Challenge Question(s): Do you have information about your packaging’s greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts?

Possible Answers


It is well documented that greenhouse gases (GHGs) are the main cause of human-induced climate change. Canada has a net-zero climate plan [1] and is a signatory to the international 2015 Paris Agreement.  Many businesses, including those that sell and manufacture packaging have emission-related targets, often framed as ‘net-zero’ by a certain year.  And, there is an expectation that all value chain partners have a role to play in achieving these goals through eliminating waste and pollution and by circulating products and packaging to retain their embodied energy. For example, Maple Leaf Foods aims to be world’s first carbon neutral food company [2].  

It’s also well documented that most of the a package’s environmental burden is upstream in its life cycle, in the material extraction, manufacturing and transport stages, with a comparatively small burden linked to end-of-life management.  Having a fuller understanding of this burden (the GHGs and other impacts such as water and energy use) can help businesses avoid making packaging decisions that are well-intentioned, but counter-productive in terms of sustainability [3].

How do I get information about a packaging’s GHG and other environmental impacts?

There are a few ways to get a fuller understanding of a package’s environmental impacts throughout its life cycle, and zero-in on the areas of most concern (often called ‘hot-spots’).

Conducting a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Life Cycle Assessment [4,5] is the prevailing methodology to quantify environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life − from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair, maintenance, and disposal or recycling. 

LCA is helpful in comparing a business’ current packaging with alternative solutions.  For most businesses a ‘screening’ LCA is sufficient in order to get a fuller comparison. It is also possible to conduct a ‘full’ LCA, which can allow for marketing claims but it is much more expensive and time-consuming. 

The list below highlights some leading LCA solution suppliers for screening and comprehensive tools**:

LCA Tool NameType of LCA Tool
Trayak EcoImpact – COMPASS for packagingScreening
Sphera Gabi Packaging CalculatorScreening
Long Trail Sustainability – SimaPro LCA toolScreening
Franklin AssociatesComprehensive

** to note that there are many LCA solution providers and the above list is simply a suggested starting point; users are encouraged to determine which solution provider best meets your specific needs

Do I need to run an LCA? Consider Existing Research

In addition to, or instead of doing an LCA, one can look for existing research to help inform packaging decision making.  For example, it is well documented that the incorporation of recycled content into a like package (i.e. virgin PET bottle to 100%PCR PET bottle) significantly reduces environmental impacts.  There is no need for an LCA to support this decision.  An important consideration here is the source of data:  SPRING  [6] offers useful guard rails.  One tip is to look for ‘meta-LCA’ studies, which aggregate the findings of many LCAs. Here is a good example [7] related to packaging sustainability.   

Are there other tools I could use?

Consider using the PAC Global PIP360 tool  which requires a license fee and provides packaging circularity scores and GHG data based on the EPA WARM model for all plastic packaging types.

Are there Certifications or Other Guidelines for responsible sourcing?

Responsible sourcing integrates environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks into the process of selecting suppliers. This practice is a fast-growing discipline within procurement and supply chain departments, and serves to address continuity for a company and the marketplace where they deliver products and packages.  For example if one is considering a substitution from conventional plastic to a biobased plastic, then it is important to get a fuller picture of how that material is sourced. 

Supporting reference articles and reports

  1. Government of Canada: causes of climate change
  2. Maple Leaf Foods Sustainability Report 2021
  3. EMF Reasons to be cautious with Life Cycle Analysis
  4. Guidelines for Life Cycle Assessment: Industry in Quebec (2011)
  5. How to perform a Life Cycle Assessment of Packaging
  6. SPRING learning tools
  7. Government of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality; Packaging Attributes and Environmental Impacts