The 3 C's of sustainable packaging: Cube, Content, Curb

By following the 3 C's of sustainable packaging — cube, content and curb — your company can make its packaging supply chain both environmentally conscious and consumer-friendly.


Consumers are looking to invest in sustainability. According to Nielsen, 90% of millennials surveyed in 2018 said they are willing to spend more on products that contain environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients, and 80% said they would spend more on products that have social responsibility claims. If you are looking to capture those customers, you should include packaging in your overall sustainability message. 

To get ahead, progressive companies are focusing on making their packaging recyclable or reusable, a process that starts from product development and impacts all stages of the supply chain.

What are the 3 C's of sustainable packaging design?

Deploying the 3Cs of packaging design allows companies to use more sustainable supply-chain strategies, support their customers’ environmentally-conscious ways and save money in the process. Here is an explanation of each C and details on how to put them to work in your operations.    

Cube: right-sizing packaging



Companies who want to improve their packaging strategies should start by asking a simple question: Is the packaging actually the right fit for the product that we are shipping? This ensures that your product fits the packaging securely, and without wasting any space—a practice known as cube utilization, which is important both in primary and transport packaging design.

  • Did you answer no? Then you will want to remove or reduce non-sustainable parts and focus on maximizing space utilization within the package itself
  • If you answered yes, then it is time to explore options related to packaging materials to make items even more sustainable

To help with this process, at Billerud we perform distribution center or package-level audits to evaluate a set number of cartons and find opportunities to reduce material. With the goal of increasing container yield, these actions help reduce the amount of air space in a carton while increasing shipping efficiencies.

Similarly, outdoor retailer REI designs packaging to reduce material use and ensure that every package is fitted to the products that it holds. According to the company’s website, the process includes assessing the product protection factor; minimizing material usage or eliminating packaging completely, and measuring and managing the package-to-product ratio and the carton efficiency.

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Supply chains are responsible for a significant amount of carbon emissions and other forms of pollution.

Content: Using the Right Materials


Getting sustainable packaging right also means ensuring that you are using suitable materials for the products that you are shipping. As the selection of packaging solutions available on the market continues to expand, choosing the right type of material is becoming more difficult. For example, you may be choosing from:

  • Stronger materials like paperboard
  • Single- or double-wall containerboard for added protection and wall support
  • Molded plastic or corrugated fillers to reduce movement inside packages

When making these choices, it is important to note that simply adding additional layers of corrugated board does not necessarily make the box stronger, which can be tested with analysis like box compression tests. By considering the materials of your container, you may find that instead of using low-grade double- or triple-walled constructed shipping cartons, you can reduce to single-wall cartons with a specific board composition that outperforms your current package. This saves on material cost, increases container yield and reduces warehouse storage space.

Another key consideration when choosing the appropriate material and container is the shipment’s journey as it makes its way from the manufacturing site in Southeast Asia to the end user. By factoring in supply chain conditions, the type of product being transported, how it will be stacked in the warehouse or DC and how much humidity it will be exposed to, companies can select the best carton materials for their operations. 

Curb: Ready for Curbside Recycling


curbside-packaging-pickup.jpgIn 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, the EPA found that containers and packaging made up 29.7% of all landfill waste generated. Knowing this, a growing number of companies are realizing the critical nature of sustainability in their product packaging.


Source: Environmental Protection Agency

Companies are now looking for new ways to incorporate packaging materials that have less of an impact on the planet while also building stronger reputations as organizations that care about the lives of future generations. To support these efforts, our engineers analyze current package designs that have considerable amounts of foam and other non-sustainable materials, redesign them using fiber-based materials and then conduct a series of transportation tests to validate the designs.

By taking these steps, we help companies reach their sustainability goals, create greater transparency across their supply chains, reduce costs and uncover new opportunities for improvement.

How to implement sustainable packaging best practices

Sustainable packaging is more than just a single corporate initiative or decision; it takes time, effort and investment to implement and use the 3Cs of packaging. Some steps to start you off in this direction include:

  1. Audit your packaging and end-to-end supply chain with the goal of finding opportunities for elimination and reduction. Some may be immediately obvious while others may take time to identify and mitigate.
  2. Set sustainability goals. Make it an enterprise effort and involve all key stakeholders, including warehousing, supply chain, transportation, marketing, sales and customer service departments. 
  3. Implement best practices. Start small and do not be afraid to fail. Even small changes to how you are currently handling packaging can make significant differences down the road.
  4. Measure your progress. Look at how the changes you are making impact operations, ask for customer feedback and then use it to make good decisions going forward.
  5. Iterate. Revisit your strategies often and adjust as needed.  

Adopting a sustainability mindset

More companies are embracing sustainable management business practices, but packaging sustainability is not solved with single actions. Transformational change in this area takes time, effort, commitment and real cultural shifts. It is important that you are questioning the sustainability of your supply chain at all stages of the business, from product development to internal business operations. Choosing partners such as Billerud with a strong track record of sustainable practices is an early step you can take toward increased sustainability. 

To learn more about how to implement the 3Cs and create a sustainable packaging program, download our Designing a Sustainable Packaging Program eBook today.

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