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Amcor: Packing light for the future

Everyone is under pressure to take action on climate change - even in the most mundane moments like the quick dash around the supermarket to grab a few ingredients for dinner.

This pressure draws consumers to certain products. This brand or that? The product inside is often almost identical. The marketing gurus know the colours and fonts that draw the eyes and now they also know that enviro-friendly packaging makes a difference in those split seconds of decision making.

Add to that the cost of food wastage and the potential of good packaging to extend shelf life and this translates to pressure on packaging suppliers to come up with solutions that work on all levels - for consumers, for companies and for climate change.

Australian-based packaging giant Amcor has taken this shift in reasoning to heart and publicly declared in its 2007 annual report that it recognises that its long-term economic performance is in part dependent on a balanced and focused approach to social and environmental responsibility.

Amcor’s Group Sustainability Manager Mick Blake explained this statement a little further saying the company’s approach to sustainability was to create shareholder value by taking advantage of opportunities and managing risks.

He added: “In terms of opportunities it means we want to be the leader not a follower, and we have made a commitment to working closely with our stakeholders, particularly our customers, to develop environmental and innovative packaging solutions.”

The last few years have seen many of these innovative solutions introduced to supermarket shelves - ranging from bio-based chocolate box trays (that are so biodegradable they dissolve in water) to oven-safe cardboard baking trays (that let bakers sell cakes in the boxes they were baked in.)

But perhaps Amcor’s brightest innovation of late is its adoption of an advanced business planning tool that it uses to help its customers evaluate the true cost of the packaging they choose.

Called Life Cycle Assessment it’s a service that demonstrates the relative merits of different kinds of packaging and identifies areas of potential improvement in environmental outcomes and product performance.

The assessment process aligns closely with the set of principles known as the 4Rs. The first is R stands for Redesign - meaning the best outcome is the development of a new kind of packaging that uses less raw materials while still meeting the functional and aesthetic requirements of the customer.

The next best outcome is achieving the same packaging for the same price with some Reduction in material, water and energy use. This is followed by the 3rd R which involves making packaging that can be Reused without further processing.

The 4th R stands for Recycling meaning re-processing into secondary products.

The four Rs are clearly not mutually exclusive and Amcor works with its customers considering all four of them in relation to the packaging from its point of creation to eventual destruction.

Amcor’s new VinPorter™ wine box is a good example of an integrated 4R product. Made from a patented new design that uses less material than individual bottle boxes, it holds six bottles and functions as a shipping box, a point of sale display box and a customer carry box and it’s reusable and recyclable.

While Amcor sees merit in all four approaches, the company has been focusing on continuous improvement around resource efficiency across its global manufacturing operations.

Amcor Australasia’s Group Environment and Sustainability Manager John Newton said: “We recognise that we are on a journey but we have made good progress in a number of areas.

“For example water use per unit of production has reduced by 26% over the last 2 years across Amcor's Australian operations and Amcor's Petrie Cartonboard Mill has reduced water consumption by a massive 36% over this period as a result of a range of water saving initiatives including increased use of recycling through the water treatment ponds and eliminating use of potable (town) water for cooling.

In addition Amcor has set aggressive environmental improvement targets such as a 60% reduction in the company’s carbon footprint by 2030.

Achieving this will involve action on the issue of transport and the company is addressing this by moving some of its plants closer to the regions they serve. On the customer service front, the Life Cycle Assessment includes consideration of how much space various types packaging occupy in cargo containers.

Mr Newton explained: “Introduction of Amcor’s Maxipak® sack enabled an Australian milk powder exporter to pack 10% to 18% more product into each shipping container using 20% to 30% less packaging materials.”

This approach is turning heads within the industry with the Australian Packaging Awards presented in October 2007 recognising Amcor’s achievements in sustainability on a number of fronts.

Amcor won the Gold National Packaging Covenant Action Plan Award in recognition of its commitment to product stewardship; the Silver Sustainability Award for its SureFresh™ Produce Carton (an alternative to plastic or wax coated fruit trays that is easily collapsible and recyclable); and the Silver Technical Innovation Award for its Versatal® Polymer Coated Steel Beverage Can.

Looking beyond environmental sustainability into social accountability Amcor has a number of community partnerships running under its flagship community engagement program teamcor™.

One of these is a partnership with the Education Foundation Australia’s ruMAD? (aRe yoU Making A Difference?) program that encourages and supports school students to initiate change in their communities.

Amcor is also partnering with Young Achievement Australia (YAA) to introduce a new Environmental Sustainability Award to YAA’s Business Skills Program for secondary and tertiary students. The Award recognises business students who have successfully minimised their company’s environmental footprint and contributed to a more sustainable future.

In the words of David Brookes, General Manager Public Affairs Amcor Australasia: “The partnership with YAA aligns with the priority focus of Amcor’s community engagement program to support environmental and community education activities.

“Over time we would like to achieve a neutral net environmental impact from our manufacturing operations. We are not sure by when and how this will be achieved. But this is our vision for the future. In the meantime, we are working to ensure we make the most sustainable packaging possible that meets our customers’ needs.”

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