Author: Chris Fiander, Marketing Manager, Westpak
‘Sustainability’ has become a major component of the consumer mindset throughout the foodservice packaging industries and beyond. The downside to this rapid increase in awareness has become clear, with the market being flooded with clichéd terminology and near-meaningless declarations of environmentalism. The issue of green-washing has long been highlighted. However, this concept rests on the assumption that businesses understand sustainability issues and are choosing to mislead consumers. I would argue that much sustainability terminology has unfortunately moved beyond this, whereby many businesses aren’t necessarily concerned with understanding complex sustainability issues that surround their products. As such, large amounts of sustainability terminology are in danger of not just being misleading, but losing meaning altogether.
How do we fix this?
The solution may be straight forward: the proliferation of accurate, detailed sustainability data that uses widely-recognised metrics. Interestingly, there are several systems to provide such clarity, ranging from the complex to the streamlined.
On the more complex side, there are methodologies that assess carbon footprints from two viewpoints. The first focuses on ‘single issue methodologies’ (relating to climate change emissions) and the second looks at methodologies that assess a wider range of environmental criteria. (‘PRé Sustainability’ provides an excellent overview on this).
There are also more simplified systems that seem to have been developed with packaging as a core consideration. ‘Foundation Earth’, and ‘My Emissions’, for example, both provide simple systems for sustainability packaging labelling.
Why hasn’t this worked?
While these systems have gained traction, there is an issue that with multiple frameworks providing graphical representations of sustainability data, the system itself remains complex for consumers. Additionally, by presenting complex environmental assessments as simple graphics, it could be that the complexities around environmental assessment hasn’t directly been resolved, but rather replaced with ambiguity. Other causes of confusion could include whether the labelling applies to the food, the packaging or both. Many of these simplified systems are also primarily designed for use on grocery packaging, rather than within the foodservice industry.
Our focus on transparency
When launching our ‘Crave’ foodservice packaging range, we assessed how best to communicate the range’s level of sustainability. We provided genuine meaning to each sustainability claim, painting a full picture with data where possible. For example, the range is ‘recyclable’/’re-pulpable’ and ‘industrially-compostable’ with containers manufactured from lightweight fibres that drive resource efficiency. We also highlighted that these fibres are from FSC-certified, European paper-mills and ‘window’ options are made from NatureFlex™, a ‘home-compostable’ cellulose film.
A more transparent future?
As quantifiable sustainability metrics become more refined, we hope the foodservice industry adopts a greater emphasis on packaging to convey such information. Alternatively, with packaging as a platform for sustainability metrics arguably being less immediate in foodservice than in grocery environments, we’d love to see increased communication between foodservice brands and packaging suppliers around the measurable details relating to ‘sustainability’ claims. This in-depth understanding and communication around packaging attributes is something we’re proud to focus on with each of our clients.
Author: Chris Fiander