Choosing a Sustainable Packaging Supplier: Questions to Ask

Finding a packaging supplier that aligns with your sustainability goals is important. Here are some questions you can ask when researching packaging suppliers.

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Choosing a packaging supplier is a big decision. When you search for a packaging supplier, it’s important to ensure that your company is getting what you need from the business relationship—financially, logistically and environmentally. These essential questions will help you determine if the packaging supplier is a good fit or not.


Aligning Sustainability Goals

Is sustainability a priority at your organisation? If so, it’s important to make sure it is also a priority for your packaging supplier. If environmental goals are misaligned between your organisations, you may want to find a different supplier. 


What are your key focus areas when it comes to packaging sustainability?

If the packaging supplier cannot answer questions about topics such as sustainable packaging materials, right-sizing, shipping efficiency and environmental regulations, they are not likely to deliver on your sustainability goals. Ask specific questions about the supplier’s packaging optimisations to ensure their sustainability objectives are aligned with yours.


Can you provide examples of past sustainable packaging wins?

The best predictor of future success is past success. Does the packaging supplier have case studies or testimonials from past clients? Can they show you how they have helped other clients achieve sustainability wins in an economically viable way? If they cannot provide specific examples, you may need to continue your search.


Does your organisation have defined sustainability goals?

Packaging suppliers that are committed to sustainability often have defined goals they want to reach by a given year. In addition to gathering anecdotal information about client wins, ask the supplier if they have any sustainability reports they can share. Typically, sustainability reports will outline a company’s environmental goals and provide detailed insights into how they are trending towards these objectives. 


Sustainable Practices in Action 

Finding a packaging supplier whose environmental goals match your organisation’s is important, but it’s equally important to ensure that the packaging supplier is following through on their sustainability initiatives. Below are some questions you ask to make sure prospective packaging suppliers are following sustainable practices.


How does your organisation source raw materials? 

A key aspect of sustainable packaging is the type of material that is used and how these materials are sourced. Ask prospective packaging suppliers where they get their materials and what steps they take to ensure their materials are responsibly sourced. For example, if a supplier carries FSC-certified packaging, you can rest assured they are obtaining paper materials from responsibly managed forests. 


What are your strategies for reducing material usage? 

Efficient material usage is essential for reducing packaging waste. The right packaging supplier should be able to speak to material reduction in packaging design. Not only is efficient material use better for the planet; it will also help with the performance of your packaging. Packaging that contains excessive materials or that is not sized correctly may lead to increased product damage. 


How does your organisation conserve energy? 

Sustainable packaging suppliers often hire third-party organisations to perform life cycle assessments of packaging. This process is intended to measure the environmental impact of different packaging products. Part of this assessment looks at how much energy is required to produce the packaging. When vetting potential packaging suppliers, ask them what steps they take to reduce energy consumption.


Can you prove your compliance with environmental regulations? 

Depending on where your packaging is produced, there will be certain environmental regulations that packaging suppliers need to follow. For example, China has developed restrictions which limit the volume of packaging allowed in proportion to the product. In Vietnam, packaging producers are required to recycle certain materials


A trusted packaging partner will be upfront about their compliance process and will provide any requested documentation to show they are aligned with government standards. If your packaging supplier is hesitant to answer questions about compliance, you may want to reevaluate. 


Do you have any sustainable packaging certifications? 

Sustainable packaging certifications can be used to measure the sustainability performance of a packaging supplier. There are a variety of sustainable packaging certifications that exist—some focus on how paper is sourced while others focus on aspects such as carbon emissions. 


The organisations that administer certifications typically require suppliers to undergo a thorough application process. With that mind, these types of certifications can act as reliable indicators that the supplier is following through on its environmental commitments. 


Additional Questions to Ask Packaging Suppliers

In addition to assessing the sustainability of a packaging supplier, you should ask some basic questions to help you gain an understanding of the supplier’s capabilities and specialities. 


Can you describe the extent of your manufacturing capabilities?

Can the organisation handle the volume of packaging your organisation needs? Do they have the equipment needed to produce branded graphics? Are they able to use sustainable packaging materials to help you reach your sustainability goals?


It’s important to gain a thorough understanding of what the packaging supplier can and cannot do for your organisation. On a large scale, the supplier’s limitations can amount to significant challenges.


Do you have packaging designers and engineers at your organisation?

Packaging designers and engineers focus on the form and function of your organisation’s packaging. Their responsibilities might include identifying opportunities to minimise material use, eliminate empty space or improve graphics. 


Packaging designers and engineers also ensure that packaging is durable enough to transport products without damage. Reverse logistics and returns are incredibly expensive, and packaging designers and engineers are uniquely qualified to minimise these losses.


Does your organisation have regional expertise and contacts?

If you need to produce packaging in multiple countries, your packaging supplier needs to have regional expertise. No two countries have the same labor costs, environmental regulations or customs requirements. Having knowledgeable staff on the ground is crucial to keeping production numbers up, keeping labor costs down and avoiding costly regulatory penalties.


What are your typical lead times?

The past years have seen a surge in supply chain disruptions. Have these disruptions affected the typical lead times for the packaging supplier? You want to work with a packaging supplier that can be reliable, even during challenging times. Ask if the packaging supplier has any contingency plans in place to keep lead times low despite disruptions. For example, packaging suppliers that work with a comprehensive network of regional manufacturers and partners can shift sourcing as needed in response to factory shutdowns or delays.


What steps does your organisation take to ensure quality and performance?

The supplier’s packaging may be within your budget and aligned with your environmental goals, but this becomes fruitless if your packaging cannot reach the customer without getting damaged. For this reason, it is important to work with a sustainable packaging supplier that performs packaging testing during the development phase to ensure quality and performance. 


What sets your organisation apart from other packaging suppliers?

When you are looking for the right packaging supplier, you will need to know what sets them apart from the competition. Ask about their packaging specialisations, past successes and unique capabilities to ensure they are suited to reach your organisation’s sustainability goals.


Connect with a Sustainable Packaging Supplier

Many supply chain professionals make the mistake of opting for the cheapest packaging supplier. Unfortunately, the lower upfront cost can result in significant challenges and inefficiencies, such as high return rates and poor sustainability performance. 


To find out how you could work with a packaging supplier that covers all of your sustainable packaging requirements while keeping costs at a minimum, request a packaging review from Billerud Managed Packaging. We are dedicated to helping brands implement sustainable packaging solutions that benefit the planet as well as their bottom line. 


For more insights into sustainable packaging strategies, download our eBook, How Packaging Contributes to a More Sustainable Future.

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