Jesús García-Arca1, A. Trinidad González-Portela Garrido1, Iván González-Boubeta1 and J. Carlos Prado-Prado1

1 Grupo de Ingeniería de Organización (GIO). University of Vigo. Escuela de Ingeniería Industrial, campus Lagoas-Marcosende, 36310 Vigo, Spain.

1. Introduction

 The first aim of this paper is to identify and justify the main potential lines for improvements in the realm of SPL. The paper also goes beyond the purely conceptual to illustrate that potential by analyzing four case studies, two retail sector firms (a pipzza manufacturer and a fish product manufacturer), and two industrial sector firms (a street furniture manufacturer and an automotive supplier), by using the “Action Research” methodology. This approach implies that the authors participate directly in the applied projects, leading and coordinating the implementation of the improvements though work teams. Thanks to this involvement, the researchers have the opportunity to witness the process not only as mere observers but also as real “agents of change” in intervention and knowhow-compiling processes.

2. Actions for developing Sustainable Packaging Logistics

The many faces and the impacts of the design requirements that packaging must satisfy can be understood from a point of view of sustainability. Those requirements are located on very different planes and have very different needs. They include, for example, commercial aspects, protection, production, logistics, sales and purchasing, the environment, ergonomics, the law, or communication.

García-Arca et al. [1] adapt, fine-tune and enlarge the “Packaging Logistics” approach proposed by Saghir [7] to the context of sustainability, coining the term “Sustainable Packaging Logistics” (SPL), which they define as: “The process of designing, implementing, and controlling the integrated packaging, product and supply chain systems in order to prepare goods for safe, secure, efficient and effective handling, transport, distribution, storage, retailing, consumption, recovery, reuse or disposal, and related information, with a view to maximizing social and consumer value, sales, and profit from a sustainable perspective, and on a continuous adaptation basis”.

What that means, therefore, is integration of packaging design in the first stages of product and supply chain design, with a “dynamic” approach so that it can adapt at all times not only to the different visions and perceptions of the design requirements that each stage of the supply chain values and perceives, but also to the changes that can arise in the design requirements themselves or in the environment (technological, legal, etc.). This area of changes would include the improvement which have already been successfully adopted by other firms but which cannot be applied indiscriminately without prior knowledge of the conditioning factors of the products and the supply chains themselves. Table 1 summarizes these changes compiled by the authors through a literature review [2-8], showing the potential benefits in sustainability terms. Some of these changes are analised and applied in the 4 cases selected.


Change Economic axis Environmental axis Social axis
Dimensions Packaging purchase cost. Logistics cost. Packaging waste management cost Consumption of raw materials and waste generation. Energy consumption and contamination (transport) Facilitate use, ergonomics, and dosage of product for the needs of different customers on the supply chain
Amount of

product per packaging


Number of units per secondary packaging (or tertiary)


Packaging purchase and logistics costs. Packaging waste cost. Handling cost at shops
Packaging materials


Packaging purchase cost.       Packaging waste cost Recyclability. Valorization. Consumption of raw materials and energy. Waste and contamination generation Facilitate use. Perception of product quality
Packing  process


Packing cost. Cost of deteriorated products or rejections. Waste management cost Waste generation (in production). Energy consumption in packing processes Facilitate use and lengthen useful life of product. Perception of product quality
Standardization of dimensions/qualities


Packaging purchase and production cost. Waste packaging cost Energy use (production). Consumption of raw materials and waste generation. Energy consumption and contamination (transport) Communication (“visi- bility”). Perception of product quality
Elimination of “overpackaging”      (including,        “Shelf

Ready Packaging” or SRPs)


Packaging purchase cost. Logistics cost. Packaging waste cost. Handling cost at shops. Facilitate use. Perception of product quality
Returnable packaging


Packaging purchase cost. Logistics cost. Packaging waste cost
Change in the graphic design
Packaging purchase cost Consumption of raw materials and waste generation Facilitate use. Communication. Perception of product quality

Table 1. Lines for improvement in packaging design and impact on each axis of sustainability.

3. Conclusions

This paper has identified and justified the main changes or innovations related to packaging design, in a context of SPL deployment. Likewise, the paper has presented an analysis of four different case studies, in which the authors have applied the “Action Research” approach to illustrate the potential for action in this field. These cases contemplate the different perspectives of the retail and industrial sectors from a “dynamic” perspective and also the productive and logistics savings achieved. Thus, this paper is considered to be particularly useful in the research sphere for opening new lines of study and in the practitioner sphere, where it actively contributes to improve competitiveness and sustainability.

For example, the pizza manufacturer achieved, in a first stage, an improvement in pallet occupation of 14.28%, gaining a significant logistics saving (including savings in the cost of boxes and in the packaging generated). In a second stage, an additional saving in materials and logistics costs of 45% was achieved. Finally, in a third stage, the pallet occupation was improved by up to 14%.

In the fish product company, the standardization in the number of boxes allows to reduce the number of setups in production, improving the efficiency of the initial palletizing (up to a 12.5%). In the third company (street furniture), thanks to the changes, savings of 33% have been obtained in cardboard box purchases, 30% in wooden crates, and 12% in the cardboard sheets.

Finally, in the automotive supplier, in the packaging system for small components, improvements of between 20 and 50% of components per box were achieved. In the more voluminous components there was also an improvement between 9 and 20%. Both examples were done without altering the dimensions or the functionalities of the products while at the same time, ensuring product protection and quality.


  1. García-Arca, J., Prado-Prado, J.C., González-Portela, A.T.: Packaging logistics: promoting sustainable efficiency in supply chains. Int. J. Phys. Dist. Log. Man., 44(4), 325-346 (2014).
  2. Olander-Roese, M., and Nilsson, F.: Competitive Advantage Through Packaging Design? Propositions for Supply Chain Effectiveness and Efficiency. In Proceedings of ICED 09, the 17th Int. Conference on Engineering Design, Palo Alto, CA, USA, 24.-27.08. (2009).
  3. Hellström, D. and Nilsson, F.: Logistics-driven packaging innovation: A case study at IKEA. Int. J. Ret. Dis. Man., 39, 638–657 (2011).
  4. Näslund, D., Kale, R. and Paulraj, A.: Action research in supply chain management-a frame- work for relevant and rigorous research. J. Bus. Logist., 31, 331–355 (2010).
  5. Rundh, B.: The role of packaging within marketing and value creation”, British Food Jour- nal, 118(10), 2491-2511 (2016).
  6. García-Arca, J., Comesaña-Benavides, J.A., González-Portela Garrido, A.T. and Prado- Prado, J.C.: Rethinking the Box for Sustainable Logistics. Sustainability, 12, 1870 (2020).
  7. Saghir, M.: Packaging Logistics Evaluation in the Swedish Retail Supply Chain, Lund (2002).
  8. García-Arca, J., González-Portela Garrido, A. T., Prado-Prado, J.C. and González-Romero I.: Estructurando el diseño de envases y embalajes para mejorar la sostenibilidad. Evidencias empíricas en el sector de menaje, Dirección y Organización, 73, 60-79 (2021).


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Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Industrial Management and XXV Congreso de Ingeniería de Organización Copyright © by (Eds.) José Manuel Galán; Silvia Díaz-de la Fuente; Carlos Alonso de Armiño Pérez; Roberto Alcalde Delgado; Juan José Lavios Villahoz; Álvaro Herrero Cosío; Miguel Ángel Manzanedo del Campo; and Ricardo del Olmo Martínez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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