Featured, Goals Database

The New Wave of Sustainability Goals from Packaging Suppliers: What Happens When the Cart Pushes the Horse?

February 23, 2021

Brands and retailers are more and more finding themselves at the forefront of the sustainability spotlight. Consumer-facing and largely publicly traded companies are no strangers to annual reporting and goal setting. While brands and retailers hold a great deal of public attention, there are important upstream supply chain partners who the brands and retailers rely upon to help achieve more sustainable products, packaging, and operations. So, if brands and retailers are unable to achieve their sustainability goals without support from manufacturers and converters, what goals are they able to set for themselves and how do they impact the companies further downstream?  

Wanting to highlight these upstream partners, the latest update of the SPC Goals Database includes over 220 manufacturer and converter members. The updated Goals Database includes these companies to shed light on additional segments of the global supply chain by looking at the broader relationship between brands and retailers and their suppliers. 

There is alignment along the supply chain on recycled content and recyclability goals, but who is driving the change? 

Historically, it was generally anticipated that brands and retailers set sustainability goals for their products, packaging, and operations. Then periodically, upstream supply chain partners were invited to help them achieve these goals through actions like supply chain measurement and reporting. However, when upstream suppliers set their own autonomous goals around raw material production and usage, the question of who is influencing who came into play. The Goals Database analysis shows manufacturers and converters primarily committed to two aspects of their packaging; designing packaging for recycling and incorporating recycled content. These two pursuits make up for the largest number of commitments in the Goals Database. There are 22 manufacturers and converters, or 10% of the total number of companies in the Database, with a public commitment to improve the design of their packaging to be recyclable or contain recycled content. Interestingly, brands and retailers also have the highest number of commitments in these two sustainable packaging areas with 45% publicly committing to improve packaging recyclability and 46% dedicated to increasing the amount of recycled content. The cohesion between these two groups is significant. When unique supply chain entities are prioritizing the same packaging goals, the industry should be paying attention. While the percentage of manufacturers and converters is much lower than brands and retailers, it is intriguing to see synchronicity among the varying supply chain entities on their sustainable packaging priorities.

This new wave of sustainability commitments from packaging suppliers could demonstrate a paradigm shift, one with a strong emphasis on upstream inputs. Public commitments can catch the eye of brands and retailers or position suppliers at an advantage to support brand owners and retailers in achieving their sustainable packaging goals, all while setting themselves apart from their competitors. For all the manufacturers or converters of plastic packaging, perhaps it’s time to set some forward thinking goals around recycled content and recyclability or risk getting left behind. 

All together now: suppliers join brands and retailers in collective commitments.

Another new addition to the Goals Database is a collective commitments section. Included in this section are nine prevalent collective commitments that companies have pledged or joined. Unsurprisingly, this section has strong participation from brand owners and retailers. However, there were more pledges from manufacturers and converters than expected. The analysis of the Goals Database found 16 manufacturers and converters joined APR’s Recycling Demand Champions and the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. Of the 16, a fourth of them joined both. These numbers could be an additional expression of synergy between upstream and downstream supply chain partners. 

While being a signatory or pledging to a commitment is not necessary to demonstrate loyalty to sustainable packaging goals, it can serve an important purpose to publicize progress and reinforce accountability. If brands and retailers aren’t the only ones publicly pledging to collective commitments it questions who is driving the paradigm change. Previously, brand owners and retailers were the ones given recognition for their goal setting and credited as the drivers. Nowadays, manufacturers and converters are equally committing to ambitious goals around packaging and corporate sustainability. 

If manufacturers and converters are creating goals and signing collective commitments are they doing so to appeal to their customers or have they acknowledged their utterly critical role in creating more sustainable packaging? While this doesn’t have to be an either/or situation, the progress supply chain partners are making through goal setting and collective commitments is providing transparency and hope for the future of sustainable packaging. This is where the Goals Database comes in. The SPC Goals Database provides a jumping-off point for exploring all the new commitments from over 220 manufacturers and converters, start exploring!