Innovative solutions that have transformed human life in recent decades are fast becoming today’s most pressing challenges. Take for example packaging. While enabling people to enjoy food and other products from around the world, packaging is now one of the greatest environmental challenges in today’s linear economy. Or as John Elkington would say, it’s a wicked problem, meaning that true systemic change, or a ‘Green Swan’, is needed to solve it.

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173,8 KG

of packaging waste was generated per EU inhabitant in 2017


of packaging waste in the EU is paper & cardboard

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In 2017, 173,8 kg of packaging waste was generated per EU inhabitant. And it’s not just plastic. The most common types of packaging waste in the EU are in fact paper and cardboard (41%), plastic (19%), glass (18%), wood (17%) and metal (5 %). The annual volumes produced exceed waste processing capabilities resulting in landfill, leakage into oceans and rivers while its greenhouse gases contribute up to 15% of total CO2 emissions globally. As things stand today, packaging is having an irreversible impact on the environment, endangering wildlife across the world and also putting human health at risk.

Such a wicked problem can’t be solved by one actor alone. The only way to tackle it is by taking a multi-stakeholder approach. This means bringing all the actors involved together on equal terms to identify how the entire value chain works now, how it could work in the future, and then collectively designing, building and accelerating packaging solutions that lead to systemic change. Some inspiring initiatives to address this already exist, for example, the New Plastics Economy run by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in which +1000 organizations are engaged in a new vision on a circular economy for plastic based on three key actions: eliminate, innovate, circulate.

In the same spirit, and its role as the Belgian Network for Sustainability, The Shift brought several of its members together in early 2020 to initiate a collaborative approach to address packaging in Belgium. With sustainability and collective solutions at the heart of our business vision, Accenture Belgium & Luxembourg partnered up with The Shift to bring design thinking and ecosystem methodologies to structure this approach.

In this article, we present the key steps of our five-month journey, during which we worked with multiple stakeholders across the consumer goods value chain to accelerate and facilitate the transition towards sustainable packaging in Belgium.


Listen to the voice of the value chain

First and foremost, collective solutions require a deep understanding of all the stakeholders involved. Through interviews, surveys and deep dive sessions with 65 stakeholders including corporates, startups, industry groups, government organizations, NGOs and academia, we captured the “voice of the value chain” and then brought all these voices together in three workshops to shape real initiatives that could have an impact on packaging in the near term.


Understand the challenges

Through our discussions, we discovered that packaging sustainability is an unprecedented challenge for the entire value chain. Stakeholders are acting in a splintered and changing landscape, where very often, the left hand doesn’t always know what the right is doing. A diverse range of sustainability initiatives are being introduced independently and with low impact. Environmental regulations are fragmented across regions and keep evolving. Many technical solutions are being developed without a clear mainstream direction (often driving up costs and reducing functionalities). Waste management infrastructure is not harmonized, and consumers who are demanding more sustainability are not being kept properly informed. Because packaging touches the end-to-end consumer goods value chain, addressing these challenges will require concerted efforts across multiple ecosystems.

Members of the Belgian packaging ecosystem involved in this initiative identified seven major challenges that need addressing and prioritized three of them as needing a collective solution:

  • Confused consumer: Consumers who care about making the right packaging choices find it extremely difficult due to the complexity of choice, regulations and infrastructure, plus confusing messages they receive about the sustainability of packaging.
  • Inconsistent evaluation: The incumbent tools for evaluating the impact packaging has on the environment (e.g. Life Cycle Analysis) require significant effort and lead time, and therefore cannot be easily used to support business decisions.
  • Siloed knowledge: There’s a mismatch between knowledge supply and demand in the ecosystem, where information and insights are not shared effectively, slowing down the transition towards more sustainable packaging systems.


Launch 3 initiatives in Belgium

Using all the ecosystem knowledge and insights we collected, we are ready to launch three initiatives to address these challenges:

  1. Better informed consumer

An awareness raising campaign targeting consumers will be designed by a Belgian university to provide “seamless”, “snackable” and “actionable” information across the consumer journey, from buying packaged goods to the disposal of packaging.

  1. Improved environmental impact evaluation

We have identified a set of tools and approaches that require less effort and lead time than a Life Cycle Analysis to evaluate the impact of packaging on the environment. These are already being piloted with multiple companies to support business decision making on new pack designs, portfolios and solutions.

  1. New Sustainable Packaging Ecosystem

This project revealed the urgent need for a sustainable packaging ecosystem that will bring stakeholders across the value chain together to power transformation. An independent organization specialized in building ecosystems, is due to launch this initiative in 2021. The ecosystem will be initially focused on Belgium, with strong connections to international players. It will be a true platform for making a collective change, designed to foster collaboration, encourage knowledge sharing and operationalize innovation within sustainable packaging.


Take the step towards sustainable packaging solutions

The challenges we face today in terms of packaging cannot be solved by one party alone. They require an ecosystem approach in which open innovation and collaboration are key. We have already taken the first step. Join us and the other stakeholders as we continue our journey towards co-creating new solutions to make sustainable packaging a reality in Belgium and beyond.

Want to know more about these initiatives and join the new Sustainable Packaging Ecosystem? Get in touch with Michele Barone and Tom Verschueren.


Listen here to the Responsible Business Days podcast with Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech, on Circular Economy

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Explore the bigger picture of the Circular Economy and why cross-sector collaboration is key to realizing regeneration, a carbon-neutral economy and sustainable business growth by listening to our Responsible Business Days podcast with Lanzatech.

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Michele Barone

Senior Manager – Consumer Goods & Services

Magali Frankl

Corporate Citizenship Lead – Responsible Business & Social Innovation

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