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Sustainable supply-chain optimization is the process of ensuring that all aspects of the supply chain, from manufacturing to sales, are being done in the most optimal and energy efficient way [1]. This is an integral part of any manufacturing company and is especially true in the metal packaging industry. In the past metal packaging has been seen as an energy intensive and non-emissions friendly process, but this is no longer true. With an optimized supply chain and higher rates of recycling metal packaging is actually a more carbon emission friendly process than plastic packaging. A sustainably optimized supply chain produces 1.87 tonnes of CO2-e per tonne of aluminium and 2.2 tonnes of CO2-e per tonne of plastic produced [2,3]. This is an easy way for companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint to make a change. For a supply chain to be sustainably optimized there are a few areas that need to be reviewed: overall production efficiency, the metal packaging supplier, transportation, and sales.

Overall, supply chain efficiency is understanding where, how, and the timing of all production and shipments. By actively tracking each part of the process a company can choose how to best allocate its resources. In the metal packaging industry this starts with having good communication with a reliable supplier to get the correct amount of product at the correct time. This lets companies plan ahead to have the products they use in conjunction with packaging ready to meet the demands of the quantities needed in stores. It is a great cost benefit as products will rarely run out of stock, permitting higher sales. Additionally, less energy is wasted transporting and storing excess products. Optimizing this portion of the supply chain is highly variable by individual company requirements, but a few examples are having data on ongoing machine production rates, real time tracking data on shipments, and automated warehouse robots and processes [4].

Purchasing from a reliable and environmentally friendly metal packaging manufacturer is another important step in sustainably optimizing a supply chain. Aluminum and tin are both energy intensive processes that can be very polluting. Two key points that should be met by suppliers claiming to use sustainable metal packaging are that their metal is sourced from reduced CO2 sources and uses recycled materials when available. For example, one 1 ton of recycled aluminum saves the use of 40 barrels of oil compared to new aluminum [5]. This makes a huge difference in CO2 production when there is large scale production. Purchasing companies can recognize sustainable metal packaging suppliers through having open discussions with them and looking for endorsements by agencies focused on sustainability, like Metal Packaging Europe’s “Metal Recycles Forever” logo. Metal Packaging Europe focuses on increasing recycled metal use in Europe and has sustainability guidelines that must be met by companies wishing to have their endorsement.

After buying metal packaging it is shipped to the purchasing company. The shipping process is an area that typically creates a large amount of carbon waste as most forms of transport are fossil fuel intensive, like trucks, boats, and trains. Trucks use.001kg fuel per ton of product for each kilometer of travel(kg fuel/ton * km), boats use .004 kg fuel/ton * km, and trains .031 fuel/ton * km [6,7]. Choosing a less energy intensive form of transport is ideal, but in some cases the most favorable mode of transport is not feasible, like using trucks for extremely long distances or over oceans. In this case it is also important to focus on buying more local metal packaging products when available. This reduces the distance of travel for shipments, effectively reducing CO2 production in the process. Lastly, it is good to purchase in bulk, so the number of times the product is transported is reduced. 

The last step is the sale of a final product using the metal packaging. The optimization of this process is focused on using packaging in the most efficient way. Products do not need to have huge, elaborate packaging with a lot of waste. It is often more ideal to have minimalist, practical packaging that can be reused again and again. Not only does this reduce the amount of metal packaging required, effectively reducing costs and CO2 production, but it can actually be a benefit for marketing. A study by Unilever found that 21% of consumers would actively choose to purchase products that hold sustainable logos and designs [8]. Integrating sustainable practices into a metal packaging supply chain opens up companies to support from a variety of environmentally mindful agencies, like the Green Business Bureau [10].

Sustainable supply chain optimization does have many benefits, like reducing emissions, increasing efficiency, and creating a more reliable flow of production. On the alternative it does come with a few drawbacks, mainly it can sometimes make a supply chain more expensive from having increased use of technology or more stringent environmental monitoring. In the short term these downsides can seem daunting, especially for smaller companies, but in the long term it can translate to improved sales and company longevity. Sustainable supply chain optimization can be a long process that encompasses many of the major inputs for a company. In the metal packaging world there are suppliers, like Desjardin, that are working towards producing sustainable products and it is the responsibility of purchasing companies to actively work with these organizations to reduce overall CO2 emissions.

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[1] "What is Sustainable Supply Chain Management? (2018)", by Doug

[2] "Aluminium smelting greenhouse performance"  (retrieved April 2020), by

[3] Plastic bags and plastic bottles co2 emissions during their lifetime (retrieved April 2020), by Juerg

[4]"Supply Chain 4.0 – the next-generation digital supply chain (2016) ", by Mckinsey

[5] "Metal Recycles Forever (2019)" by Eric Stefan Kandelin Koons

[6] “Documentation for Greenhouse Gas Emission and Energy Factors Used in the Waste Reduction Model (WARM) (2016)” , by United States, Congress, Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. ICF International.

[7]"Factbox: Aluminum cans get boost from anger over plastic pollution (2019)" by Reuters

[8] Packaging: How to create a more sustainable supply chain (2018) by Jonny Williamson

[10] Green Business Bureau (retrieved April 2020), by

Topics: Sustainability, Supply Chain, Food, Cosmetic Packaging