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Innovation in Sustainable Packaging

ePac Flexible Packaging

8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 13. Climate Action

Overview

ePac Flexible Packaging is a digitally-based flexible packaging company driven by its mission to serve a market that otherwise wouldn’t have access to services like theirs. ePac had directly influenced the start-up of over 5,000 businesses and inspired countless entrepreneurs to follow their dreams. This is directly related to SDG 8 - Economic Growth.

Because of ePac's digital printing method, their products are inherently more sustainable. It uses less energy, produces less waste and has a smaller carbon footprint than traditional printing technologies. With the ability to order on-demand, packaging obsolescence can also be eliminated, keeping unused plastic packaging out of landfills.

Author

Rebecca Warner

Rebecca Warner

School

Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University

Professor

Timothy Palmer

Timothy Palmer

Innovation

ePac is the only flexible packaging company in North America built entirely around the HP Indigo 20000 Digital Press that provides customers with unique advantages, including energy savings and emission reduction, sustainable films and zippers, recyclable materials, sustainable inks and at ePac, a very unique waste recycling program.

ePac is actively working with different vendors to locate sources for repurposing its film waste and ink canisters. They launched a trial program at their Austin, TX, and Chicago, IL plant locations. They are collecting all waste and raw materials (films, pouches, plastics and HP ink canisters) and diverting them from landfills to be safely melted down and repurposed. What they can't repurpose, they are sending to other sustainable recycling programs. Their goal is to have all of their plants adopt this capability to lessen their footprint and continue to contribute to a circular economy.

Innovation in Sustainable Packaging

Inspiration

After many years of playing a role in the consolidation of an industry, working with large entities managed by executives schooled in traditional business methods, it became apparent that these large conglomerates were making it impossible for small to medium-sized businesses to enter into the market and stay relevant.

When ePac's founders analyzed the consolidated flexible packing industry and its powerful rivals they saw a need that was not being fulfilled. In this case, that need was to support small to medium-sized businesses seeking professional-looking, affordable flexible packaging that helps them quickly grow their business.

Instead of trying to fight entrenched rivals, they decided to plant a seed and nurture its growth using a multi-faceted approach that balances the needs of the market (biological), the needs of investors (structural), and the needs of the operations (mechanical). When asked why ePac has followed this path, Jeff Jacobs, Director of Marketing, about ePac’s economic and environmental sustainability efforts, replied, “We do it because it's important to us and it's important to our customers.”

Because of their fast growth and market potential, ePac has the opportunity to continue to grow their business into one that serves larger customers, but they stay their course, knowing the impact they are having on start-ups and entrepreneurs. They actively chose to stay the size they are so they can service this market and make a larger impact on society.


Overall impact

It’s clear that sustainability is interwoven into the bedrock of ePac’s culture. So much so that ePac now serves as a social and environmental consultant for many of its customers. When a small business doesn’t have the means to dedicate resources to sustainability efforts, ePac steps in.

These partnerships are what ePac hopes will have a ripple effect; from their customers down to the end-users. But ePac knows that there is a long way to go. They are thinking every day about the entire supply chain and lifecycle of their products. A long-term goal is to have an end-to-end recycling program where customers return used packaging to ePac to be recycled and used again.

Overall, you can see the effects a business like ePac has on the start-up market that otherwise wouldn't have the means to compete against powerful competitors, but also as a direct positive impact on our environment by reducing plastic and energy waste. They hope to continue to be a pillar for the industry to showcase that you can be cost-effective and still help the environment.

Business benefit

There are clear benefits to ePac’s customers. On average, there is about a 2 cent cost increase for digital printing packages, the added expense because the run amounts are far less than traditional printing and about 3 times faster averaging 5-15 days instead of 6-8 weeks!

There is a significant promotional opportunity for ePac’s customers to show their sustainability efforts through their packaging selections – these small companies would never have these partnerships with larger companies. The advantages are clear, stay true to your brand's desire to do good for society and the environment, and also stay within budget.

ePac business continues to see the benefits of servicing an otherwise underserved market. They've seen growth in their company at 25% year over year for the last three years. The sustainability efforts they have implemented allows them to reuse resources that otherwise which has reduced costs associated with waste. ePac estimates costs savings of approximately 5 to 10% compared to the cost of disposing of their ink cartridges, extra packaging materials, etc. They've also been able to use what they recycle for new types of packaging material.

Social and environmental benefit

In regards to how ePac impacts the economy, the business currently has nearly 7,000 customers by focusing on small to medium-sized businesses. In their video titled, "Rise of a New Market", Carl Joachim, co-founder and CMO makes the point that ePac offers opportunities to entrepreneurs to compete in markets they otherwise wouldn't have a shot at. Oftentimes their customers can afford smaller run orders which they can achieve with digital printing - this makes this accessible to new business. ePac estimates that they have helped nearly 5,000 new businesses get off the ground.

Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) films are an environmentally friendly packaging option offered by ePac. After recyclable packaging (e.g., milk cartons or water bottles) have fulfilled their life cycle, they are diverted from landfills and converted into other commodities, such as the packaging material that they use. This packaging uses about 28% less virgin polymer since it’s replaced by PCR resins. By using PCR films in the packaging, they are able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 15%.

ePac is committed to involvement in the local communities surrounding all of their plants. They measure against being local and active in the community. ePac also has to adapt to their global environments where government regulations differ. An example is paper-based products with a polymer on them. In France, this product is recyclable whereas in the U.S. it is not. They have developed paper-based products for France specifically.

Finally, ePac is concerned about the damaging effects of "greenwashing" which entails conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally friendly than they actually are. ePac does truly want to be better for the environment and the communities they serve. ePac is constantly working towards the best options for their customers and the environment. That doesn't mean they have achieved perfection. When it is apparent that improvement within the company is necessary, ePac discloses it. They hope that one day this transparency is an exemplar for other companies in the industry but also allows ePac to partner with other companies that might help them solve some of their biggest, most challenging issues.

Interviews

Jeff Jacobs, Director of Marketing

Sangam Sangmule, Technical Services Manager

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ePac Flexible Packaging

ePac Flexible Packaging

Madison, US

Business Website: https://epacflexibles.com/

Year Founded: 2015

Number of Employees: 201 to 500

ePac’s founders began with a mission to provide locally-based consumer packaged goods companies the ability to compete with large brands with great packaging using a unique approach that was inspired by Biomimicry. Since opening their first manufacturing facility in 2016, the mission has been clear – to help small brands obtain big brand presence, give back to the communities they serve, and contribute to the creation of a more sustainable, circular economy.