By Anjana Shanmugavel | Senior Manager, Sustainable Business at WWF-India
A key part of India’s forest fibre consumption revolves around packaging. Its importance has been increasing due to retail growth and shifting patterns in the way goods are produced, traded, stored and transported around the country and exported overseas.
According to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Asia, the Middle East and Africa comprise 34%of global packaging consumption whereas Europe is 34%, North America 27% and Latin America 5%. Russia, India, Brazil and China are estimated to be the source of about 30% of future global demand, which will increase as their economies develop further. Sourcing fibre to meet the demand may damage ecologically significant areas across the South East Asian region, reflecting a larger need for India’s packaging industry to ensure it uses only sustainably sourced material.
Another dimension to the packaging question is labelling. A credible sustainability certification can promote 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.
The labels that a brand chooses speaks volumes about its values and differentiates it from competitors, as proved by the rise in sustainability certifications and labels like FSC, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Mobius Loop etc. which signify that the raw materials/commodities used in the product are responsibly sourced. Regarding 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 strive to obtain the highest environmental credentials show that their packaging materials are responsibly sourced.
The FSC label assures consumers that the wood fibres of the paper and board which are used to manufacture the packaging of the product they buy are traceable all the way through the supply chain back to a well-managed forest.
The Indian packaging industry faces a continuous demand for paper and board. Domestically, the procurement of recycled fibre is limited by poor recovery and inadequate quality of 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 highly recognizable and proves that the original material has not come from illegally logged or environmentally damaging sources.
Tetra Pak joined forces with retail chain Coop to offer carton packages bearing the FSC label on the Swiss retailer’s shelves. The launch of FSC-labelled cartons in Switzerland marks another step towards Tetra Pak’s goal of having all its packages bear the FSC label, which is today considered the highest standard for the sustainable sourcing of wood fibres.
To ensure sustainability in the packaging industry in a way that brings economic benefits, the key is to balance the right mix of responsible sourcing of virgin fibres, utilisation of alternative natural fibres and more efficient recovery of waste paper domestically.
Learning from the Global Industry
FSC is used to benefit different actors along the supply chain, including manufacturers and retailers. Hindustan Unilever, for example, requires using FSC certified material for packaging as one of the global sustainability commitments.
Annually, the LEGO Group, the world’s third largest toy manufacturer, uses over 80,000 tons of paper-based products for packaging and printing. To minimize its environmental impact, the company has a recycling rate of 88% of its waste in 2012, and has exclusively used FSC certified mix paper since 2015.
Mondi, an international packaging and paper group, has also integrated sustainability across its global supply chain. All of its leased, owned and managed land is FSC certified. It also uses FSC for wood and fibre purchased. In 2012, a total of 46% of wood supplied to Mondi processing plants was from FSC certified sources and another 19% from other certified sources, an improvement of 8% 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 . 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 business risks. This is further reflected in its global reach, recognition by external stakeholders like NGOs and overall stakeholder confidence from the industry.