Sustainable Packaging and the Five Stages of Grief

Sustainable Packaging and the Five Stages of Grief

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the sprawling Housewares Show at Chicago's McCormick Place, where more than 1,200 exhibitors showcased the best their companies and industry had to offer.

I took full advantage of the opportunity to conduct an informal "sustainability survey" as I visited each exhibitor's booth. I inquired about their green objectives and initiatives, and the responses varied tremendously. I suspect that to some degree, the exhibitors reflect the population as a whole.

As I listened to the varying comments on sustainability and packaging, I was reminded of the Kubler-Ross "Five Stages of Grief," which famously describe our natural and very human resistance to change. In my conversations with exhibitors, all five stages were clearly demonstrated as people reflected on how green is impacting their business.


I was very disappointed by the number of people who are still stuck in stage one and who really want to believe this environmental, sustainability thing is "going to blow over."

I am very sorry to admit that most of these people are of my generation. We "boomers" may have lived and perhaps even led America through one of the most turbulent times in our history but we tend to not accept change easily or quickly.

To be fair, many cited a litany of previous environmental fads that came went so I can understand why expecting this green season to pass may appear more sensible than addressing it. Some in this generation that stood for innovation, change and social responsibility is now simply out of touch.


I was very surprised to encounter some rudeness and even some hostility that went well beyond the "Why me?" attitude that often accompanies this stage. I sincerely believe that these are business people who, unlike the group above, recognize the change but are simply unprepared to deal with it. It is a confusing topic with few clear answers, so some degree of confusion and frustration is understandable.

The phrase, "Shoot the messenger" came to mind as a few exhibitors tried to convince me that I was perpetuating the problem by bringing it up.


This by far is the most troublesome group because they have already decided how to best "handle this problem" by doing as little as possible. Many of the people are not fully committed and see only the cost and not the benefit that could potentially be enjoyed by them and their company. Unfortunately, this is where half-hearted measures and deceptive compromise are born and flourish.


This group of people hides behind the convenient excuse: "All my packaging comes from overseas and they make those decisions." By avoiding that responsibility they can run but will never be able to hide from the inarguable fact that they are contributing to the problem, not the solution.

I sincerely saw hints of remorse and sadness in people who know they are not doing the right thing and live in fear that eventually their greenwashing ways will be exposed by a growing public awareness.


Here is where the hope is for the industry, if not the planet. I spoke to numerous companies who are making solid commitments and decisions to use better, more earth-friendly packaging materials and less of them.

They are working toward more local, domestic sources of supply that will reduce the carbon footprint of the products they sell and are sincere in their efforts to implement cradle-to-cradle thinking and processes. These bright people have figured out what the giant CPG companies already have discovered -- going green may cost time and money initially but it pays huge dividends in the long run.

Dennis Salazar is the president of Salazar Packaging Inc., a certified MBE (Minority Business Enterprise) company specializing in flexible packaging products, equipment and sustainable packaging solutions. A slightly different version of this essay originally appeared on SustainableIsGood.