Are you sustainable or environmentally friendly?

Do you look after the planet? For far too many years, we have been unaware of what our consumption does to the world around us. Fortunately, many have begun to give consideration to the imprint they leave on Earth.

In the packaging industry, we are currently seeing considerable progress being made, which is a testament to how consumers and industry have an active desire to do something about their habits. This is why we often encounter questions such as:

“Is this plastic bag environmentally friendly?” or “is this type of packaging sustainable?”

However, the majority do not think about the fact that in reality, environmental friendliness and sustainability are two different terms. In this article, we will help you to differentiate between these two terms, so that you can make better decisions regarding your packaging.

Environmental friendliness: Being kind to nature

As a first step, it is important to be aware that words such as environmental friendliness and sustainability are under constant development. This is to be understood in the sense that types of production considered to be environmentally friendly or sustainable 20 years ago aren’t necessarily considered as such today, for example due to great advancements in science and technology.

But when we talk about environmental friendliness, we are talking about something that solely relates to protecting nature.

For example, this could relate to whether plastic bags are made of recyclable plastic rather than being newly manufactured. Or whether the trees that are used to produce your wrapping paper come from a forest where new trees are planted continuously, or whether the forest areas are left destroyed and abandoned.

Amongst the more overlooked environmental offenders within packaging production is water consumption. Water is used at many stages in the production of various goods, including for the purposes of melting, cleaning, thinning, cooling and many others.

How much water has to be used in order to produce your material? And does this provide a corresponding environmental gain in comparison with other materials?

It is important not to forget to ask about the amount of water consumption involved when considering one type of packaging over the other.

Minimising environmental impact

Many companies require bleached paper for their packaging. Bleached paper is used both when the paper needs to be white and when the paper has to be dyed or printed onto later.

Bleached paper isn’t particularly good for the environment, as chemicals are used during the bleaching process. The best choice for the environment is brown paper, which has not been in contact with these chemicals.

However, when a company does need bleached paper, the environmental friendliness instead applies when looking at whether the packaging supplier manages residuals from its production in an environmentally friendly manner; in other words, the extent to which they discard the chemicals in a responsible way, so that they don’t end up in nature.

Seeing as the term “environmentally friendly” is under constant development, environmental friendliness is encompassed by a continuous effort to ensure that the products you purchase make use of the most environmentally friendly methods of production.

Sustainability: An all-inclusive term

While environmental friendliness “only” ensures that we treat the environment well, sustainability is concerned with much more than this. On par with environmental friendliness, when talking about sustainability, we look at whether production is environmentally responsible.

In addition to environmental impact, sustainability is also concerned with both the economic and social aspects of production.

Sustainability’s social aspects

Among the social aspects, you will encounter questions such as: to what extent do employees receive the pay they need in order to live above the poverty line? Do they work under good labour conditions with a high level of safety? And do the employees have access to clean drinking water, proper toilet facilities and the right to breaks and training?

Sustainability’s economic aspects

Amongst the economic aspects relating to sustainable products, you will encounter questions regarding cost-effectiveness across the entire value chain. Can the forest owner practice forestry with an acceptable profit-margin? Does the manufacturer obtain a price that makes it possible for them to earn an adequate profit? And is it cost-effective for the transportation company to ship raw materials or the finished products?

It is the answers to these types of questions that determine whether or not a certain kind of production can be called sustainable. The way forward is to ask, in order to acquire information that will help you discover which producers you ought to be involved with. Ask about the conditions under which production takes place and look at what different certifications promise.

It is not difficult to imagine that there are environmentally friendly products that have been produced under miserable conditions without your knowledge. This is why it is so important to be well-accustomed with the different terms, which many unfortunately use interchangeably.

The UN’s global goals

Many businesses are already in the process of working with the UN’s 17 global goals, which aim to ensure a sustainable future for both people and the environment by the year 2030.

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