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Date 30th June 2010 / www.procarton.com

Ask the Expert: Ecodesign


In the first issue of the new series "Ask the Expert" Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wimmer answered questions by Pro Carton members. Wimmer is professor at the Technical University Vienna and founder and managing partner of the Ecodesign Company Engineering & Management Consultancy GmbH located in Vienna, Seoul and Ottawa. He is an expert on solutions for systematically developing products with a new balance between economics and ecology.

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How will the topic CO2 balance affect the supply chain in concrete terms?
The US retailer WalMart has set a target to reduce the CO2 balance of their products by 20 million tons in the coming years. And other retailers will follow. When looking at production processes, the products themselves have already been largely optimised. But in terms of packaging considerable progress can still be made, just think of the CD Jewelcases!

Why are positive environmental properties often of so little consequence in daily business? Or, put another way, is cartonboard sold below value?
Many companies offer good products with excellent environmental properties, but fail to promote this point sufficiently. The cartonboard and folded carton industry still have a considerable potential for communicating the sustainability of their products! It is not a question of always having the perfect solution, I always follow the maxime, nearly right rather than definitely wrong. And what is done well should also be communicated. This ensures that things will develop in the right direction, and those operating environment-friendly will eventually hold the trump cards, also in commercial terms.
One needs fresh ideas continuously to feed communication: for example: there are numerous cover sleeves for iPhones - why are there no cartonboard sleeves, say, in packs of 10?

Carbon-, water-, product footprint – can we expect an inflation of footprints, which, as a consequence, will no longer be taken seriously? 
No, there are not that many footprints, and the carbon footprint is the most important one at present. The product carbon footprint is a new topic which the public needs to be made aware of. The question for the consumer is always: how can I get a reasonable opinion on the environmental effects of a product? And here, only a few elements are of overriding importance, especially the carbon footprint as this measures the effect on global warming, and the water footprint.

Will we eventually have a common new unit of measurement?
I don't think so, as the evaluation of a product or manufacturing process is always a question of balance. Some things can be both good and bad at the same time, for example, water consumption is not a major topic for us, but certainly in other regions.
What is important is to always communicate the carbon footprint, comparative data should supplied with goods, using increasingly available standard calculation methods.
An international ISO Standard for the Carbon Footprint is in progress and can be expected early 2011. The GWP (Global Warming Potential) will be calculated based on two phases in the supply chain:
a) to the retailer (B2B) and
b) B2C, i.e. product use and subsequent use up to recycling.

How can we as an industry prove the benefits of cartonboard?
Average figures are only relevant, if the conditions under which these numbers were obtained are also communicated, i.e. how was energy consumption evaluated as a CO2 factor and what were the average transport distances applied. The main assumptions must be communicated for each value, as well as the tolerance levels for each value.
The fact remains: environmental protection will also become an economic factor as soon as the prices for oil rocket, which will not be too far in the distant future. It would be useful to conduct model calculations already using an assumed higher oil price to be ready for the future.

What is your opinion on biodegradable materials from renewable sources?
Every material needs to be evaluated in terms of its application. Once it has been assured that the overall product has been optimised, then such materials are an excellent choice. In terms of "renewable" it is very important to know where the source is renewed, where the material is produced and local environmental conditions. In the case of biodegradable materials good composting also plays a role.

Could you provide a list of all current certifications and environment labels?
Without a doubt, the most important certification is the Product Carbon Footprint which is still in a development stage. In principle the labels are very specific and can often not be compared with each other. For example, the criteria for the Austrian environmental label are determined by experts. The German "Blue Angel" is probably the oldest environmental label in the world. In Scandinavia we have the "Nordic Swan", in Canada "Environmental Choice" - all very specific labels.

Should consumer goods be identified with Carbon Footprint Labels? 
Yes, as this allows environmental compatibility to become a criteria for differentiation versus other products.

What will be of special importance in the future?

This is difficult to generalise, but one could say: focussing on strengths is the most important aspect. Renewable resources, recycling properties in functioning systems - that is one of the strengths in terms of environment but also as a significant cost factor in the future!  Carbon footprint and weight are major aspects.

„ECODESIGN company" engineering & management consultancy GmbH www.ecodesign-company.com

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wimmer, Ecodesign

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wimmer, Ecodesign

Richard Dalgleish +44 777 613 8510 dalgleish@procarton.com
Suzanne McEwen +43 1 218 6918 mcewen@procarton.com
Background Pro Carton is the European Association of Carton and Cartonboard manufacturers. Its main purpose is to promote the use of cartons and cartonboard to brand owners, the trade as well as designers, the media and politicians as an economically and ecologically balanced packaging medium.