Standardizing Approaches toward Sustainability

The Consumer Goods Forum has released its Global Protocol on Packaging Sustainability (GPPS) 2.0, and pharmaceutical and medical device packaging professionals would be well served to take a look. Most challenging in developing a sustainability program is figuring out what and how to measure, and with the forum representing more than 650 companies, this protocol offers quite a consensus.

Interestingly, the GPPS isn't really anything new. Using “existing methods and definitions,” the protocol affords users the chance to base “dialogue with trading partners . . . on a defined set of common terms, measures, and values,” explains the forum in its Frequently Asked Questions document.

The forum developed the GPPS “to help corporate decision makers form balanced and informed views about the role of packaging in sustainable development,” explains the forum in the FAQ. Expected benefits include “increased efficiency, better cost control, improved decision making, easier relationships, and better communication with a multitude of stakeholders,” the group writes.

The GPPS complements ISO draft standards on packaging and the environment. “The GPPS metrics are not a standard, and the ISO standards contain no metrics,” reads the FAQ. “The two documents are, however, compatible as several of the GPPS environmental attributes are based on ISO standards and European (CEN) Standards (EN 13427-13432).”

While the GPPS itself is not meant to be an industry scorecard, the forum hopes that its metrics and indicators will prove useful for others drafting their own. “As more and more companies begin to use the GPPS, it is believed that this will become the preferred way of discussing sustainability issues,” writes the forum.

In preparing its own “Responsible Packaging by Design” protocol, ISTA drew from GPPS metrics as well as from work by INCPEN and EUROPEN.

Critical to standardizing sustainability discussions is identifying the functional units of measurement, the group reports. “A well-defined functional unit allows comparison of two essentially different systems or products on an equivalent basis,” writes the forum in the protocol. “The functional unit is just as important for comparisons made using attribute metrics, such as packaging weight, as it is in life cycle assessment.”

The high performance demanded of pharmaceutical and medical device packaging is appreciated. “It is important that the functional unit reflects the packaging performance required with respect to the packaged product,” the protocol states. “This might include required strength of the packaging, required protection during transportation . . . protection against light penetration,” among others.

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is discussed pretty extensively as a tool to “quantify environmental impacts associated with the life cycle of a good or service,” reads the document, referencing ISO 14040 and ISO 14044.

Also discussed are the use of recycled or renewable content and rates of packaging reuse and recovery as well as economic and social metrics and indicators.

Social considerations do appear to center mostly on workers and packaging-related projects that affect communities, such as recycling programs, rather than on consumer benefits that might resonate with those pharmaceutical and medical device packagers counting patient benefits among the social aspects of sustainability.

The protocol and FAQ are available free of charge and available for download from the Project Website at

The Consumer Goods Forum will offer a Webinar covering GPPS on October 25, 2011. For questions, please contact Ruediger Hagedorn, Collaborative Industry Programmes, The Consumer Goods Forum, at

Daphne Allen


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