The shipping process entails everything from the delivery of raw materials to our operation center in Virginia to the unwrapping of the finished product once it’s reached its final destination. Why should you care about making this process a little greener? Well, the packaging and distribution of products worldwide have significant environmental costs associated. Packaging is the single largest contributor to one of North America’s most troubling environmental problems, municipal solid waste (MSW). According to a 2014 New York Times article, packaging accounts for roughly 30% of the total MSW waste in the United States. Don’t know much about waste? MSW refers to the everyday items that we use and discard, from packaging materials to newspapers to food scraps. The majority of municipal waste ends up in landfills, which, according to the EPA, are responsible for around 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions associated with the waste sector. Along with packaging, the shipment of products also does hefty damage to our environment. An EPA report found that transportation by truck, car, ship, train and plane accounted for 27% of the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2013. Thus, while greening your shipping and packaging processes may require a small effort on your accord, it could make all the difference for our planet.
So, now that you know why to get started, here’s how to get started:
1. Use less.
Yes, it is important to protect your product during shipment. No one likes opening a box to find the pieces of what had once been a beautiful item. But just how much packaging is really necessary to get the product to the customer in one piece? Probably less than you think. So be conscious about the environmental impact of your choices when you are deciding how much wrapping and paperboard to use when shipping. Use a smaller amount in a wiser fashion – less is more!
2. Green your boxes.
It’s time to think outside the box about your boxes. There are many options available when it comes to purchasing greener shipping materials. When it’s time to buy new boxes, look to companies like EcoEnclose and Pratt Plus that offer 100% recycled boxes that are reusable, recyclable and sustainable. At Rivanna, the paperboard we use for our gift boxes is comprised of 95% post consumer material and 5% mill waste. Using recycled material that is recyclable is always a win-win. Using just recyclable products isn’t a crime, but there is no guarantee that the item will actually be recycled.
Another good idea is to look out for certain certifications when purchasing your packages. Choose a box that is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified to ensure that the paper used came from a sustainably managed forest. While FSC is not the only certification out there that guarantees a product is eco friendly, it has gained a reputation for being the most rigorous and credible of its kind.
3. Now, green the inside.
We all know boxes aren’t the only things used to package products. What about the wrapping? The peanuts? The bubble wrap? For starters, we use neither bubble wrap nor peanuts in the packaging of our own products. We do, however, receive bubble wrap and peanuts in shipments of materials from our suppliers. Since we do not use them, we give them away to companies in need for free in order to ensure they are being reused. The wrapping we do use for our awards and plaques is recycled newsprint and/or clean cellulose wadding that is 100% recycled and reusable.
If you do use bubble wrap, peanuts, or other traditional packaging, look for a form that is recycled, recyclable, reusable, sustainable, and/or biodegradable. Nowadays most conventional wrapping materials have a hip, new green twin! Here are 5 eco-friendly packaging materials you may not have thought of before. Also try to avoid substances, like styrofoam, that are not easily recycled, are non-biodegradable, and will end up rotting away in a landfill forever.
4. Work with others who share your values.
Remember when you refused to eat the beets/brussels sprouts/”insert least favorite food here” and your mom told you to stop being so picky? Well, now is a time when it’s okay to be picky! Whether it’s a freight transportation company or a packaging supplier, be selective about who you work with. Providing sustainable products is a process. Every step in that process has to be an environmentally conscious one for the product to live up to its full, sustainable potential. Choose to engage with individuals and businesses that share your commitment to the environment and are making an effort within their industry to minimize their footprint. Don’t know where to start looking? Try the Sustainable Packing Coalition. And don’t forget to spread the knowledge your company has gained since going green and encourage others to follow your example!
5. Source locally.
While it may not always be convenient, sourcing locally is a good idea. Local does not have to mean right down the street. For us, locally means domestically. We source from the closest suppliers that meet our needs, both production-wise and sustainability-wise. Buying materials domestically can often cut out the need for airfreight, which is considered a significant contributor to global warming. If you can’t source locally, source wisely! Choose companies that are transparent and honest about their supply chain so you know exactly where and how they are getting their products or materials. That way, you can ensure that sustainable practices were undertaken from start to finish when distributing that final product.
6. Lastly, offset offset offset.
The reality is that the decisions we make and the actions we commit will never be without costs. While we can strive to minimize our footprint, it is highly unlikely that it will ever be fully erased. That is why it is so important to offset your impact on the environment. How do you do this? Through offset credits. Companies purchase carbon offset credits in order to compensate for the release of emissions on their accord, say through the shipment of their products. The credits then go to fund domestic and international initiatives to eliminate the carbon footprint in that area. Speak with your shipment team about whether or not they are engaged in offsetting their carbon footprint. If they’re not, now is always a great time to start.
This goes for energy too! For smaller companies, like us, the only energy used in the packaging process may be manpower. But for larger companies that utilize machines in the packaging of their products, offsetting that electricity use is a good idea. Similar to the shipping method, companies can purchase credits that will finance renewable energy programs as a means of reducing total greenhouse gas emissions. Ask your current power provider about ways you can offset your energy usage! While offsetting is an effective way for businesses to meet their carbon reduction goals and counteract their emissions, it should always be used in conjunction with internal energy reductions, such as cutting down on in-office electricity usage. Fore more information about carbon offsetting, visit http://www.carbonneutral.com.
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