Merck has launched a plan to reduce the amount of packaging used, achieve zero-deforestation and use plastic sustainably by 2022 © Merck
Merck has launched a plan to reduce the amount of packaging used, achieve zero-deforestation and use plastic sustainably by 2022 © Merck

Merck expects extra cost of sustainability to 'wash out over time'

24 May 2019

Business-to-business (B2B) companies should be considering the sustainability of their packaging as much as consumer goods companies, according to pharma firm Merck.

Speaking to SM, Jeffrey Whitford, head of global corporate responsibility and branding for the life science business of Merck, said the sustainability of packaging has been a publicised issue in the consumer goods space, but B2B companies should also be considering the impact of packaging waste.

He said: “I think B2B companies really need to think in light of a consumer goods company, in terms of what customers expect. I think that's really key for companies in a differentiated space because we are all at the end of the day, customers, and we expect a similar customer experience.

“Companies can start thinking more in that mindset and that's really going to be a transition moment for the entire supply chain space in how we can do things more effectively for the environment.”

Merck's life science business has launched its own packaging strategy, including a series of targets to drive improvement in sustainability.

By 2022, Merck aims to reduce the amount of packaging it uses, to achieve zero-deforestation with the sourcing of its packaging and to improve the sustainability of its plastic use.

As part of its goals, Merck is evolving its packaging for existing products, as well as developing more sustainable packaging for new products.

However, making significant changes to packaging presents the business with issues including increased cost, according to Fabien Thibault, global manager, product and packaging sustainability, the life science business of Merck.

Thibault said to address the issue of deforestation within Merck’s packaging supply chain, it is important to have a strong partnership with procurement and sourcing colleagues to assess the packaging supply chain initially.

“We are looking at all the vendors we source packaging material from to identify key elements, such as the amount of certified materials we are using, the amount of recycled content we are using and collecting information on the practices of our vendors related to sustainability and specifically to deforestation,” he said.

“This is a really important step as we need to determine where we are currently, and then with the support of our sourcing colleagues, we can work with vendors in order to improve where we have identified potential risks. One of the challenges that we are seeing with using recycled content specifically is that in some cases, the use of sustainable certified materials may lead to a cost increase.”

Whitford added that expectations and industry standards around using certified materials in packaging varied globally, so while costs may be initially higher when using these materials in packaging, it isn’t likely to last.

He said as standards and expectations around sustainable materials grows, the “cost piece will wash out over time as it becomes standard practice”.

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