chemicals, sustainable management of resources and other impact catego-
ries other than the Greenhouse Effect. Regarding biodiversity and sustainable management of
resources, this can be addressed through certifi cation systems like the FSC Forest Certifi cation
Scheme. The proportion of renewable raw materials could also be included as a parameter. Other
indicators, like the build-up of persistent chemicals should be included in the methodology in cases
where this is found to be an especially important concern. Regarding other environmental impact
categories, studies have shown that most of them (e.g. acidifi cation and photochemical oxidant forma-
tion) are highly correlated with greenhouse gas emissions (Hanssen9). Greenhouse gas emissions is a
good indicator for all impact categories that are related to the use of fossil energy, but other LCIA
categories might be included when deemed necessary. The economic dimension of sustainability is
to some extent covered in the methodology, as the total cost of distribution is calculated, and not only
the unit cost of packaging. Environmental costs are included to some extent, as the cost of product
loss, cost of waste treatment and cost of packaging fees are part of the total distribution cost. Also
external costs related to GHG emissions can easily be included, as well as other types of impacts.
When the calculations are made in an LCA tool like, for instance, SimaPro, it is also quite easy to
calculate the costs of those emissions, based on available external cost factors.
The social dimension of sustainability is not covered in the present version of the methodology,
although user friendliness can be related to the occupational health of workers in the distribution
chain. As this methodology includes not only packaging, but also the packaged product, a large
number of social issues can be relevant. Examples of such issues are protection of workers and their
family’s health, the right to collective bargaining and the use of forced labour or child labour. These
are issues that are most pressing for products manufactured in developing countries where legislation
is weak or not enforced. These issues are diffi cult to quantify in a meaningful way and time-consuming
with little measureable gain. It is probably a diffi cult task, if at all possible, to create social indicators
that enable distinction to be made between e.g. packaging made from 85 grams PP and one made
from 100 grams corrugated board? In our view, it is much more effective to monitor performance in
the fi eld of social equity through minimum standards like the SA 8000, than making quantifi cations.
The methodology does not contain any advice, tool or method for valuation in the case of trade-off
situations. This is a deliberate choice. Such a valuation should be carried out by decision-makers, if
needed in cooperation with experts. One of the intentions of this methodology is to increase decision-
makers’ awareness of their products’ impacts. If the methodology contains valuation methods, the
result could conceal important information, such as the case with LCA weighting methods. The priori-
ties of decision makers are not necessarily the same as those who design the weighting factors. Another
reason for not including valuation is that we believe that decision makers are capable of doing valu-
ations themselves or getting advice from competent people. They are trained in making valuations. It
is an important part of their job.
The methodology in relation to other methodologies or tools
The methodology presented in this study can be seen as following the principles of the roadmap
presented by Waage.19 Based on our experiences in the LCA of products and packaging, we have
SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING DESIGN 173
Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Packag. Technol. Sci. 2010; 23: 161–175
DOI: 10.1002/pts
Table 1. Comparison of some packaging design tools.
Methodology
Characterisation Sustainable
Packaging Design
Olsmats & Dominic
(2002) scorecard
model Wal-Mart Packaging
Scorecard PIQET
Environmental
and resource
indicators
Waste
GHG emissions
Energy use
volume and weight
effi ciency, reduced
use of resources,
minimal use of
hazardous
substance,
minimal amount
of waste and
packaging
GHG emissions,
product / package
ratio, cube
utilization,
transportation
effi ciency, recycled
content, recovery
value, use of
renewable energy
Global warming /
climate change,
cumulative
energy demand,
photochemical
oxidation, water
use, solid waste,
and land use.
Economy Full distribution
costs
External costs
partly included
Costs N.m. N.m.
Social elements Not included N.m. N.m. N.m.
Combined system
packaging and
product
Both systems
included N.m. N.m.
Whole life cycle
considered Distribution chain
from production
to user
N.m. N.m. N.m.
Product loss
considered Product loss
included if data
are available
No No Uncertain
Product
protection Product protection
considered Product protection
considered N.m. Product protection
and shelf-life
User Friendliness User friendliness
considered N.m. N.m. N.m.
Market
acceptance Market acceptance
considered right amount and
size, product
information,
selling capability
N.m. Consumer
knowledge/
labelling.
N.m. = Not mentioned in description of the methodology.
defi ned what sustainability means in this context and described the most important environmental
effects caused by the products and packaging. However, the methodology cannot describe all envi-
ronmental effects of all packaged products in the world. The user of the methodology will have to
supplement if important issues have not been addressed. In addition to the sustainability issues raised
by Waage, this methodology covers many practical aspects that are important when designing packag-
ing solutions. If a packaging solution does not appeal to the market or is logistically very impractical,
it does not matter whether or not it is sustainable – it will not be used.
The methodology presented in this study has not been quantitatively compared to the other relevant
methodologies in parallel case studies. The reason is that most of the other methodologies are not
accessible for testing, since they are not fully open to the market. Thus, it is diffi cult to make a com-
plete evaluation of the methodology we present in this study compared to other available methodolo-
gies. However, as far as we can see from the descriptions that are given about the other methodologies,
we conclude that this is the most comprehensive and complete published methodology to be used in
sustainable packaging design. Use of the methodology is not a guarantee for designing more sustain-
able packaging systems, as the decisions regarding different properties and values in trade-off situa-
tions still has to be taken by the companies and the persons in the design process.
We have summarised the different methodological approaches discussed in the study in Table 1
above, based on the available descriptions of the methods in the literature.
174 E. SVANES ET AL.
Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Packag. Technol. Sci. 2010; 23: 161–175
DOI: 10.1002/pts
Experiences with application of the methodology
Experience from using this methodology shows that it gives a lot of benefi ts. Users have commented
that they get a good overview of the properties of a packaging/product system. They have said that
information gained from using the method have enabled them to make informed decisions regarding
which packaging to use or in what fi eld further development work should be directed
In the reported cases, the methodology has not been used in the full version. The focus has been
on product protection, economy and environmental protection. In our experience, the other main
categories such as market acceptance and user friendliness are diffi cult to evaluate to a full extent
before a product/packaging solution has been introduced into the market. In most cases, the best that
can be done regarding packaging solutions in the design phase is to make estimates based on experi-
ences from existing solutions. However, some methods exists that can give an indication of market
acceptance such as consumer focus groups. Users have reported that the benefi ts of the methodology
are not limited to the end results. The working method gives additional benefi ts. Working in cross-
functional teams raises awareness among the participants that the other aspects they are working with
are also important. It also reminds participants of the importance of working more closely together.
In such teams, professionals in the fi elds of marketing, logistics, environmental protection, quality
control and economy work together. They represent the actors in the distribution chain such as manu-
facturers, packaging manufacturers, transporters, wholesalers and retailers.
One potential drawback with this methodology is that it can be quite resource-intensive, especially
when it is used for the fi rst time in a company. Gathering of data can be problematic. Some of this
information is usually not readily available, especially in the early phases of the design process.
However, some data is easy to fi nd, such as volume, weight, packaging material, transport distances
and transport mode. Other data must be collected from the actors involved in the packaging develop-
ment or external actors. For example, data on product wastage in retail and wholesale is important
information, but can be diffi cult to obtain if no retailers and wholesalers take part in the project. In
many cases, it is very diffi cult or impossible to get specifi c data, i.e. on the environmental impact on
plastic production, but these data gaps can often be covered by generic information from databases,
e.g. from LCA software.
In cases where the methodology has been applied, it has sometimes been diffi cult to get complete
data sets on costs. Such information is often regarded by the actors as strictly confi dential. Often, they
do not want to reveal this data to the other actors in the distribution chain. In some cases, this barrier
is overcome when the analysis is done by a third party R&D institution under confi dentiality agree-
ments and if results are reported in a way that ensures that sensitive data are not possible to deduct
by competitors or customers. In other cases, it might be easier to get access to data if the analysis is
done by the internal project staff, especially when the distribution chain is highly integrated. Another
challenge has also been that many companies are not measuring real costs per unit of product, as often
only calculated costs or costs for whole product groups are available.
In a few cases, users of the methodology have expressed an initial diffi culty in assessing the results.
This has been caused by trade-off situations, i.e. a new solution can give increased sales and be easier
to use, but gives higher GHG emissions. Sometimes, even the environmental data can be confl icting,
i.e. higher material intensity, but lower climate impact. Trade-off situations can be diffi cult to handle,
but also give decision-makers valuable insights into the impacts of their products. In some cases, it
might be necessary for users to consult experts to get a more in-depth explanation of the results.
Need for further work
The methodology presented in this study has been developed through R&D projects in close coopera-
tion with packaging users and packaging producing companies, and has so far only been tested in a
few cases. There is certainly a need for more testing of the complete methodology in specifi c design
cases. This is important both to get experience with how the results from the analysis can be interpreted
and used as decision support by the design team, and to get more experiences with which elements
of the methodology should be used in different stages of the design process. It is important to recognise
that the methodology can give meaningful results although not all elements are used in a specifi c
design process.
SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING DESIGN 175
Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Packag. Technol. Sci. 2010; 23: 161–175
DOI: 10.1002/pts
Practical experience has shown that the indicators regarding environmental sustainability and pres-
ervation of product quality are the core elements of the methodology. They should not be omitted,
but other parts of the methodology could be omitted in some cases. Further applications of the meth-
odology in future practical tests together with packaging users and producers will give more experi-
ence and aid in the further improvement of the methodology.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This study has been made possible by grants from the Norwegian Research Council, the Food Program
and the Manufacturing Programs (Varemat and BIA). We would like to thank companies in the Norwegian
Food Industry and the Packaging Sector, especially the Packaging Optimisation Committee in Norway, for
their cooperation and support. We would also like to thank our colleague Barany Sotiraj for valuable
assistance to improve the English language.
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A comparison was made of the effect of different packaging materials on bacterial growth, off-odour, pH and colour of chicken breast fillets stored at 4°C. For one of the packaging materials, the effects of temperature (4°C and 8°C) and initial oxygen present (0%, 2% and 4%) on bacterial growth, off-odour, pH and colour in chicken breast fillets were also evaluated. Chicken breast fillets stored in the packaging material with the highest oxygen transmission rate (OTR) measured at actual storage conditions had the highest bacterial growth and the highest degree of off-odour. Chicken breast fillets stored in packaging material mainly consisting of expanded PET had similar bacterial growth and off-odour as in the barrier display film (BDF) packages, despite a smaller headspace volume and lower initial concentration of CO2. No differences in discoloration and pH of the chicken breast fillets, due to storage temperature and amount of initial oxygen present, were found when one of the packaging materials was studied. In the early phase of the storage period, Pseudomonas spp. constituted the majority of the total viable counts, while after about 12 days, lactic acid bacteria dominated. At the end of the storage period, both Pseudomonas spp. and Enterobacteriaceae were present in high numbers. Significant differences in counts of Brochothrix thermosphacta were only obtained with initial presence of oxygen. The storage temperature had greater impact on microbial growth and off-odour than the initial presence of oxygen in the packages. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Article
Pieces of pre-rigor filleted Atlantic salmon were modified atmosphere (MA)-packaged (60% CO2 and 40% N2) in eight different ways according to tray sizes (ml), gas/product ratios (g/p ratios), number of fillet layers and capacities of the CO2 emitters being used (based on the fish weight or on the surface area of the fish). All the samples were stored at 2°C for 21 days. Gas measurement showed that the CO2 emitter based on fish weight developed too much CO2, and the emitters based on surface area developed too less during storage. Samples with the lowest CO2 level in the headspace (emitter based on surface area), and also probably the lowest amount of absorbed CO2, had the highest bacterial growth after 17 days of storage for some of the samples. Both the pH and the bacterial growth were similar between the top layer and the bottom layer within the packages of more than one layer in each tray. This indicates that the CO2 was also available for the bottom layers. The liquid loss was similar for the trays with the different emitter types, but it differed between the tray sizes. A model based on the weight and surface area of the fish, and g/p ratio and capacity (ml) of the tray was made in order to more precisely calculate an optimal amount of the CO2 emitter ingredients because of a predefined CO2 level in the headspace. Copyright
Article
The effect of packages with different oxygen transmission rates (OTR), different gas-to-product-volume (GP) ratios, and various levels of residual oxygen after packaging on the color stability of cooked ham exposed to commercial retail light conditions was studied. Sliced cooked ham was packaged in thermoformed packages with OTR of 0.04 and 0.06 mL O2/pkg × 24 h and GP ratios of 2.6 and 4.1. After packaging, the packages were additionally divided into groups with 4 levels of residual oxygen ranging from 0.09% to 0.46%. The packaged ham was stored in darkness at 4 °C up to 33 d, and during the storage period samples were withdrawn and exposed to light for 2 d before instrumental and visual color evaluation. In order to maintain an acceptable color of this particular ham product when exposed to typical retail light conditions, the highest acceptable level of oxygen in the headspace of the packages was 0.15% oxygen at the time of illumination. This threshold level was independent of the storage time before light exposure. A residual oxygen level of below 0.15% just after packaging combined with the package with the lowest OTR (0.04 mL O2/pkg × 24 h) and the lowest GP ratio (2.6) was the optimal condition for maintaining the color of the tested ham product throughout the entire storage period.
Article
The proliferation of sustainability assessment principles, strategies, actions, and tools has created confusion about pathways forward for companies. It is unclear how existing approaches are complementary or distinct. How does a company assess current products and materials? How could designers create more sustainable products? What criteria, principles, approaches, and tools should be applied? Why? Is there a practical “road map” to guide product designers and product development managers in integrating sustainability issues into their decision-making processes?This article builds on previous frameworks for understanding the interconnections between various assessment principles, strategies, actions, and tools related to industrial ecology, human and labor rights, and corporate social responsibility [Waage S, Geiser K, Irwin F, Weissman A, Bertolucci M, Fisk P, et al. Fitting together the building blocks for sustainability: a revised model for integrating ecological, social, and financial factors into business decision-making. Journal of Cleaner Production 2005;13(12):1117–206; Robèrt K-H, Schmidt-Bleek B, Aloisi de Larderel J, Basile G, Jansen JL, Kuehr R, et al. Strategic sustainable development—selection, design and synergies of applied tools. Journal of Cleaner Production 2002;10(3):197–214; Robèrt K-H. Tools and concepts for sustainable development, how do they relate to a framework for sustainable development, and to each other? Journal of Cleaner Production 2000;8(3):243–54]. Expanding on past work, this piece suggests a “road map” for application by product designers and product development managers. A four-phase process is offered for integrating systems and sustainability perspectives into product design, manufacturing, and delivery decisions.