Sustainable swaps: An easy starting point for every packaging manufacturer

3 mins read

Written by Louise O’Brien, the Managing Director of Greyhound Box, a trusted supplier of corrugated cases.

With the New Year comes lots of ‘new’ - new routines, new personal hopes, new professional aspirations. And of course, new sustainability pledges. I think we can all agree that greenwashing was so 2023 – how will our sector navigate a more sustainable packaging manufacturing industry in 2024?

Making the first step to more sustainable manufacturing

The first step always seems the hardest when it comes to more sustainable manufacturing. Over three quarters (78.4%) of the primary energy consumed within the UK came from fossil fuels in 2022, traditionally the go-to energy sources to power the machinery within our factories. After all, many of our businesses have been built on models that date back to the industrial revolution! But the digital age combined with technological advancements is opening up opportunities like never before for packaging manufacturers to access and implement eco-friendlier practices to make our sector greener.

So, the first sustainable swap you can make is switching this first step on its head. Every marathon starts with a single step – every sustainability path starts with a single swap. And you’re probably already doing a few of these, which means you’re already a few steps ahead!

Sustaining your workforce

We’ll start with the energy expenditure of your employees. Say your manufacturing site is open 8am to 4pm – how productive are your staff during this time? Speaking from experience, I’ve noticed a measurable difference in staff productivity since condensing the hours of our working week. This time last year, we rolled out our new hours: employees work 7am to 4pm Monday to Thursday, with an ‘early’ 1:30pm finish on a Friday.

Practically, does this mean our capacity to produce packaging is less, that our output is reduced? Quite the opposite! You might have heard about the 4 Day Week Campaign – its pilot took place in 2022, and partaking businesses reported a 35% increase in revenue (on average) during the programme.

Our staff seem more focussed working the ‘shorter’ week, getting the same done in a smaller amount of time (if not more!). Not only does that provide us with operational benefits – i.e. saving on energy use, cost, and expenditure, but our employees feel their wellbeing has been positively impacted. (During the Campaign’s pilot, 71% of employees reported lower levels of burnout.) Better employee wellbeing coupled with less workplace stress is something that’ll help us to sustain a sustainable business operation for years to come.

Swapping material sources

Operationally, materials source is another place where you can start to consider a more sustainable swap. Again, it doesn’t have to be the headline source of where you get your pallet wrap or forklifts from (though, it could be!). All sustainable swaps are impactful.

Take, for instance, where you source staff uniform. What’s the quality like? Is it durable? Can it be reused if an employee leaves? You might have the most ‘cost-effective’ supplier. But if you’re constantly returning faulty protective gear that’s falling apart after just a few wears, it’s not really that cost effective. Bulk buying garments might be cheaper, but the time and energy you spend returning, replacing, or disposing of the items is just as costly! Not to mention the amount of poor-quality manufacturing uniforms that end up in landfill.

Switching up ancillaries

Perhaps a more obvious swap is the type of product you offer your customers. Course, many packaging manufacturers have favoured producing recyclable items also made from recycled materials (paper, cardboard, glass etc) for a fair while. But it’s the fuller package where smaller ancillary swaps can really start to make that bigger picture impact.

With the likes of the EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) on the horizon, making these swaps in your portfolio now stands you in better stead to comply with future legislation. Whilst certain plastic fillers will always have their place (at least, for now), alternatives are coming to the fore – and customers are both loving and looking for it.

Take eco tape – it's an ancillary having its time in the spotlight, competing with the likes of traditional brown parcel tape and even solvent-based glues to fasten packages. Or look at the inks used to transfer designs onto packaging, be it direct to the cardboard box or its label. Inks are swapping bases from solvent to water, releasing less ozone-polluting VOCs that can harm both the planet and human health.

New Year, new...?

The myriad of swaps packaging manufacturers can make to step closer to a more sustainable sector will only continue to grow. To keep your business sustainable in all meanings of the word, the first step is the most significant. So, what’s your ‘new’ going to be for this New Year?