More and more companies are reporting environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance, providing crucial information to regulatory agencies, shareholders, customers and consumers and meeting the growing need for accountability in today’s markets. ESG reporting has become a mandate for most, and climate change has sharpened a collective focus on emissions. Companies tracking these impacts report on three types of emissions: Scope 1, direct emissions from company facilities; Scope 2, power and energy emissions and Scope 3, indirect emissions related to materials used, transportation and other activities generated outside of their own walls. Packaging is among this Scope 3 area of interest.
The corrugated packaging industry – suppliers of the corrugated boxes that carry products through supply chains to retail and home delivery – conducts regular life cycle assessments (LCAs) to quantify the environmental impact of an average corrugated box. The latest LCA was released last fall and today, a key addition to that report is available to help companies calculate their cradle to gate Scope 3 carbon emissions for corrugated cardboard boxes and containerboard.
The new tool identifies the factors to be used for industry-average containerboard, industry-average corrugated products, such as boxes and displays, as well as for 100% recycled containerboard and 100% recycled corrugated products. The data in the table allows product manufacturers to report indirect emissions generated by using corrugated packaging and containerboard in their operations.
The LCA, conducted for the Corrugated Packaging Alliance (CPA) by Anthesis and the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement with third-party review by the Athena Institute, recognized the substantial reductions in the environmental impacts of a corrugated cardboard box manufactured in the U.S. in 2020 including a 50% per unit reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since the industry’s first baseline LCA in 2006.
The study estimated impacts to land, air and water based on the circular life cycle of an average corrugated cardboard box from new materials, to manufacturing of those materials into products through the distribution/transportation and use of the products, and the end-of-life.
Meaningful reductions were also achieved in ozone depletion (13%), energy usage (13%), water usage (18%), acid rain (41%), smog (44%), respiratory effects (54%) and eutrophication which leads to algae blooms and dead zones in bodies of water (30%).
The industry’s progress was attained through energy improvements, strong recycling infrastructure, sustainably managed forests and an ongoing commitment to improvement. The industry continues to shift to cleaner-burning fuel, has increased its participation in a greener U.S. electric grid and made investments in energy efficiency.
The introduction of new, fresh fibers from sustainably managed forests drives the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The use of old corrugated containers (OCC) has also contributed to the avoidance of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from landfills. This combination of both new, fresh fibers and recycled fibers maximizes fiber reuse and enables circularity. Much of this progress is also driven by the sustainability commitments of companies in the industry.
The corrugated industry continues to prioritize sustainability through science-based goals and innovation. As society faces increasingly urgent environmental challenges, the corrugated industry remains committed to making positive change for our world.
If your company is looking for a way to quantify Scope 3 emissions related to packaging, and for more information about the corrugated industry LCA, please visit Corrugated Life Cycle Assessments - Fibre Box Association.