The Link between Sustainable Packaging and Competitiveness in Supply Chains

by Dawn M. Turner on February 09, 2022

Sustainable packaging materials, such as metal, are becoming important to broader supply chain sustainability. At the same time, every link in a supply chain should be focused on sustainable solutions that make logistics more economically efficient and eco-friendly. Paying attention to improving Service Parts Logistics (SPL), which involves ordering replacement parts, is a crucial key for supply chains to evolve toward sustainability.

Multifunctional Roles of Supply Chains

Every supply chain is complex to the degree it usually involves multiple suppliers who must coordinate activities to collaborate on shipping projects. The main function of a supply chain is to transport product units from point A to point B in a timely and accurate manner. But it's also important that packaging designers contribute to this flow of materials and information.

While different entities within a supply chain have their own agendas, every player can benefit from the synergism of sustainable solutions. Cutting waste is one of the top priorities in the quest for utilizing every square inch of space possible. One of the most wasteful moves in this process is when a retailer orders a surplus of items it can't possibly sell due to making faulty forecasts. Gauging demand accurately at the retail level is a big factor in moving toward sustainability.

Impact of Packaging Design

A core fundamental for a supply chain to achieve sustainability begins with packaging design. Different suppliers in the chain should monitor the development of sustainable packaging and contribute new ideas that make packing and unpacking easier. The size, shape and weight of packaging has a profound effect on shipping volume. The more units you can fit into a container without compromising quality, the more potential for higher profits.

Using Objective Data to Evolve

Packaging design alone will not promote sustainability throughout the supply chain. The design must be a culmination from useful objective data from all the different suppliers within the chain. A package design that's perfect for warehousing might not be the ideal design for the retailer or the consumer. Ideally, each supplier is connected with a central database that shares data.

Diversity in Design Requirements for Different Departments

Packaging design must be a compromise between the different departments of a manufacturing operation for all players to benefit. That's why it's important to gather feedback from each supplier about how efficient the package is for storage and transport. Here's a look at how different departments perceive ideal packaging:

Commercial Department

Size differentiation is an important element to maximizing shipping conditions. It can make a difference in reducing the number of products that are damaged during shipping. The commercial department often favors different sizes of packages to correspond with different market segments. One product line might come in three or more different sizes. The challenge is for packaging designers to create ways to ensure the safety of products when different sizes are bundled together.

Production Department

Standardized packaging is a legitimate concern among production departments to improve how product units are stored and transported. Using standard configurations is key to improving the speed and performance of the production. Standardization also contributes to a more accurate count of units being shipped.

Purchasing Department

The main concern of the purchasing department is that there is a reliable supply of available goods that meets demand and the needs of cost-efficiency. A purchasing agent doesn't want to deal with a wholesaler that's always low on supplies, which can drive prices up and slow down the shipping process.

Logistics Department

Maximizing volume is what the logistics department wants to achieve in its path toward sustainability. A 3PL improves its service through calculations and predictions of how much volume it can handle per day. Logistics firms invest in automated picking and packing machines to help account for labor constraints. As a result, they are able to move items faster than a traditional logistics firm. Modern logistics firms are also equipped with machine learning software that helps predict volume and delivery schedules.

Quality Control Department

The quality control department these days must be focused on not just product quality, but also reduction of production waste as well as wasted space in shipping. Product quality is still the top priority, so quality control analysts must be open to compromises within the supply chain. They are more likely to recommend maintaining a product's size if data shows consumers consider size an important factor. But in cases in which size matters, but the weight doesn't to the consumer, the quality control team might recommend reducing packaging weight.

Packaging Manufacturers

Ultimately, packaging manufacturers play a critical role in shaping sustainability for supply chains. The type of packaging and wrapping equipment in which the firm invests must contribute to efficiency in how suppliers work together. Ideas at the packaging design level should take into account the entire supply chain, including how it's handled by third-party logistics (3PL) companies and retailers.

Developing a Holistic Approach to Logistics

In many ways, retailers have the final say in how a packaging design fills shelf space to attract consumers. But no one in the supply chain can afford to forget that without consumers, products are just objects that take up space. The more the products sit unused in inventory, the less chance they'll be sold within a short-term time frame.

In the case of supply chain bottlenecks caused by ocean shippers who tie up busy ports, every supplier must rethink the entire process. Each player must become more aware of alternatives to regular logistics. It becomes increasingly important for manufacturers and retailers to develop lists of backup suppliers to account for material shortages and cluttered supply chains.

The packaging designer can only do so much to alleviate problems when supply chains become jammed due to labor shortages or changes in transportation routing. But designers should also be ready to offer innovative solutions for scenarios within their sphere of influence. They may not be able to reduce fuel costs, but they can respond to rising fuel costs by cutting size and weight to ship more products.

Each supplier needs to expand their awareness of overall supply chain activity so that the entire supply chain works as a team with the same goal. Ideally, each supply chain manager cares enough about the environment and economics to suggest improvements for reducing waste, broken items, and labor problems. In the bigger picture, all businesses and consumers are on the same big team.


Supply chains are currently evolving to become more sustainable for both economic and environmental reasons. Strategies for improving overall supply chain sustainability often begin with the manufacturer, retailer, or packaging designer. But in order for products to change hands to consumers, customer satisfaction is still the most important factor. It's up to leaders in supply chains to influence and encourage other suppliers to adopt more proactive steps toward greater sustainability.


Topics: Metal Packaging, Sustainability, Supply Chain

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