No manufacturer would be blamed if they put operational sustainability plans on the back burner during the current environment. The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting daily life with disruptions in global businesses and economies, sorting and recycling facilities closing and government regulations relaxing on resource efficiency compliance. Yet it seems sustainability will surely survive this moment, which means manufacturers must stay vigilant.
Consumers continue to purchase sustainable products and support like-minded brands in this new environment. The latest sustainability research by NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business found that sustainability-marketed products and sales continue to grow despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers realize they can influence brands to “do the right thing” for the environment, so companies that don’t pursue sustainability strategies will be increasingly left behind.
This consumer pressure means packaging manufacturers need to keep up their sustainability goals and plans to survive the disruptions of today and thrive and succeed tomorrow.
Tackling sustainability does not need to be a one-manufacturer show. It can be shared and developed through alliances with environmental and recycling associations to advocate for global sustainability and decrease the variability of recycled resources that are integrated into supply chains.
Shifting from Traditional Processes to Adaptive Enterprise Management
Packaging manufacturers have done a good job of embracing some of the 5Rs of sustainability such as reducing and reformatting. More sustainable packaging solutions are being designed and some formulas now use less raw materials. Manufacturers are also reducing their carbon footprints in production by using more renewable resources and less energy.
Source: The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies (PMMI)
However, more might have to be done by packaging manufacturers. Traditional processes and systems will hinder a manufacturer’s ability to respond to rapid changes and demands. So, becoming an adaptive manufacturing enterprise, with real-time intelligence, revolutionary innovations and agility, means packaging manufacturers can rapidly respond to disruptions, increased demands and future industry challenges. Developing an enterprise approach across an organization will help create more impactful sustainability practices, thus increasing operational efficiency, reducing costs and resources and building a reputable sustainability program that is respected by customers and consumers.
Areas of Sustainable Improvement in the Packaging Business
The demand for high-sustainability packaging will mount as compliance pressures return and consumer demands increase. That means sustainable packaging manufacturing is not going to disappear any time soon. Smart packaging manufacturers who shift efforts to an enterprise approach will have an advantage in improving their impact on the environment.
An adaptive enterprise system can help increase sustainability across a business in several areas including:
- Efficient Formulas and Ingredients: Managing daily sustainability changes is a challenge, but packaging manufacturers can stay ahead of the curve by rapidly tweaking and executing their formulas and manufacturing processes with a next-generation enterprise system. This provides real-time, accurate data and agile processes to track and trace formula changes to ensure resins and components from reusable sources do not sacrifice quality or performance.
- Connected Supply Chains: Working with renewable material suppliers who are either too new or too lean to have robust systems in place can pose a major integration challenge. Due to the nature of the recycling industry, the supply stream isn’t always steady, and the quality can have significant variability. When a packaging manufacturer strives for adaptability, they’re able to gain more agility with real-time connections to all supply chain stakeholders, including those with less mature setups. For example, a low-cost, low-tech portal can be linked at one end of the spectrum to a full-blown cloud-managed EDI at the other end for quicker responses to changes and disruptions.
- Better Compliance: Sustainability brings about the need for unremitting compliance and stringent regulations. Government agencies globally are also tightening regulations. An adaptive enterprise system offers real-time traceability — important evidence of sustainability up and down the supply chain — and it keeps everyone vigilant throughout the manufacturing process. This will lead to a rapid response to changes, better production or logistic issues monitoring and quick traceability of resources to make the manufacturer more adaptable and prepared.
- More Preemptive Data: Adding digital technology to packaging manufacturing generates a huge amount of data that can be harnessed by manufacturers, not only to record and audit past events but also to predict future events. By taking data from ubiquitous sensors and loading them into machine learning, automation or artificial intelligence technologies, a manufacturing business can predict when a machine will go out of tolerance or even fail. This will help an intelligent packaging manufacturer preempt the failure — re-set the machine or perform maintenance — and increase quality, reduce rework or scrap, optimize material usage, reduce utility consumption and increase sustainability. This ultimately keeps customers happy today, tomorrow and into the future.
- Moving to the Cloud: When migrating to an adaptive enterprise system, packaging manufacturers might consider a cloud deployment solution that accesses low or no-code development without the traditional “lock-in” caused by more complex, customized systems. Next-generation enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and supply chain solutions can be securely scaled, deployed, and easily extended to an cloud-based solution without sacrificing dependability. These offer economies of scale, lower costs of entry, and consistent updates and deployment with a knowledgeable team of industry experts. The IT infrastructure, expenses and personnel budgets can then be redirected to more flexible, productive assets that will be useful across the organization.
The Time is Ripe for Packaging Manufacturers to Take Sustainable Action
Smart packaging manufacturers should not abandon efforts to improve their impact on the environment, and they must stay focused on long-term sustainability success. They can take steps to expand manufacturing operations with integrated sustainability practices and more agile, adaptable processes to continue to be compliant, cost-effective and sustainable. Packaging manufacturers can seize opportunities today to redesign their businesses and processes for a safe and sustainable future for everyone.
Learn more best practices for implementing integrated sustainability in packaging manufacturing by downloading our Managing Sustainability Burdens in Packaging Manufacturing white paper.