Ideas about what makes a product or packaging truly sustainable can vary widely. That's why the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) set to work on creating a common definition of "sustainable packaging." Originally released in late 2005, the definition was updated for the first time this month, with the SPC putting more emphasis on the impacts of packaging throughout its entire life.
Among minor wording changes and addition, the SPC redefined sustainable packaging as made from materials "healthy throughout the life cycle," rather than the former "healthy to all probable end of life scenarios." The original wording focused material selection only on the impacts of packaging being tossed in a landfill, being recycled, being composted or being reused or disposed of in other ways. The new wording expands the scope to include impacts related to raw material extraction, processing and use.
The SPC's changes say it's not enough to be disposed of without negative impacts; packaging materials shouldn't have negative impacts during other phases as well.
Definitions and common understanding of widely-used terms related to sustainability and environmental impacts are key to moving companies' green efforts forward. The Federal Trade Commission last year revised its "Green Guides," a series of green marketing guidelines, in response to the explosion of eco-themed phases and claims made by marketers.
While the FTC's guides are focused on what companies are saying to consumers about products and packaging, the SPC's work has aimed to also get companies, their suppliers and other players all on the same page when bringing the concept of sustainability to their packaging decisions.
Bottle packaging image CC-licensed by Svadilfari/Flickr