US based Wal-Mart Stores, the world's largest retailer, this week announced it has fully implemented a Packaging Scorecard, which is used to assess suppliers on their progress towards developing sustainable packaging.
Wal-Mart has decided to roll the store cards out despite widespread criticism from industry players, many saying that the cards should not be allowed to determine the market.
The scorecard requires suppliers to enter information into a program, which allows them to compare their sustainable packaging credentials against those of other suppliers.
Parameters used include greenhouse gas emissions, product to package ratio, space utilization, innovation, the amount of renewable energy used in production of the packaging, and emissions related to the distance materials for packing are transported. Suppliers receive a score in each category.
The Packaging Scorecard was introduced as part of Wal-Mart's commitment to reduce packaging across its global supply chain by 5 per cent by 2013. The retailer is using the scorecard to measure and recognise its supply chain based upon suppliers' ability to use less packaging, utilise more effective materials in packaging and source these materials efficiently.
Following the scorecard's launch it was put through a trial phase, during which time suppliers were invited to input, store and track data, sharing their results as desired. They were given the opportunity to learn about the scorecard and work with buyers to think about sustainable packaging solutions.
By the end of January this year, more than 97 000 products had been entered into the scorecard by 6,371 different suppliers.
Suppliers are offered scorecard training sessions through Wal-Mart partners ECRM. They also offer Package Modelling Software, which allows companies to run 'what if' scenarios on their packaging and measure the environmental impact of changing suppliers, materials or other variables. The software was developed to help suppliers improve their scorecard ratings. Training is offered through the ECRM website.
The parameters for the scorecard were developed through the Packaging Sustainable Value Network, comprised of suppliers, government agencies, academics, trade associations and non-governmental organisations. The company will continue to work with this group throughout 2008 to refine the metrics.
Asda follows packaging lead
Wal-Mart's UK arm, ASDA, is also introducing measures to reduce packaging.
It recently announced plans to plough £10m (€13.5m) into lowering prices as a result of reducing packaging on own brand products. A representative at the company told FoodProductionDaily.com savings would also be ploughed back into developing other green initiatives.
In May, Asda also said it plans to introduce a 'Green Rollbacks' scheme.
This is a way to allow consumers to identify products that meet certain sustainability criteria, and could take the form of a label or information to consumers.
The company explained "Our in-house packaging team will review every product in ASDA's range, tracking by line the amount and type of packaging used across our entire range. Products that have had packaging reduced will be entitled to a Green Rollback".
The introduction of Green Rollbacks forms part of ASDA's commitment to reduce its own label packaging by 25 per cent by the end of 2008. The company said that this equates to 27 000 tonnes across 500 product lines.
The company said that products which have already been repackaged and which could be in line for Green Rollbacks include ready meals - which now use 32 per cent less cardboard - and wine, where a lighter weight glass bottle should ensure 300 tonnes of glass is removed from production each year.
The company said it might adopt the Wal-Mart Packaging Scorecard.
At a sustainable packaging forum held in the US last November, Julian Carroll, the managing director of the European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment (Europen), argued against an international roll-out of the cards, fearing that the system would become an unavoidable industry standard.
"Not only could such an eventuality disrupt the market but even worse, it risks evolving in such a way as to become an inhibitor of innovation rather than a stimulator," he said.
Carroll warned that the cards should not be considered as an environmental evaluation tool for packaging as the aggregated results it produces cannot be scientifically validated.
For example the greenhouse gas measurement in the scorecard excludes all life cycle steps except material manufacturing, he said.
Because of the exclusion the scorecard in not consistent with the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) standard for life cycle analysis of packaging. The exclusion would leads to a "substantial underestimation" of life cycle CO2 emissions, he said.
Additionally, the effect of recycled content on CO2 emissions is not fed back to the greenhouse gas indicator, he claimed.