“It’s About Systematic Transformation”

Matthias Giebel has been active as a consultant in the packaging industry for many years. As a partner for sustainability and innovation at Berndt + Partner, he is currently helping many customers to move forward on the topic of sustainability. At FACHPACK, he will be talking about how to win new customers.

“Our approach is to support the industry with a big picture view of the entire sector in order to realize sustainability and innovation as success factors for their own company,” says Matthias Giebel, describing his role at Berndt + Partner. The experts take a look at the current state of their customers and help them take the next big step.  And right now, that is undeniably the topic of sustainability.

Among other things, Giebel was involved in the creation of the “ReShaping Plastics” study, which was presented in April 2022. The survey by think tank SystemIQ was commissioned by PlasticsEurope with the support of an independent steering committee and expert panel. Representatives from EU institutions, non-governmental organizations, academia, and the industry were also involved.

The industry has not always been consistent on the path to greater sustainability in the past, despite some important milestones, Giebel says. “In the early 1990s already, there was the first discussion with the then Environment Minister Dr. Töpfer. Packaging waste was on the agenda for the first time back then. With the introduction of the dual systems, the topic then disappeared from the agenda again,” recalls the packaging expert. The discussions on climate and the carbon footprint of packaging that arose in 2008 and 2009 also quickly became quiet again, he says.

“Now we are in the third wave: We have only a few years left to limit the temperature rise to 1.5-degrees, according to current reports. Everyone has now become aware of how important climate protection is. In addition to this there is the pollution of the world’s oceans. Both aspects mean that consumers are looking much more critically at packaging – especially plastic packaging,” Matthias Giebel knows. However, this has led to a real willingness on the part of manufacturers to invest more money in more sustainable solutions. “We see quite strongly that brand manufacturers have embarked on this path.”

Focus on circular economy

As Matthias Giebel observes, companies are pursuing two main strategies: One is to make packaging more climate friendly. The other is to reduce fossil plastics in packaging. “This can sometimes be contradictory, but it’s about a systematic transformation,” explains Matthias Giebel. For example, in individual cases, reusable is sometimes worse than single-use in terms of sustainability, he says. “But if you look at the situation systemically and analyze what happens when relevant quantities of the market are converted to reusable, the picture changes.” According to him, the same also applies to the comparison between fiber-based raw materials and plastics, for which there are, of course, also different ecological advantages in individual cases. However, it must also be taken into account that the same recycling possibilities do not exist everywhere in Europe and certainly not in the rest of the world.

Another important pillar of the transformation, according to the packaging consultant, is the realization of the circular economy. In this, the big players already have a head start, but SMEs are now following suit: “We are seeing a competition for innovation for better and new solutions”. However, there is still a need for action regarding the use of recyclates. Giebel believes that there is still a lack of food-grade packaging, i. e. packaging that is approved for food contact.

Transformation as a mammoth task

To meet the demands of the future, branded companies must align their entire organization with the issue of sustainability – and that includes packaging development. The packaging departments in the companies, therefore, have their hands full right now. After all, switching to more sustainable materials is not easy and requires a great deal of development effort. “This is a huge task. Concerning this, brand manufacturers are heavily dependent on the support of packaging manufacturers,” says Giebel, describing the situation. Especially with a view to transformation, he says, it may still be easy to convert a single product line to different packaging. But to do this for many at the same time is an enormous challenge.

In addition, the packaging expert observes that, at the moment, many medium-sized companies are still underestimating the regulatory pressure. The Green Deal, for example, would mean many legislative projects for manufacturers. According to the plans of the European Commission, the EU is to become climate-neutral by 2050 through various measures. “SMEs are often not yet in a position to assess exactly what consequences individual requirements will have for their company – precisely because the packaging industry is the focus of the Green Deal.”

“We have the chance to make a difference with the Green Deal and are in full swing with the transition.” For a long time, there would not have been as much innovation at the packaging level as there currently is. However, tackling formal issues such as climate strategy, carbon pricing, and plastic tax require a lot of know-how within the companies. “Management first has to be trained to understand what this actually means for the company and what data is relevant for reporting,” Giebel knows. The company’s own carbon footprint, and, in the near future, that of the entire supply chain, will be a major concern for the industry in the coming years. This also includes looking at business travel: “I am convinced that we will travel less in the future. We will have to think carefully about how we travel and where.” In his view, trade fairs would, therefore, also have to prove their worth: “When trade fairs, networking and conferences are held under one roof, this significantly increases the relevance of the event. I really liked that about FACHPACK last year.”

At FACHPACK 2022, Matthias Giebel will be speaking at Forum PACKBOX on September 29, starting at 12 pm. The topic of his talk will be “Winning New Customers In the Packaging Industry Through Digital and Content-Based Measures.”

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