O-I Offers Fresh View on Single-Issue Sustainability Claims in 2021 Future of Packaging Report
Lightweight. Source reduction. Less fuel during transportation. We’ve all heard these attributes associated with sustainability marketing claims, or justifications for changing packaging materials.
Today’s sustainability dialogue would have you believe the sustainability “paradigm” has shifted and is defined by success on single issues. But sustainability is not a one-issue, one-variable, linear measurement or characteristic. That’s the message O-I Glass, Inc. sends in its piece published in the 2021 Future of Packaging Report from Raconteur. The annual publication targets the food and beverage industry value chain, which O-I has proudly served for more than a century.
By focusing only on one variable, like saving fuel through a switch to a packaging material claiming weight savings, we can unknowingly shift, or increase, the environmental impact of a product or process. It is the sustainable equivalent of treating a symptom rather than the underlying problem. Single-attribute sustainability marketing claims are easy to understand. They often feel good and can create the illusion that making a single adjustment will help advance sustainability as therefore is a justification for a change in materials.
The truth is that sustainability is a complex ecosystem involving a wide-ranging collection of impacts, including recyclability, habitat disruption, toxicity, and ultimately wellness. Advancing true sustainability for packaging requires a holistic view of these impacts to ensure that making a change for fuel savings or convenience does not pollute our oceans, kill wildlife and pollute habitats.
“Achieving sustainability is about balancing the needs of modern society with the needs of our planet, people and our collective prosperity,” said Randy Burns, chief sustainability and corporate affairs officer at O-I Glass. “We need to help brands and consumers to look beyond linear, one-issue claims to sustainability and begin to embrace balanced and holistic thinking to advance the true sustainability and circularity for the packaging industry.”
Truly balanced sustainability goes beyond focusing on a specific attribute or phase of use. It is a systematic framework that looks at the production, use, and end-of-life impacts on the environment throughout its useful life.
The process of making something sustainable involves purposefully creating resiliency and longevity by using stewardship to achieve balance in an interrelated group of things, organizations, and processes. Sustainable looks more like a circle and a system than a line or an analog process. Evaluating the relative “sustainabl-ness” of something requires the measurement of circularity, balance, or equilibrium, not the quantitative value of one variable.
A sustainable packaging material is made from low impact, natural ingredients. It protects the integrity of a product, does not interact with it, and is wellness positive to consumers. A sustainable packaging material is 100% recyclable and will not pollute or damage the habitat at the end of its life. A sustainable packaging material is also permanent material that can be recycled infinitely, which continually compounds the effects of lower emissions and energy consumptions as it offsets the needs for new raw materials.
For centuries, glass was the packaging material of choice for its durability, integrity, product visibility and beauty. And, while these characteristics continue to be attractive reasons for using glass, overall sustainability has become the reason that brands are returning to glass packaging.
Glass packaging is made from four simple ingredients: silica sand, soda ash, limestone and recycled glass. Glass packaging is the only food-contact material that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognizes as “Generally Recognized as Safe.” This means glass naturally protects what is inside its package. It’s impermeable, nonporous and will not leach anything into its contents.
Glass is also 100 percent recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without loss in quality. In fact, about 80 percent of the glass that is recycled is used to make new glass bottles and jars—in as little as 30 days.
Overall sustainability for glass, however, is not just about the sustainability of glass itself. Sustainability is about using innovation-driven transformation to achieve balance. For over 100 years, O-I has produced pure, natural earth-friendly glass packaging for communities around the world.
“Our sustainability at O-I is driven by our processes, products and people,” said Burns. We will achieve our vision to be the most sustainable maker of the most sustainable rigid packaging through innovation and our drive to transform the industry.”
In its journey to become the most sustainable producer, O-I has advanced many sustainable firsts for the industry. O-I was the first glass container maker to have Science Based Targets (SBTi) approved emissions targets. The company was also the first packaging company to offer a Green Bond to fund qualified green projects. And these firsts also extend into the future of glass packaging as the company develops new MAGMA technology that is expected to improve glass sustainability production, including lightweighting.
According to Burns, the company is focused on the future, setting ambitious sustainability goals for recycled content, renewable energy, safety, community benefit, supply chain, zero waste, water conservation, diversity and research.
“O-I has elevated sustainability to the highest levels of the company,” he said. “We are taking a very holistic approach, ensuring that we find balance across our entire ecosystem. Our aspiration is to create an organization designed for long-term sustainability—one that finds strength, resiliency, and coexistence in this balance.”
But, for those that continue to place weight behind lightweighting as their claim to sustainability, O-I and the industry as a whole have made great strides in recent decades—a beer bottle today is 30% lighter than it was 20 years ago—more progress is needed, and we will continue to innovate our way to the best solutions.
Glass has always been, and always will be, the kindest packaging option for a sustainable future for the planet and its people. Read the O-I piece, “Sustainability is about more than weight–It’s time to take a holistic view,” and more, in the 2021 Future of Packaging Report.