Drivers, barriers and performance outcomes of sustainable packaging

by Alex Cosper on January 28, 2022

Three key barriers exist that limit the development of sustainable packaging. Those barriers are cost/benefit ambiguity, additional costs, and trade-offs between package requirements. These barriers partly relate to company size. Here's a look at how a focus on environmental issues will help lead businesses toward sustainable packaging solutions.

Development of Sustainable Packaging

A primary concept associated with sustainability is a waste reduction in all phases of business, particularly manufacturing and packaging. About a third of municipal waste in industrialized nations is comprised of packaging materials. In developing countries, however, only 15-20 percent of waste is due to packaging. Up until this century, a high percentage of packaging material was intended to be wasted.

The concept of sustainable packaging (SP) has emerged as a solution to improve environmental, social, and economic conditions. This set of principles can improve sustainability in both vertical and horizontal markets, as well as in product-packaging integration. The drivers, barriers, and outcomes of sustainable packaging have been analyzed by researchers Karima Afif, Claudia Rebolledo and Jacques Roy, who have shared insights in a recent Canadian study published at Emerald Insight.

Drivers of Sustainable Packaging

  • Integrative and collaborative supply chain
  • Environmental capabilities and resources
  • Market-based instruments
  • Cost reduction
  • Consumer pressure
  • Competitive advantage
  • Regulatory pressure

Barriers of Sustainable Packaging

One of the main barriers to sustainable packaging is the consumer perception of greenwashing, which is an empty stance posing as environmental. Consumers are becoming increasingly more knowledgeable about waste reduction and are interested in decreasing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. Many people see attempts to go greener as confusing and out of touch with practical solutions. Meanwhile, businesses must invest to achieve more efficient logistics that provide better environmental protection.

Multiple stakeholders throughout supply chains must coordinate to make SP viable for all suppliers. Sometimes different entities within supply chains have conflicting requirements for integral functions. The solution ultimately hinges on optimal balance between logistics, marketing and decisions on environmental packaging.

Performance Outcomes of Sustainable Packaging

The food and beverage industry accounts for one of the biggest sources of packaging waste because of how often people shop for groceries. Many food and beverage producers view regulatory pressure as an opportunity to reduce waste and optimize packaging. But it will take investments in innovative technology and a deeper recognition of natural-resource-based view (NRBV) theories.

NRBV was developed by author Stuart L. Hart at Cornell University in 1995. This work focused on the links between pollution prevention and corporate profitability. The research foresaw the need for environmental strategies to gain competitive advantages. During the mid-nineties there were no major manufacturers standing out with clear visions of sustainable development. Since then NRBV theories have developed to put more emphasis on protecting the enviromment as well as reducing economic waste.

Manufacturers are increasingly turning to measures that involve reusing, recycling and recovery of packaging materials discarded by consumers. The eco-design of product-packaging must now encompass integrative theories that help the environment and promote customer satisfaction. The most influential concerns in this transformation are cost and quality, which require collaboration between supply chain members. Large firms that target mass consumers are currently in a better position to take proactive steps toward more eco-friendly product-packaging.


Steps toward greener product-packaging are underway on a wide scale throughout the global business community. While SP drivers among businesses are mainly cost-oriented, government and consumer pressure to adopt more sustainable solutions is growing. Cutting waste is a top priority, as studies show businesses can achieve additional savings internally by making logistics more efficient. The operational performance will improve with a more proactive and integrated supply chain.

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[1]  Drivers, barriers and performance outcomes of sustainable packaging: a systematic literature review (2021), by Karima Afif, Claudia Rebolledo, Claudia Rebolledo, Jacques Roy

[2] A Natural-Resource-Based View of the Firm: Fifteen Years After (2011), by Stuart L. Hart Glen Dowell

Topics: Sustainability, Supply Chain

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