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Part 2 Carbon Neutral - Measurement and Implementation
Wed Feb 21 2024
Learning of the Month
Learning Objectives
Identify tools to measure and assess life-cycle carbon footprint
Compare and contrast carbon in various packaging materials
Identify packaging innovations that come with a net negative carbon footprint
Analyze corporate strategies to achieve net carbon negative
Outlining Carbon Equivalents and Offset Strategies: A 7-Step Process

Let’s start with this question . . . How will you design for carbon neutrality? Achieving a net carbon dioxide output as close to zero as possible is accomplished a variety of ways. You can purchase carbon offsets. You can use post consumer recycled materials. You can use bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.2 You can right-size your shipments, reduce travel time, and use green energy throughout the supply chain.3 Thankfully, tools in the industry exist to help provide reliable and high-quality life-cycle carbon footprint assessments for all of the stages of a package life cycle. 

So, check out these tools that are developed for the packaging industry:

  • CleanMetrics4
  • Compass by Trayak5
  • ASSETTM by Amcor6

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) also has a carbon calculator that shows how to get on the right track in assessing the shipping-related carbon a business is emitting.6,7 

So, how much carbon is really in a corrugated container?

Packaging School

A common e-commerce box like this (9 x 9 x 9 in., weighing 0.64 lbs) is estimated to emit 0.27 kg CO2e / kg.8

But if you want to calculate your own shipment box, that’s an option too! Companies have calculators based on the various studies they have conducted, like life cycle assessments that you can see right here and learn yourself.9 

EcoEnclose also has a useful calculator based on weight and number of orders shipped to location per week.10 So, as you play around with these calculators, you’ll see they will provide you with slightly different data, since the backend systems were designed differently, so, keep this in mind—there’s really not a one-size-fits-all answer until you create it for yourself. The answer to calculating your CO2 is going to be you. 

Let’s move on to some different materials—glass and plastic. As you can tell by holding these materials, a glass bottle is heavier than a plastic one, but what impact does that make on the carbon production? Published research out there indicates that glass like this, around 82 grams of PCR (post-consumer recycled) glass, is equivalent to around 250 grams of CO2 equivalents per jar.11 

And a lighter version, like at 13 grams of HDPE for instance, you’re going to be looking at around 50 grams of CO2 equivalents.11 So, simply put, there is 20% less carbon impact for the plastic jar. And let that sit with you for a bit. A lot of these metrics are simply based on weight.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the difference between recycled PET (rPET) and virgin materials. So, published research has documented PET really well. Let’s say that this is 100% virgin PET, and this is 100% PCR PET. That means it’s 100% post-consumer recycled content. This one, the virgin PET, has an impact of 2.15 kg.12 And this one, the exact same thing just in PCR, has an impact of 0.45 kg CO2e.12 So, big difference when you look at post-consumer recycled content and its impact on your carbon emissions.

Overall, PCR packaging allows for a 60% decrease in your carbon footprint compared to virgin plastics.13 100% PCR packaging requires no “virgin” petroleum to be sourced and it diverts recycled materials from ending up in a landfill.13,14 For example, as part of Colgate-Palmolive’s company commitment to provide “environmentally friendly” home-care products, they relaunched their new Palmolive Ultra dish soap using post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic bottles.15 And the company claims this offsets 5,200 tons of plastic a year from ending up in landfills from across the U.S. and Canada.15 

You may have heard of “net carbon negative”—and some businesses actually have this as a goal.

IKEA claims to be on track to become climate positive by 2030. And that means, they are going to somehow reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than their entire value chain emits. In order to achieve this, they are looking to promote sustainable choices and transform into a circular business, phase out fossil fuels and work towards 100% renewable energy, and use sustainable materials and food ingredients.17

While packaging may only represent 5% of a product’s carbon footprint, brands and buyers are looking to find ways to reduce every single percentage point possible.19 This is just one of many skills that a packaging professional can bring to a business. People look to you as a resource for new ideas, innovations, and solutions. Being able to discuss how carbon is measured, show examples of projects that offset emissions, and present opportunities and alternative solutions to reduce carbon, positions you as a packaging consultant and leader.

Are you ready to join them?

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