I think that one of the best places for a company to begin its sustainability journey is with its packaging. If you read my previous blog post, you know that the plastic in packaging has negative impacts on the environment. In most cases, companies can avoid these negative impacts without having to change their actual product, making it a great first step.
But just because it’s a great first step doesn’t mean it’s an easy one. Making changes to your packaging materials can be difficult. Something that will make it much easier is conducting a packaging audit before making any changes.
Doing an initial audit of your packaging materials will save your company from making hasty decisions. It will enable you to analyze the current and projected cost of material changes so that you can strategically plan. This ensures that your company will be able to sustain those positive impacts. Additionally, it will help quantify and track improvement over time.
Because your decision will be data-driven it should also be easier to find agreement with all members of your team. And again, since you won’t be changing your actual product (at this time), there shouldn’t be too many barriers.
Have I convinced you yet? 🙂
Packaging Audit How-To
There are two steps you can take to analyze your packaging materials.
Step 1 is to gather all purchase order receipts for packaging materials. The exact quantity of each material purchased, the pack size, as well as the price paid over the time period is all needed. This information will help compare the current packaging materials to other options. It is important to pay attention to the product size (example: packing tape length) when comparing prices. Use an excel sheet, example further down, to keep it straight. Even if you stop here, you will at least be able to compare sustainable alternatives and get an idea of additional costs or even cost savings.
Step 2 is to gather sales and shipment data to find the number of packages that were shipped during the same time period. Use this to estimate the cost of materials per shipment. The more reliable the inventory and sales data are the more accurate the estimate will be, but note that it is just an estimate. The only way to get a truly accurate result is to measure and use an exact amount of each material for each shipment/shipment type (ideal but takes discipline and process management).
Once Steps 1 and 2 are done, you could have a sheet that looks like this:
Now that we know the current picture, that data is used as a baseline to analyze more sustainable alternatives. Check out this example of comparing Box Tape, Bubble Wrap and Decorative Paper to more sustainable options:
If there are sales forecasts, calculate the added cost of switching materials and check if you can sustain that change over time. While the goal is to get to 100% plastic-free packaging, make sure to do it in steps the company can afford. And plan ahead! Be aware of current inventory levels as well as the lead time of the new material so that it can be ordered just in time. Stay on track by setting SMART goals – such as reducing spend on plastic packaging materials by 60% over 2 years.
There might not be enough cash flow to make immediate changes after conducting the audit. That’s okay. One strategy to combat this is to create packaging goals that are linked to company revenue. Once the company hits a targeted revenue goal, spend x amount of money toward packaging changes. Since the analysis has already been done, there will be a plan in place to follow through on that goal as soon as the revenue target is reached.
Sustainable Packaging to Consider
There are many companies that offer sustainable packaging solutions. If supporting local business is one of your values, I recommend researching companies near you and requesting quotes. I’m going to give you some examples of products from ULINE because they post their prices online. You don’t have to buy them from here, but this will give you an idea of what is readily available so you can compare quotes of local businesses.
- Plastic Free Craft tape – Link
- Corn Based Packing Nuts – Link
- Paper-based mailers/envelopes – Link
- Recycled Paper Bags – Link
You could also try an app like Shopify’s Carbon Offset so that customers have the option to offset the carbon their order is producing. If you don’t use Shopify, see if your platform has something similar.
With all that data collected, you can also conduct some additional analysis. For example, consider calculating the % of packaging materials (by weight or price) that are plastic. You could also include the % that is recyclable or compostable. Knowing this information will help your company create better goals!
If you conducted your own packaging analysis, contact me and let me know how it went! 🙂