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Thanks to a certain award-winning documentary, awareness of global warming is at an all-time high. Governments and international organizations are debating the best ways to limit the threat of greenhouse gas emissions. Ordinary citizens are looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment. And the corporate world is looking for ways to join the conversation as well.
At WWF International's (Gland, Switzerland) recent Climate Saver's conference, which was held in Tokyo this past February, 12 influential companies signed a declaration calling for a higher than 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To reach that goal, the businesses said, gas emissions must peak and start to decline within the next 10–15 years.
"These companies are to be applauded, not just for the example they have set in reducing their own emissions, but also for their willingness to urge action on governments, the broader business community, and their customers and consumers," James Leape, WWF's director general, said after the conference. One of the companies, Tetra Pak (Lund, Sweden) says it's already committed to reducing its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 40,000 tons (10% in absolute terms) between 2005 and 2010. According to WWF, CO2 accounts for more than 80% of all global-warming pollution.
Tetra Pak plans to meet its emissions targets by improving energy efficiency and relying on green power from renewable energy sources. For example, its U.S. paperboard suppliers currently obtain 60–70% of their energy from renewable sources.
"Our goal takes into account direct emissions from burning fuels as well as indirect emissions from the generation of electricity, heat, and some refrigerants," says Giovanna Prestes Lemos, communications manager at Tetra Pak. She adds that the company has been reducing its power needs at its U.S. plants since 2002, slashing energy consumption by 27% at its aseptic converting plant and by 15% at other plants.
Tetra Pak also bought renewable energy certificates to offset energy production for 2007 and 2008 at its aseptic packaging plant in Denton, TX. "Effectively, the cartons produced at our Denton facility are carbon neutral and don't contribute to global warming," she explains. "The greenhouse gas savings are equivalent to removing 6593 cars from the road."
As a partner in the European Union's (EU) Sustainable Energy Europe campaign, the company also participated in a January 31 EU conference on CO2 emissions. At that conference, Tetra Pak environmental director Erika Mink predicted that packaging has "a key role to play in supporting moves toward a low-carbon economy." Mink also called for internationally recognized standards for measuring the carbon footprints of packages.
"We believe the packaging sector has the potential to make further contributions in CO2 reduction with a combination of company commitments, voluntary agreements, and partnering with key stakeholders," Mink said.
MEETING CONSUMER EXPECTATIONS
One of the reasons that the Tokyo declaration signatories are so interested in using renewable resources is that a growing number of clients are demanding it. That's particularly the case for consumer-oriented businesses like packaging.
Lemos notes that 7 out of 10 consumers prefer containers from forest-based materials, according to a 2007 study by Globescan (Toronto). She adds that a 2006 study by the Natural Marketing Institute (Harleysville, PA) found that having environmentally friendly packaging materials is "very to somewhat important" for many consumers when they make purchasing decisions.
"Unlike plastic containers, which require nonrenewable fossil fuels to make, paper-based aseptic cartons are made primarily from trees, a replenishable resource that can last indefinitely when well managed," Lemos says. "Tetra Pak cartons are made from paper from sustainably managed forests using practices established by globally respected organizations, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative."
Aseptic packaging may offer other ecological advantages as well. "Products packaged in Tetra Pak cartons can be stored up to 12 months without refrigeration, saving additional energy and eliminating carbon emissions associated with powering the refrigeration process," Lemos says, adding that because the cartons are also space efficient, sturdy, and lightweight, fewer packaging materials and greenhouse gas emissions are required for their transport.
COMMUNICATING THE CONCEPT
To help communicate the concept that "renewability matters," Tetra Pak recently introduced a new green packaging seal for its containers. According to the company's market research, 79% of consumers would be more inclined to purchase a container bearing such a seal.
Moroever, at this year's Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, CA, Tetra Pak displayed its cartons in an innovative, energy-efficient booth constructed of renewable materials such as bamboo, milk plexi, and aluminum.
At the show, Tetra Pak also unveiled a new design for its Tetra Prisma container. Dubbed the Carton Tree, the container emphasizes the renewability, reduced footprint, and recyclability of the packaging materials.
According to Laurens van de Vijver, Tetra Pak's vice president of marketing and product management for the United States and Canada, the concept is not just about improving the company's environmental footprint; it's also about helping its customers reduce their own impact. Tetra Pak hopes to do both.
"Our enhanced commitment to promote the benefits of sustainable packaging through our 'renewability matters' positioning is an outgrowth of our years of experience in utilizing renewable materials in our packages," van de Vijver says.