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Behind the Packaging: Sustainable Supply Chains

Many of us judge how sustainable products are by claims that they make on the packaging: recycled materials, recyclable plastic, not tested on animals, and so on. However, there’s a lot more that goes into the carbon footprint than what we see.

From how we transport products to how they are stored, so many things all affect the impact that individual item has on the environment. If we want to make sustainable choices as consumers and make sustainable claims as businesses, we need to be aware of all of these factors in advance. Here are some key considerations to take into account.

Supply Chains

Wasted Water

In certain supply chains, water is one of the worst areas of unnecessary waste. This is an increasingly urgent problem, as water demand is expected to increase from the 4.5 trillion m3 of today to 6.9 trillion m3 by 2030. That’s 40% more than the current amount of usable water available to use globally. In other words, pretty soon we won’t have enough to go around.

According to another report from McKinsey, water gets wasted in ways that many industries don’t even track. The first step to handling water management is to gather more data regarding water usage and learn the actions we can take to make the most of one of the world’s most precious resources, while we still have it.


Sustainable Transport

According to a report from the McKinsey Institute, over 90% of the environmental damage caused by companies that package consumer goods comes from their supply chains. The majority of this is from greenhouse gas emissions released during the shipping process and from international travel through oceans.

The best way to avoid these kinds of environmental issues is to simply not purchase from abroad. However, that’s not always viable for many people financially. Some products can also only be sourced from other countries, like certain foods, medicines, and so on.

When this is the case, shipping things by boat or train wherever possible reduces the carbon footprint of the product. Shipping things by plane guzzles fuel like nothing else and produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide.


Energy Used in Transit

For perishable products, like dairy products, fish, and meat, a lot of energy is used in transit just to keep them cool and safe. On top of that come other requirements: pressurised chambers on planes, storage at warehouses, transport to and from intermediate locations. The further products travel, the more tasks pile up and the more energy is used up.

That’s why, as noted above, the best way forward for both businesses and consumers is to shop local wherever possible. Even better, organise transport for your items personally, whether that means getting your own delivery team together for your business or heading down to a local store to pick up your goods yourself.

The more control you have over your supply chain, the more you will be able to put sustainable practices into action. Only when you see what’s going on in front of you can you be a part of the change that will build a better world.


To learn more about sustainable changes in supply chains and what some businesses are already implementing to be more environmentally friendly, come along to Zero Waste Berlin Festival. Tickets are currently available to buy here, so make sure you secure your space alongside like-minded professionals, entrepreneurs, and activists on September 17-19. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!


  • Rachael Davies

    Rachael Davies is a freelance writer and journalist based in Edinburgh, with work in National Geographic, Huffington Post, and TechRadar. You can find her on Twitter @rachdaviesetc or via her website.