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Sustainability in commercial products and packaging isn’t new, but the heat is on. Most consumers feel it in taxes and bans on plastic straws, bags, cups, and more—plus the ever-changing advice about what and how they should recycle. For consumers, it’s mostly a matter of changing habits. But the heat affects manufacturers in more fundamental ways. Their compliance, reputation, and profitability are all at stake.

Sustainable packaging is a top concern. For example, both Walmart and Aldi have pledged that their private label brands will incorporate 100% recyclable, reusable, or industrially compostable packaging by 2025. Trader Joes is replacing many packaging designs and materials with more sustainable alternatives—not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s what their customers want. Major brands like Unilever are maximizing the amount of recycled content in their packaging while adding How2Recylce instructions that help consumers recycle knowingly and responsibly.

Sustainability initiatives like these and many more have wide-ranging impacts on the market. They raise consumer awareness. They put pressure on competitors to advance their own sustainability efforts. They require companies up and down the supply chain to transform their materials, technologies, and methods to comply.

There are many complications to overcome. Appropriate materials are not always available in adequate supply. Government bodies such as the FDA have their own compliance requirements. Designing eco-friendly packaging can be challenging when it also needs to serve functional requirements—such as maintaining shelf life or enduring cooking temperatures. And there’s always the issue of cost, as sustainable materials can be significantly more expensive to source and fabricate compared to traditional packaging.

Achieving new sustainability goals requires attaining new materials knowledge and packaging capabilities. Many retailers and manufacturers don’t realize the critical role that distributors can play. Here’s how a distributor committed to sustainability can HELP:

    H̲uddle with partners to understand their current state

    Distributors must first understand the sustainability goals of their manufacturing customers in relation to current supply chain capabilities. They should be meeting with manufacturers and suppliers to discover the answers to questions such as:

    1. Is your product labeled as recyclable today?
    2. Is there any recycled content already in your manufacturing process?
    3. Do you add back in any of your own waste, trim or scrap into the process?
    4. What percentage of your content is purchased from the outside? Of that, how much is post-consumer and how much is post-industrial content?
    5. Over the next 3–5 years, what are your recyclable goals?
    6. What limitations do you face to meet these goals?
    7. Do you have initiatives underway to accelerate meeting these goals?
    8. What is your estimated cost of complying with recycled content goals?
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    E̲stablish a dedicated team of experts

    Sustainability requirements, consumer preferences, available materials, manufacturing processes, and supply chain best practices are all rapidly evolving. Manufacturers and their supply chain partners are in the position of the blind men and the elephant. They’re focused on the aspect of the sustainability challenge that they already know best. And once they understand the true size and scope of the challenge, they need help knowing how to take it on, one bite at a time.

    The answers to the questions listed above are difficult and always evolving. So are the solutions. That’s where a distributor partner can help. No one is better positioned to comprehend the supply chain in its entirety and to respond to each new challenge with the appropriate resources, agility, and muscle, but it takes a distributor committed to focusing on your particular sustainability challenges.

    Ask your distributor to build a task force dedicated to your needs. It doesn’t need to be a large team, but it does need a commitment to understanding your business and the evolving sustainability demands you need to meet. Critical to the team’s success is the ability to vet suppliers, identify and work with sustainability experts who are ahead of the curve and build relationships with them on your behalf to meet each need.

    With these relationships in place, your distributor will be able to communicate your specific requirements and be first in line to test new products and processes that can meet them.

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    L̲imit exposure to risks

    Excess materials mean unnecessary waste—a cardinal sin for sustainability. But manufacturers and their supply chain partners often tolerate high levels of waste in order to ensure constant availability of materials. The temptation to hoard excess materials that will likely end up in the landfill is even greater when there are questions about supply reliability—an important consideration when new, more sustainable options are just coming to market.

    Overbuying and waste are a risk. Scarcity and undersupply are a risk. And when demand for innovative new materials outstrips supply, cost is a risk. All of these risks are exacerbated when the materials are subject to compliance pressures or regulatory requirements, such as FDA food safety rules. Your distributor should be helping you manage supply chain risks in order to protect both your supply and your profitability while helping minimize waste in accordance with your sustainability goals.

    Proactive risk management requires sophisticated tools for tracking historical demand and predicting future demand, a hands-on approach to managing storage and fulfillment, an extensive and proven supplier network, and an encyclopedic knowledge of available materials, their properties and functional alternatives. Above all, it takes a dedicated team committed to knowing your business goals and needs—a team that continuously monitors and manages your supply chain requirements and meets with you regularly to review results and plan your next steps.

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    P̲ush for full engagement now!

    North American is actively engaging with our customers to understand their current state and their sustainability goals. We’re engaging with our extensive network of supply chain partners to devise sustainable solutions for all kinds of packaging needs and compliance requirements. And we’re engaging with sustainability leaders in the industries we serve to continually advance our own expertise.

    Sustainability is a complex responsibility. Attaining it must be a shared enterprise. Now is the time to engage with a partner that offers the resources, knowledge and dedication to help you understand the issues involved, define your goals and implement practical and effective solutions.

    You know you need to engage for a more sustainable future. Let’s push forward now, together. To get started, connect with North American at 800-508-5830 or

    Ready to talk?

    Let’s work together to understand your unique challenges. To devise perfect-fit solutions. To help your people become more efficient and effective every day.