Premium Beauty News - 2008 is clearly a turning point in Alcan Packaging Beauty’s environmental strategy.
Nick Thorne - The turning point actually dates back to last year, when we decided that our commitment to Sustainable Development would be one of the pillars of our strategy, alongside innovation and the operating performance of our global industrial network. We first illustrated our commitment by spotlighting the many programs, initiatives and tools that we’d built. Then we went further by thinking about the major issues on which we could align our strategy. Finally, we’re starting to think about the partnerships we could build with certain customers, suppliers, communities and maybe even competitors.
Premium Beauty News - It isn’t always easy to apply the sustainable development concept to packaging, is it?
Nick Thorne - Yes and no. Packaging naturally attracts attention and also has quite a negative image. But packaging is obviously indispensable. It is up to us to keep its great qualities, such as its barrier role, which protects contents, and to make any improvements we can in parallel. There’s no shortage of opportunities and packaging is a great source of progress. In food packaging, every day you see improvements in terms of weight reduction, recyclability or the use of new materials. This is also true now of the personal care and beauty segment, where for example a year ago we began offering lightweight service caps for tubes, which have proved extremely popular with our customers. This will also be true tomorrow in luxury, where customers have the same concerns and ambitions but probably different responses. Eco-design and the widespread use of refills, for example, will perhaps have the edge over weight reduction.
Beyond these common points, beauty products have two main specificities: a long lifespan, meaning they need packaging that can protect them a long time, and visual appeal that requires packaging that can support sophisticated designs.
Premium Beauty News - Can you tell us what Alcan Packaging Beauty’s global weight is and on what main segments you are active?
Nick Thorne - Last year we “weighed” $US850 million. We have 26 production sites in America, Asia, Europe and soon Russia, with 9,500 employees worldwide. We are present on the flexible (plastic and laminate) tube, make-up, fragrance, skincare and promotional article markets.
Premium Beauty News - According to Alcan Packaging Beauty, what’s the best way of grasping the notion of sustainable development?
Nick Thorne - Generally speaking, we look at impact on the environment, but also on the communities where we are active, all with economic realism.
In addition to risk control and strict compliance with the most stringent regulations in force, which today goes without saying, our priority is to work on the design of more environment-friendly packaging, the reduction of our industrial activities’ impact, the setup of projects with local communities and, of course, our social responsibility.
In terms of products, we can offer our customers packaging solutions that use less material or include new materials and, above all, we want to measure and compare their respective environmental impacts in the broad sense. Their choice will depend on their own priorities, their brand’s positioning and the nature of their developments. We refuse to be dogmatic in any way; we want to be a source of objective, reliable and exhaustive advice for our customers.
Premium Beauty News - So “technological” options are fundamental!
Nick Thorne - As you know, we’re not raw material manufacturers... We sometimes test and compare them in relation to customer requirements, but it’s not our role to promote one rather than another! And remember: biodegradable materials used to be in fashion, then compostable, now it’s biopolymers, and probably recycled materials tomorrow.
So we reduce, replace and measure:
we reduce the quantity of material used by weight cutting or by eco-design,
we replace some materials with other, more environment-friendly ones, whether biopolymers or recycled material,
and we measure the total impact of each solution to compare it with the existing one.
Even if the exact figures vary depending on the packaging, of course, Lifecycle Analyses show that packaging has much less impact than you might think, and that the impact is primarily related to the type and quantity of material consumed... The path to improvement has been mapped out.
Premium Beauty News - What about biopolymers?
Nick Thorne - We’re working on this issue, of course. But the durability of biopolymers will depend on:
results of the work in progress on their functional properties, which are still very often below the performance of conventional polymers,
the evolution of their prices (still very high)
their availability (still very limited),
their “sustainable development” advantage over current polymers, in terms of carbon footprint but also consumption of non-renewable resources (still insufficiently known),
and the position of media, consumers and, of course, brands on their interactions with the food chain. Today we are seeing a wave of questions on this point and stances are likely to shift in the coming months.
In other words, in the current market situation, no new material looks like the catch-all solution. The magic new polymer doesn’t exist today! Having said that, it will come along one day and we have to work to anticipate, understand and improve what already exists.
Given that situation, we are actively promoting other avenues, including weight reduction, eco-design and the integration of recycled materials. These can be achieved more quickly, are economically efficient, unquestionable in terms of environmental footprint and have no impact on the food chain.