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What Does Sustainability Mean to You?

By Tim Connell

May 18, 2023

Sustainability. It’s a word packed with ambiguous interpretations, but what does it really mean? According to the English dictionary, sustainability is “the ability to continue.” In today’s world, it has become synonymous with the environmental impact of technology and human existence in the world that affects our planet’s future.

Sustainable manufacturing utilizes economically sound processes that minimize the negative environmental impact while conserving energy and natural resources. So, how does our industry continue making a positive contribution, without negatively impacting the environment in the long run? First, we need to know what sustainability looks like and how it has been implemented throughout corrugated.

On the manufacturing and converting side, sustainability goes hand in hand with energy and water consumption, recycling, and waste and emissions, with processes that improve productivity, quality, and safety. The final product might be eco-friendly and sustainable, but are your operations? It’s important to create sustainable business practices that reduce waste—and cost—and lower your carbon footprint. Converters, original equipment manufacturers, and suppliers can help reduce the industry’s carbon footprint by investing in greener solutions.

On the packaging side, sustainability often means utilizing materials made from recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable substrates. Consumer surveys show more than 60% of customers would spend more on brands promoting eco-friendly and sustainable business practices. As a converter, you are using one of the most sustainable substrates available! However, converters can take their sustainability efforts further by offering end users more recycled paper or alternative paper grades, when possible. Converters can also redesign items to be processed more efficiently and safely with less waste and energy consumption. Recent studies show corrugated boxes contain an average of 89% recycled materials that can be recycled up to 25 times, with little or no loss of quality. Now that is sustainable.

In recent years, I’ve seen industry leaders get creative in the following ways to reduce their carbon footprint:

  • Use renewable biomass energy or solar-assisted power that reduces fossil fuel consumption.
  • Minimize water and energy consumption and waste with process creativity, alternative processes, and investments in lean, green technologies.
  • Coordinate scheduling for processes that require excessive amounts of gas or electricity for low demand times when costs are lower.
  • Create closed loop scrap programs between businesses and local governments. The recovery rate for old corrugated cardboard/containers has reached 90% due to these initiatives.

To ensure the sustainable future of our industry and world, we must invest in solutions, processes, and best practices focused on reducing, reusing, and recycling.

Tim Connell is director of sales at A.G. Stacker and is vice chairman of AICC’s Associate board.