UPS's New Green Label for Eco-Friendly Packages

UPS's New Green Label for Eco-Friendly Packages

Companies that meet United Parcel Service's new green standards for responsible packaging can ship their goods with a label attesting to that fact under an assessment program the carrier introduces today.

Through its Eco Responsible Packaging Program, a new contractually based service the company is calling the first of its kind, UPS will evaluate a customer's shipment packaging processes in three key areas -- damage prevention, right-sizing and packaging materials.

Businesses and other customers whose transportation packaging (also called secondary packaging) meets UPS's standards are entitled to use this label with the program's logo on all goods that are shipped according to the approved process:

UPS Eco Responsible Label{related_content}"This is precedent setting," said Anne Johnson, director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which was among the organizations UPS consulted in developing its program.

UPS uses the coalition's Compass software in its new program. The software application enables users to see the lifecycle impacts of package design choices and compare various options, making it an important tool in UPS's evaluation process and its work with customers in the program.

Identifying the most responsible and effective packaging for any given client is at the heart of the service, according to Arnold Barlow, manager of sustainability solutions for UPS’s Customer Solutions group. And determining the most responsible approach depends on a customer's needs and the goods they are shipping.

"Customers need to package (their goods) so things are not damaged in transit," said Barlow. "That's single most sustainable thing you can do. If you have to replace something, that more than doubles the carbon footprint of your supply chain." During the course of its evaluation, UPS runs simulation tests to gauge whether a customer's packaging can withstand the stresses of transit.

Jubilations CheesecakeRight-sizing transportation packaging is the next consideration. "Ideally you want your transportation boxes no bigger than they need to be" in order to contain and protect the product being shipping -- and maximize use of space in delivery vehicles, Barlow said.

The third segment of the UPS review looks at packaging materials -- their makeup and that of any filler used inside the secondary packaging. "We do a lifecycle analysis of those materials," Barlow said. Source location, biodegradability, whether items are in fact widely recycled (as opposed to merely being recyclable) and whether renewable resources are used to produce materials are all taken into account, he said.

On-site audits of customers' shipment packaging process are also part of the UPS assessment. The company's methodology has been verified by the Société Générale de Surveillance, an inspection, verification, testing and certification company.

The Eco Responsible Packaging Program grew out of UPS's efforts to "develop something that can help customers understand and apply sustainable packaging to transportation of their merchandise," said Barlow.

Cheesecake also played an important role in the development of the service, according to others familiar with the program. Lessons learned in working with Jubilations Cheesecake, a popular regional business in Columbus, Miss., were applied in creating the program launching today.

Jubilations Cheesecake, a popular regional business, wanted to extend its reach about five years ago and grow its mail-order business. But that initiative couldn't get off the ground without better shipment packaging and a more cost-effective way to send the cheesecakes around the country.

The firm had shipped individual cheesecakes via next-day services for several years, said George Purnell, the head of Jubilations. But the costs for air shipment were soaring. And at the time, ground transportation was an option only in the immediate four-state area because of the race to get the cakes to their destinations while they were still cool and fresh. Jubilations' packaging back then could maintain those qualities only for a day.

That's where UPS stepped in to help.

key lime cheesecakeFor Jubilations, Purnell said, the two most critical areas of assistance involved:

  • Calculating the right dimensions for the cheesecake company's transport packaging -- size being a factor in packaging costs as well as shipping rates.
  • Testing various packaging materials in simulated conditions that factored in the perishability of cheesecake and temperatures in the South.

As a result, Jubiliations changed its packaging and, based on the findings of the UPS lab tests and materials consideration, sought a solution from Sealed Air and its Instapak line.

The outcome? With packaging that keeps cheesecakes fresher for longer periods, Jubilations cakes can now reach two-thirds of the U.S. in three days or less at substantially lower costs to the company -- and ultimately for the customer -- and with a significantly smaller carbon footprint, Purnell said.

UPS World PortTruth be told, however, the main consideration was not greening company's supply chain, he said. "I'm an Eagle Scout -- I've always been respectful of the environment and nature," said Purnell. "Quite honestly, we did this for the economics involved and because of the marketing motivation."

Jubilations now makes about 50,000 cheesecakes a year with more than half sold via online and mail order, he said.

While his company's work in sustainable packaging and shipping predates UPS's new program, Purnell said the process is ongoing and will continue to adapt as new technology, increasingly efficient packaging and carrier practices evolve.

BSR, a global business network and sustainability consultancy that counts UPS among its network members, also anticipates the same will apply to UPS's program.UPS distribution

"Based on our review of the program ... we believe that it represents an important contribution to evolving industry practices in the area of supply chain sustainability," BSR Senior Vice President Eric Olson said in a written statement provided to UPS.  "(T)here are few standards or clear criteria governing transport packaging and, as a result, its environmental impact is often overlooked."

"While the creation of the Eco Responsible Packaging Program is a welcome development, its continued evolution is even more important," Olson also wrote.

He said BSR supports UPS's stated intention to engage with more stakeholders and urges the carrier to provide greater transparency by publishing specifics for its program criteria.

More information about the Eco Responsible program is available at The service follows a carbon-offset program that UPS rolled out last fall. UPS expects to announce the first participants in the new program later this spring, Barlow said.

Cheesecake photos courtesy of Jubilations. All other images courtesy of UPS.