With most public commitments to sustainable packaging at risk of going unfulfilled, 20% of organisations will shift their focus from recycling and eliminating plastics to reducing the carbon footprint of their packaging by 2026.
According to Gartner, while the pivot in focus leaves organisations with unmet pledges vulnerable to greenwashing backlash, early movers that successfully educate stakeholders, customers and investors to the benefits of life cycle assessment (LCA) as an alternative sustainability metric will be better prepared to address and defend their contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
“The packaging ecosystem has not advanced at the pace that organizations setting targets back in 2017 and 2018 had hoped for,” said John Blake, senior director analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice. “Organizations face operational and financial challenges that were discovered only through the attempt to deliver their goals, but meaningful progress on sustainability can still be made with more realistic frameworks in place.”
The most popular commitments to sustainable packaging have centered on 100% of packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. However, Gartner previously predicted that 90% of companies with such commitments would see their objectives unmet. Additional non-governmental organisation estimates confirm that future scenarios focused on mainstream disposal, collection and recycling will fall short, leading to targets that will almost certainly be missed by most organizations.
Due to these multiple headwinds, Gartner anticipates enterprises will switch focus from increased use of recyclable packaging and elimination of plastics to lower-carbon packaging. Using less packaging material and/or materials that are more efficiently produced, transported, and processed can lead to an affordable reduction in carbon footprints.
Over a decade ago, LCA of packaging was piloted by several organizations, but the complexity of data analysis and a lack of relevancy at the time hampered adoption, according to Blake. Now, new data analysis tools are making packaging LCAs more accessible. Anticipating potential backlash for missing stated targets, organizations are expected to develop messaging around the carbon footprint of packaging and how actions are being taken to offset GHG emissions and mitigate the risks of global warming.
“While missing targets will have repercussions in the public eye, organizations that come to terms with the unfeasibility of their previous brand-driven targets and embrace a more realistic, affordable and effective approach will have more progress to show on their sustainability goals than those who remain in denial,” said Blake.