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Quantis Tool Built for Manufacturers to Assess Packaging’s Environmental Footprint

Article-Quantis Tool Built for Manufacturers to Assess Packaging’s Environmental Footprint

Quantis quantisfeat.png

More brands are jumping on the “sustainable packaging bandwagon,” with Mars Wrigley, Matchbox, and McDonald’s,  among the big ones to recently announce ambitious goals. This shift happens as a few states like New York push legislation to require manufacturers to pay to recycle wasted materials made to hold their products.  But the average package designer does not have expertise or time to figure out just how to create truly sustainable applications.

Quantis, a sustainability consultant in Europe and the U.S., developed software intended to make the job easier for packaging engineers. The technology, called eQopack, models packaging looking at multiple metrics to give an environmental footprint. It can compare one material to another.

eQopack calculates environmental impact based on 16 life cycle analysis indicators such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy, and water usage. It also calculates based on seven packaging design indicators, including percentage of material that’s recyclable; packaging-to-product weight ratio; and how much of a material is recycled, landfilled, or burned.

“Assessing environmental impact is complex. In the past, packaging designers who wanted to do this had to go to a sustainability specialist in their company or an outside company, which is time consuming and expensive. Plus, portfolio packaging information available to them is typically more limited than what this tool can provide. We can for instance provide information by a particular supplier,” says Catherine Zwahlen, Quantis head of Digital Solutions.

“We developed the tool with packaging designers in mind so they could use sustainability methods without being sustainability specialists.”

Quantis worked with Swiss information technology partner Kleis Technology to make the tool intuitive, such as simplifying how users review results. eQopack can be customized to key in on specifics; for example, it can be set up to show only carbon by default, though users can get more details if they chose.

It’s set up with key words from end users’ vocabulary that describe what they are modeling. They can search by brands, specific names for materials, and design terminology.

Packaging designers log in to eQopack, describe a packaging design option, and click a button for environmental scores and other metrics to compare options.

“They can determine for instance if switching from PET to glass will help reach a manufacturer’s sustainability goals. They can look at light weighting, or the impact if their supplier uses solar or other green electricity versus average electricity mix of the country,” Zwahlen says.

The product just launched in March 2021. So far, Quantis has contracts with a few manufacturers and is in negotiations with a few others.

Prior to launch, the company who does sustainability consulting for large brands, including Dupont, Gap, hp, Kellogg’s and L’Oreal,had developed a similar tool exclusively for Dannon, then for a couple of other  clients.

“We continued to field requests and thought it was time to build a tool that was not designed just for one company.  We wanted to have one design but to be able to configure it so it could be adapted to each client’s needs. We started to develop eQopack, getting feedback from designers that helped us design for their use. We continue to get feedback as their needs evolve so we know what functionality to add or change,” Zwahlen says.

Later in 2021, Quantis will add a portfolio analysis to eQopack, which will allow brand managers to assess environmental impact of all packaging in their product portfolio and perform ‘what if’ scenarios to evaluate how a given choice, whether material type, design, or other, can make the packaging more sustainable across the entire brand (currently users look at one product at a time).

Also planned for this year is to add indicators around how much of a packaging material escapes into the environment. Further into the future the company plans to improve modeling around recyclability, but anticipates this will take time because of a few challenges. Today recyclability rates available by material exist by country, but they vary by region and depend on infrastructure to manage specific material types.

While Quantis determined how to calculate impact and developed the data, Kleis developed the tool, writing the software code.

“Quantis has a deep knowledge of lifecycle analysis, whereas we are experts in building industrial-grade digital products. We mainly suggest and implement technical solutions which best fit the product vision and, more importantly, the end user expectations,” says Peva Blanchard, co-founder of Kleis technology, and software engineer behind eQopack.

Narrowing in on the end user experience was a large focus for Kleis as it worked to finetune the application.

“It’s about how to navigate in the tool; what is the way the end user thinks? In short, how to ensure users can do what they want as fast as possible,” Blanchard says.

Kleis started by working with a graphic designer but was limited without access to actual users, so it conducted workshops with Quantis analysts.

“We wanted to involve the most non-technical users as we designed the main components. Then we ran a test campaign where packaging designers used the tool and we collected feedback. By mobilizing the collective intelligence of our users, we are able to suggest and implement new ideas which we could not think about otherwise,” Blanchard says.

One of the first to invest in the technology is Bel, a 156-year-old French agri-food company whose portfolio includes products like The Laughing Cow, Mini Babybel, GoGo squeeZ, and local brands.

The global company has committed to using exclusively biodegradable or recyclable-ready packaging by 2025.

“To achieve our goal, we implemented eco-design guidelines with a lot of qualitative recommendations for packaging developers.

“To have a more scientific approach, we needed to assess the packaging impacts,” says Alexandre Vernier, Sustainable Packaging manager at Bel.

“In the past, we performed complete LCA (life cycle analyses), but it took time and was expensive. Now with eQoPack, we can easily and systematically use the LCA approach in all our packaging developments to compare impact of different concepts and find the best solution. A modelization takes about 10 minutes when you have the data,” Vernier says.

Bel shopped applications and made its decision based on several criteria: cost; ease of use; and, as important, access to updates.

Vernier anticipates Bel will benefit from regular updates including new LCA data, and new functionalities such as offering a better recyclability diagnostic.

Zwahlen sees technologies like eQopac expanding their reach.

“Today it’s for packaging designers, but one day it could be a tool to see impact of ingredients of different products. We will see more tools in the industry geared toward different companies and different functions to assess environmental impact and make decisions to decrease that impact.  In the end it’s using sustainability metrics in day-to-day practice to make better decisions,” Zwahlen says.

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