Decarbonising the packaging supply chain

by Linda Smith of BetaDen North Cleantech Bootcamp

When the UK played host to COP26 in October last year, over 40 governments signed up to ‘the Glasgow Breakthroughs’ – a series of commitments to speed up the development of clean technologies to help achieve key climate targets by 2030. 

These commitments made decarbonising industry everyone’s business – from the smallest supply chain company to the largest contractor.

A combination of legal directives and customer pressure are quickly moving sustainability up the procurement agenda and every supplier is expected to have a sustainability roadmap. This lays out not only what the company itself is doing to improve its environmental performance, but also how that plays a part in helping customers achieve their sustainability goals. 

At the heart of each roadmap lies a commitment to identifying and reducing CO2 emissions, including emissions resulting from the organisation’s own operations (Scope 1), as well as its upstream and downstream activities (Scope 3). This means companies are now interdependent across their supply chains when it comes to achieving the industry’s Net Zero goals.

Reducing carbon emissions to Net Zero is a real challenge for the packaging industry, not least because of its diverse product mix (each with different carbon intensities and spread across different geographies). Many companies are already exploring the ‘quick wins’ – from switching away from single use plastics to making greater use of recycled and lower carbon materials – but while existing solutions will take companies some way along the road, delivering reductions at the scale required to drive emissions to zero means more innovative Cleantech solutions are required. 

Potential innovations are likely to include improving process heat recovery; exploring material resource efficiency, such as by using alternative substrates or ink blends; and reducing packaging volume and weight by, for example, finding innovative configurations for packaging products that require less material. There are challenges involved with bringing each of these ideas to market, not least of which is the time it takes to co-ordinate initiatives across the supply chain, but this is where specialist accelerators and agile bootcamp programmes have an important role to play. 

By investing time in these programmes, packaging companies gain access to a network of like-minded potential customers and development partners who can help bring their Cleantech innovation to life more quickly, supported by experienced Cleantech experts who can help navigate the ever-changing raft of standards, terminologies and reporting expectations.

As geopolitical pressures drive energy prices higher than even the most negative analysts predicted only a few months ago, harsh commercial realities mean the packaging sector needs to focus more than ever on innovation to reduce its emissions; the time for innovation is now.

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Written by Dominy Jones