Sustainable Packaging Requires an Innovative Data-Driven Ecosystem 

Sustainable packaging is a complex challenge that cuts across several evolving manufacturing developments.

Sustainable packaging is a complex challenge that cuts across several evolving manufacturing developments.

Consumer demand for eco-friendly packaging continues to rise across all demographics. Satisfying consumer demand goes beyond merely swapping out non-recyclable plastics. Sustainable packaging is a complex challenge that cuts across various evolving manufacturing trends. 

Packaging design issues changed during the pandemic. Consumer demand for home delivery skyrocketed. Packaging for delivery to a retail store is much different than packaging for delivery via direct-to-consumer channels (DTC). Products headed to the retail are packaged for “lower touch” shipping from warehouse to store. Packaging design represents brand and product as well as providing protection. Products headed to the DTC channel are “high touch” and typically single use. The buying decision has already been made, so branding is less relevant, protection in the supply chain and logistic networks is the priority requirement. Consumers often complain about excessive materials that still fail to adequately protect the product, if the products are not designed to meet the needs of the shipping journey. 

Research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation shows there has been minimal advancement in reducing reliance on single-use packaging despite this basic shift. Overall, only around 14 percent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling. The foundation calls this a $10 billion innovation opportunity to reduce waste, save money, and embrace sustainability. 

Leading with Life Cycle Assessment 

Joint research from IBM and the National Retail Federation (NRF) shows consumers are prepared to pay a premium for five distinct attributes that align with sustainability initiatives. These attributes encompass “clean” products; offerings that streamline daily routines; products containing organic ingredients; recyclability; and the 

perception of environmental responsibility. These attributes apply equally to packaging. The study notes that eight out of ten survey respondents regarded sustainability as an “essential” consideration in their purchasing decisions. 

Addressing this demand requires a measured, holistic strategy based on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Manufacturers must carefully evaluate an array of factors, including material selection, delivery logistics, and user experience considerations. These crucial decisions, among others, shape the packaging design process from beginning to end. Early visibility to material selection is crucial; up to 80 percent of a product’s environmental impact is determined during the initial design lifecycle. 

Contemporary problems require contemporary tools and processes. To drive disruptive sustainable innovation, companies need to integrate eco-design principles into upstream thinking about future products and processes. However, most business solutions on the market today are still focused on retroactively measuring the footprint of yesterday’s economy. 

A new round of “we need a better box” thinking is required to find the innovative solutions throughout the value chain. Consider these four LCA-based steps for delivering sustainable packaging: 

1. Project Requirements: Gather consumer sentiment from artificial intelligence analytics during the concept phase. Reap step-change project efficiency improvements with a platform for data-driving packaging requirements and collaboration. 

2. Material Verification: Use advanced simulation to virtually test new materials faster to meet requirements (i.e., quality, performance, material biodegradability, recyclability). 

3. Package Design and Qualification: Move quickly from packaging virtual concepts to 3D designs and related mold and tooling (reducing physical prototypes) using virtual design and simulation tools. Apply LCA analysis to understand the 

environmental impact of packaging design, material choices, and manufacturing methods to make the best decisions rapidly. 

4. Integrated Product Design: Optimize team and supplier collaboration for development and downstream processes such as optimizing artwork, technical packaging specs and materials engineering. Minimize non-value-added work by reusing the product specification data for future packaging projects. 

Sustainable Innovation Intelligence 

At Dassault Systèmes we believe virtual twin universes combined with LCA analysis are the key to disruptive opportunity. In product development, a digital twin is an accurate digital representation of the physical part or product. The virtual twin takes that a step further by allowing you to visualize, model and simulate future scenarios, encompassing the entire environment of sophisticated experience. 

For consumer packaged goods (CPG), virtual models can simulate the complete ecosystem of product, packaging, and supply chain. This real-time virtualization makes it easier for manufacturers to identify shortcomings, root out inefficiencies, and study areas for improvement. 

We call this new approach Sustainable Innovation Intelligence, our solution for driving circular economy design and LCA. This solution is a combination of virtual twin technology and life cycle assessment capabilities. As part of our 3DEXPERIENCE portfolio, it offers the ability to proactively eliminate or minimize environmental impacts of products and processes throughout their entire life cycle. 

Better Data, Better Results 

The non-profit Ecoinvent Association is considered a global leader in providing data crucial to LCA and sustainable design. Founded by five Swiss research associations, Ecoinvent offers a comprehensive, consistent, and transparent data resource. More than 20,000 datasets provide crucial data on human activities, agricultural production, and industrial processes in a wide variety of sectors. 

The Ecoinvent databases are uniquely integrated into the Sustainable Innovation Intelligence solution. LCA specialists, industrial designers, product engineers, and manufacturing engineers can create circular life cycles by setting up sustainability requirements early on and collaboratively driving them throughout the design, product development and manufacturing engineering phases. The team has access to such key metrics as natural resources extracted, emissions produced, products demanded from other processes, and co-product waste. 

This gold mine of sustainability data is a crucial design asset. “Collectively building a sustainable economy requires transforming the sustainable innovation process, from extracting raw materials to usage, reuse and recycling,” says Florence Verzelen, executive vice president for industry, marketing and sustainability at Dassault Systèmes. She adds, “Data science experiences that combine LCA capabilities with virtual twin technology offer companies new ways to innovate by understanding how their decisions affect natural resources, ecosystems and health.” 

Sustainable Innovation Intelligence integrates supply of materials, design, manufacturing, operations, logistics, sales, marketing, and end-of-life management. It offers collaborative, real-time insights, allowing teams to identify problems or improvements virtually before acting on them. The approach hard-wires traceability and reliability into the process. 

Virtualize to Lower Costs 

Research from Accenture shows companies using the latest technology for sustainability design can lower costs by reducing raw material usage in product development. The study also shows more efficient and holistic design practices reduce CO2 emissions. Previous studies link design decisions to up to 80% of a product’s environmental impact. 

Accenture says virtual twins offer the ability to incorporate sustainability by design. CPG companies constantly create and store new data, but the challenge lies in successfully using available data to gain meaningful insight. Virtual modeling of the entire CPG ecosystem allows companies to collaboratively balance the key industry drivers of sustainability, time to market, and brand strength. 

Cradle to Grave to Cradle 

From enhancing consumer satisfaction to optimizing logistics operations, sustainable packaging tailored to its intended purpose touches every facet of growth in the CPG sector. Forward-thinking companies are already leveraging cutting-edge technologies to research, design, formulate, and manufacture packaging solutions that place sustainability and suitability at the core of their strategic values. 

By harnessing the power of Virtual Twin ecosystem modeling, CPG companies can integrate sustainability considerations from the earliest stages of product conceptualization through to end-of-life management, creating a circular economy approach to packaging. This holistic digital framework facilitates cross-functional collaboration, enabling companies to proactively identify and address potential issues, optimize material usage, and minimize environmental impact throughout the product's lifecycle. 

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