sara_leeEnvironmental Leader Sara Lee’s sustainability strategy focuses on three key areas — wellness and nutrition, environmental responsibility and social responsibility, said Glenn Ventrell, director of packaging innovation and development for Sara Lee, in an interview with Packaging World. Ventrell is also a member of the Downers Grove, Ill.-based food company’s Global Sustainability Team. When designing or redesigning a package for greater sustainability, Sara Lee uses the five Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle, renew, and remove — as the premise of all design, Ventrell told Packaging World. Since the food company is a member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, it also uses their guidelines as well. But he also noted that economic and other concerns also come into play. An example of a packaging redesign that yielded significant savings is Hillshire Farms lunchmeat in a tub. By reducing the height of the tub by only 3/16 of an inch, the redesign removed about 900 trucks off the road a year; reduced the number of pallets by 6,500; reduced the amount of plastic used by about 625,000 pounds; cut the amount of fuel used by more than 79,000 pounds, and the amount of corrugated by more than 630,000 pounds, according to Ventrell. Ventrell expects alternative materials such as biopolymers to play a bigger role in sustainability as these materials evolve. These materials may include some of the sugar- or tapioca-based starches, with production plants being built predominantly outside the U.S., he said. Ventrell told Packaging World that Sara Lee will likely consider these materials once they’ve been tested to the same quality levels as the materials they are replacing. Looking ahead, Ventrell said that the company has goals for further package reduction, water usage and energy in 2010. But he believes the biggest challenge facing packagers in the future is biodegradability, which raises a lot of questions such as: Is it real? Is it certifiable? Does it mean the same thing to everyone? Ventrell noted if the material biodegrades in a commercial landfill as opposed to a compost pile then it will help the company, but the Sara Lee’s strategy is to try to get packaging recycled versus going to landfills.