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Judging by the Package

— Ms. Anjana Shanmugavel, Senior Manager,
Sustainable Business, WWF-India.

A key part of India’s forest fibre consumption story today revolves around packaging. Its importance has been increasing exponentially, owing to retail growth and shifting patterns in the way goods are produced, traded, stored and transported around the country and exported overseas.

20According to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), currently Asia, the Middle East and Africa comprise 34 per cent of global packaging consumption whereas Europe is 34 per cent, North America 27 per cent and Latin America 5 per cent. Russia, India, Brazil and China are estimated to be the source of about 30 per cent of future global demand, a proportion that will increase as their economies develop further. Other trends in buying behaviour like the growing popularity of e-commerce imply an even greater need for packaging material. The sourcing of fibre to meet this demand can have particularly adverse impacts on ecologically significant areas, not just domestically, but also across the South East Asian region. This reflects a larger need for India’s packaging industry to ensure it uses only sustainably sourced material when meeting its long term raw material requirements.

Another dimension to the packaging question is labelling. Achieving credibility when it comes to sustainability parameters is becoming even more important, especially when consumers are faced with an array of ‘green’ labels. Aside from enhancing brand and differentiating products, a credible sustainability certification also offers a key advantage to the industry. If done well, it can be a vital key to long term business success, particularly when applied strategically across the value chain – ensuring long-term, legal, environmentally and socially responsible sourcing at the plantation level; reduced inputs and pollutants at the production level; and deeper relationships with customers at the consumer level.

For a brand, the labels that it chooses to carry on its product packaging is no more just a branding and a utility tool; but speaks volumes about its values and differentiates it from competitors. This is proved by the significant rise in sustainability certifications and labels like Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Mobius Loop etc. that act as a signal to the consumer that the respective raw materials/commodities being used in the product are environmentally and socially responsible. In the case of packaging, sustainability concerns are already critical to consumers and governments in several markets. The EU and many other markets have regulations and targets in place to minimize environmental impact and increase recovery and recycling rates of waste paper. Globally, companies, through packaging, are therefore increasingly demonstrating the highest environmental credentials to show that their products are responsibly sourced, as well as renewable, reusable and recyclable.

Planning Ahead

The Indian packaging industry faces a continuous demand for paper and board which are used as core components in production which are either manufactured with recycled and/or virgin fibres. Domestically, the procurement of recycled fibre is limited by poor recovery and its usability is limited by the inadequate quality of the recovered paper. These concerns make sustainable management of forests all the more essential. Through its high standards of responsible forestry, FSC ensures an economically viable and long-term flow of wood-based raw material for the industry, while maintaining forest biodiversity and securing the rights of forest communities and indigenous people. The FSC label is clearly recognizable and is proof that the original material has not come from illegally logged or environmentally damaging sources.

Besides FSC, there are a few options that can be explored in order to ensure sustainability in the packaging industry in a way that is also economically and environmentally beneficial. The key is a balance of the right mix of responsible sourcing of virgin fibres, environmentally friendly utilisation of alternative natural fibres like agri-residues and more efficient recovery of waste paper domestically.

Learning from the Global Industry

22FSC is being used to the advantage of different actors along the supply chain – manufacturers and retailers alike. While there are conglomerates like Hindustan Unilever in India that have global sustainability commitments across several commodities, one of which is FSC for packaging, there is still a long way to go.

Annually, the LEGO Group, the world’s third largest manufacturer of play materials, uses more than 80,000 tons of paper-based products for packaging and print materials. To minimize its environmental impact globally, the company has a recycling rate of 88 percent of its waste in 2012. To further reduce their environmental impact, the Group decided that from 2015 the company would exclusively use FSC certified mix paper.

Similarly, Mondi, an international packaging and paper group, has integrated sustainability across its global supply chain, from the responsible management of forests, through the production and marketing of packaging and paper products to the recycling of these products. All of its leased, owned and managed land is FSC certified. Mondi also supports and uses FSC and other standards for wood and fibre purchased. In 2012, a total of 46 percent of wood supplied to Mondi processing plants was from FSC certified sources and another 19 percent from other certified sources, an improvement of 8 percent against 2010.

According to a comprehensive Certification Assessment Tool (CAT) developed by WWF, FSC certification is among the most credible of the options available to companies, particularly, in cementing a basis for consumer engagement, access to new markets, protection of existing client relationships, and investor confidence. Compared to other responsible forestry certifications, FSC holds the highest standards for responsible forestry and facilitates long-term access to supply and raw material and provides the opportunity to reduce costs, increase revenues, improve brand value and avoid a number of business risks. This is further reflected in its global reach, recognition by external stakeholders like NGOs and overall stakeholder confidence from the industry.

(Ms. Anjana Shanmugavel can be contacted at
ashanmugavel@wwfindia.net)

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1
https://ic.fsc.org/en – FSC Benefits for Paper and Packaging Industry

2
http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/how_we_work/businesses/transforming_markets/solutions/
better_production_for_a_living_planet/?246871/wwf-forest-certification-assessment-tool-cat

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