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Green Packaging goes Beyond Size

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Sustainable Packaging Goes Beyond Size

by Walmart on 08.22.11   Business & Politics
Photo credit: FotoosVanRobin/Creative Commons

This guest post was written by Ronald Sasine, senior director of packaging at Walmart.

When you buy a product, your decision drives a series of environmental impacts. Imagine the benefits if everyone considered the impact of packaging as part of their buying decisions, benefits measured in the billions of pounds of packaging manufactured, shipped and disposed of each year.

When we talk about more sustainable packaging at Walmart, we’re focusing on more than just smaller packaging. We’re looking at the entire life cycle of packaging and knowing that improvement can take many forms:

Rethinking a product. A few years ago, we began selling only concentrated liquid laundry detergent. By urging our suppliers to reexamine their products’ formulation, we eliminated hundreds of millions of pounds of packaging and saved natural resources.

Rethinking a process. By simply stacking Galaxy box fans differently on a shipping pallet, we saw annual savings of 10,000 pounds of plastic and 113 fewer trucks on the road, reducing diesel use by 12,600 gallons and freight costs by $150,000.

Rethinking a presentation. By working directly with our large toy suppliers, Walmart has been able to eliminate the frustrating wire ties used to secure toys in packaging. This effort will keep more than a billion feet of wire out of the landfill annually.

One other thing to notice about these changes—you don’t just find them at Walmart. As we work with suppliers to find better options, those improvements are showing up on the shelves of other retailers, increasing the impact we can have beyond our own “four walls.”

Walmart has a goal to reduce our packaging by 5% by 2013 (using a 2008 baseline), and we’re making significant progress. Of course, it hasn’t always been easy. We’re working to ensure that improved packaging still protects the products we sell, and we’re working with our customers and members to gain their acceptance. Some packaging changes have taken longer for customers to understand and endorse.

When we announced our package reduction goal in 2008, some of our suppliers saw a great opportunity and jumped in to partner with us on some creative changes. But not everyone was convinced it was right for business. Some suppliers worried about changing their processes, while others worried about investing in new equipment. However, when they realized how serious we were about packaging and that we would work with them and reward them for better packaging, they became very enthusiastic about the effect they can have on the industry by, well, thinking outside the box.

Better packaging benefits everyone along the supply chain, from the manufacturer to the customer. Walmart’s private label wine, Oak Leaf, is a great example. The manufacturer found a way to reduce the amount of glass used in the bottle by changing the design of the neck and reducing the punt (the dimple on the bottom of a wine bottle). In addition to reducing packaging weight by 8 million pounds, carbon dioxide by 3,100 tonnes and taking 280 trucks off the road, these simple changes reduced the price of Oak Leaf by 20 cents per bottle.

We’ve made many of the easy changes; now it’s time to tackle the more difficult challenges like installing new packaging equipment to that requires long-term planning and partnership with our suppliers.

Working toward more sustainable packaging isn’t optional; it’s a priority and it’s a large part of our business plan. For suppliers it’s a chance to differentiate themselves from their competitors. For Walmart it’s an opportunity to provide more value to our customers, to be innovative, think creatively and make changes that can improve the retail industry.

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