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Guide to Growth: How can fulfilment be made more sustainable?

What packaging is best to use if we are seeking to improve sustainabilty in the supply chain? 

Drapers’ Guide to Growth programme is produced in partnership with Clipper.

In its simplest form, the answer to the question would be to not have any. But given that something has to be used, paper is probably the most sustainable option, says Peter Louden, business solutions director at Clipper.

“But typically it is 20% more expensive [than plastic],” he says.

He advises brands and retailers to talk to their providers about the most sustainable options available.

“They have probably got really detailed information, and may be able to arrange a site visit for you,” he says. “They will want to engage and enrich that relationship, so speaking to them is best.”

Go to your suppliers and challenge them on their packaging. Otherwise it will not fit with what you are trying to do

Paul Johnson, health and safety facilities manager at Clipper

Paul Johnson, health and safety facilities manager at Clipper, agrees paper is the most sustainable option, partly because consumers know it can be recycled, and recycling facilities are widely available.

The next best option is an opaque biodegradable material, similar in texture to the bags in cereal boxes, which is a hybrid of paper and plastic. After that, clear polythene is easily recyclable, and lastly coloured or printed polythene is the least environmentally friendly option because it is expensive to recycle. 

Johnson adds: “The other thing to do is go to your suppliers and challenge them on their packaging as well. Otherwise it will not fit with what you are trying to do.”

Other ways to make delivery more sustainable include holding all items ordered until they are all ready to go, instead of sending, for example, a five-item order in three separate packages.

Retailers can also look into carbon-offsetting schemes.

Given how complicated sustainability is, Clipper has set up a cross-sector working group for brands and retailers of all sizes that aims to tackle some of the topic’s bigger challenges. These include packaging, re-use and recycling, textiles and carbon footprints. If you would like to join the group, email

Louden says the group is focused on bringing more clarity to the ecological impact of retail supply chains, and what to do about it.

“We try to employ systems-based thinking when it comes to sustainability and work hard to change behaviours in order to drive results. Our approach seeks to not ‘do the wrong things better’, but focuses on not having unnecessary impacts in the first place. We really focus on the unintended consequences of all our actions prior to implementation, and work to understand the impact on the overall supply chain.”

Our advice portal for retailers and brands, Guide to Growth, aims to solve the problems and challenges fashion businesses encounter as they grow. Email your questions to associate editor and we will get them answered. 

Plus, read our Growth in a Changing Economy report here to learn how fast-growth brands and retailers are overcoming barriers to growth. 

In partnership with Clipper

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Paper is the greater scourge than plastic.

    Follow the link to the Environment Agency report to HM Government on the relative environmental impact of plastic versus paper and other materials for shopping (and, by extension, shipping bags.

    The evidence-based guidance is prefaced by the conclusion that:

    1) The environmental impact of all types of carrier bag is dominated by resource use and production stages. Transport, secondary packaging and end-of-life management generally have a minimal influence on their performance.

    2) Recycling or composting generally produce only a small reduction in global warming potential and abiotic depletion.

    The analysis goes on to demonstrate that a paper bag would have to be used three or four times, compared to a single-use plastic bag, to have a lower environmental impact.

    The disparity between the evidence and the public mood in this area is well-known, in content and cause. For policymakers serious about sustainability, Blue Planet II has been widely identified as an unfortunate distraction — leaving people prioritising the undoubtedly awful effects of oceanic plastic pollution and its effects on marine life, over and above climate change, which instead presents an existential risk to all organic life.

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