An environmental revolution is underway that will impact communities, governments and businesses across the globe. Conservation and management of finite resources are at stake as we address the "perfect storm" of rising energy prices and the societal and customer expectations to go green. The Healthcare industry is no exception, and packaging will play a key role in providing solutions, as it represents upwards of 30-50% of the overall waste stream. As manufacturers and suppliers position for the future, a clear understanding of customer requirements including return on environment will not only have a profound impact on package design, but present significant opportunity for those on the cutting edge of this revolution.
Packaging performance in sustainability and environmental excellence are increasingly referenced by investors as leading indicators for management quality and long-term shareholder value throughout the entire supply chain. Performance-based packaging metrics are the foundation that can be directly mapped to sustainability efforts, including associated impact on profitability, capital cost and increased revenue. When done correctly, suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and end users can share success with sound corporate environmental stewardship, profit improvement and growth.
Sustainability Scorecards Start with the Customer and End User
The use of sustainability scorecards has been widely recognized as the foundation of environmental preferred procurement (EPP) practices. Many companies have effectively and dramatically impacted package design criteria within retail and consumer markets utilizing these tools. A number of the largest hospital groups in the U.S. expect to do the same by leading environmental stewardship initiatives within the healthcare community. Many European hospitals and manufacturers have taken the lead on these efforts over the past decade with a good success rate in source reduction of materials and with recycling of plastics, paper and certain metals including aluminum.
What the Healthcare Sustainability Scorecard Measures
It is important to first understand that the Healthcare Sustainability scorecard is mapped to actual product use and from that, specific scores are provided for each supplier. These scores will then be included in the overall decision-making process that will provide an environmental benchmark included in the procurement decision-making process.
This is a fundamental shift from the prior decision-making process where knowledge of packaging, chemical composition and environmentally friendly processes are unknown.
The healthcare sustainability scorecard will focus initially on a spreadsheet that suppliers fill out for each of their products, and it looks at 10 criteria. Six of those criteria relate to specific chemicals, and the other four involve the recycled content of the packaging. Based on a numbering system, an environmental factor to differentiate products and suppliers will be established.
Healthcare Scorecard is a Good Start
“Green washing” or misleading marketing claims can damage credibility and in serious situations, result in litigation. The use of sound metrics based on a clear understanding of the voice of customer and systems. waste stream dynamics will not only avoid costly mistakes, but position organizations to reap benefits with increased profitability, sales growth and positive corporate perception. The healthcare scorecard is a good start, but much more is needed as we progress into the future.
The use of an acceptable life cycle analysis (LCA), one that is generated on mathematical modeling, and includes all appropriate factors associated with cradle-to-cradle metrics, is the foundation. Software applications continue to expand and improve. The ability to provide an objective assessment that supports a properly weighted average on all environmental factors will be key. It will also be important to recognize and adjust to the dynamics of a changing waste management stream. The impact concerning waste to energy, biodegradability, recycling and landfill options can dramatically change design decisions and render a package as less than environmentally friendly if not done correctly. Maintaining a good understanding of voice of the customer, and evolving changes in the waste stream will be vital to an organization's success.
Use Sustainability to for Market Edge
The medical waste stream represents significant cost to hospitals and end users to dispose of properly. As hospitals embrace EPP, they expect to see cost savings, better regulatory compliance and enhanced corporate social responsibility for sustainable packaging. And they want it done right. Packagers who respond can gain a marketplace advantage. The following steps should be considered as part of an effective strategy:
Develop a Mission Statement for Sustainable Packaging
No matter where you are along the packaging supply chain, make it part of your company environmental policy by taking the following actions:
- Get senior management to buy in
- Make it part of standard operating procedures and incorporate as part of the new product
- Development process, cost reduction and compliance requirements
- Work collaboratively with other functional disciplines to support the strategy across your organization
Develop a Legislative Benchmark and Compliance Strategy
- Understand the legislative requirement in all global locations where you sell products and packaging
- Set action plans focused on compliance. Work with regulatory bodies across the globe as well as industry groups to develop sound legislative policy and positions. That is especially true for areas where your organization anticipates future requirements.
Continue an Ongoing Engagement with Voice of the Customer
- Understand strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities within the challenges of waste management. Do that for your organization, and do it for your customers. Know their waste management processes, trends and challenges.
- Understand present and future direction. That gives you the basis for developing effective strategies to better meet these evolving needs. In doing so, you enhance the opportunities to increase revenue, lower cost and prove the basis for good corporate citizenship.
Build Metrics, Corporate Goals and Competitive Benchmarks on LCA Modeling
- Be concerned about the perception of “green washing”non-legitimate labeling and marketing claims.
- Use LCA models to support your efforts. They help you focus on source reduction and sustainable package material choice;
- Identify sustainable manufacturing processes and equipment;
- Impact the supply chain; and Identify shared opportunities in cost savings with suppliers, distributors and end users.
Eliminate or Change Materials that Create Environmental Deficiencies in Medical Waste
Look to replace PVC and plasticizers. Use materials that are inert or non-harmful in common waste management technologies such as landfill, incineration, chemical disinfection, autoclave and microwave systems.
Kevin Mulligan, a senior associate and consultant with PTIS, has over 30 years of work experience focused primarily on sterile medical, pharmaceutical and personal care products packaging. Kevin has held senior packaging leadership positions with several Fortune 500 companies during his career and has worked extensively across the globe as a recognized leader in packaging innovation. Kevin recently completed a collaborative effort with Michigan State University on a Healthcare Packaging textbook, and has been a keynote speaker at several industry events. Kevin is a recognized leader within the industry and has been published internationally.