"Cow Massage Parlor" Is Not a Rock Band

The Institute for Sustainability's first Symposium on Sustainable Packaging was held in Chicago March 16-18, 2011. If you attended the symposium, you might have learned

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or how to approach packaging stewardship on a path to more sustainable industrial practices. Whether you think a cow massage parlor is more appropriate than perhaps your own, the application of sustainability to specific markets remains unique and complex, but there are definitely patterns in how it's done.

Following are some of the main themes of sustainability that were discussed at the symposium.


Central to product design, applied forward thinking can involve moving focus from packaging to products themselves and unique labeling (e.g., integrated pollution prevention options). This can involve surveying the market as well as working in refined groups of engineering teams with specific tasks related to the package design process.

Supply Chains

The identification of resources that are involved in moving goods to markets via systematic methods (e.g., planning, sourcing, manufacturing, delivering, and return). Supply chains include the business practices as well as the materials used during the sale of a product. In a global market, supply chains become more critical and can be subject to events that occur around the globe.


Individual perspective and behavior affect materials (agriculture vs. extractives), business resources (equipment, people), energy, and markets. One particularly interesting area of discussion concerning behavior involved recycle, biodegradability, and cost structures for reuse programs. Molecule reuse (and "keeping the molecule in play") was a common theme. Several speakers shied away from the term biodegradable in favor of compostable. It was mentioned that nearly one-third of the foods brought to market are wasted in the United States. If this is true, there are probably some behavior-based technology and business opportunities that could capture and make use of those wastes.


Identification of the capabilities and functions of markets with the intention to improve efficiency, not only how to impose products. I would also argue to make information more readily available (e.g., green labeling). In the context of the symposium, several aspects of the packaging business were broken down into levels of detail that systems thinking could be applied to (e.g., types of inks - water/solvent-based, photopolymerized). It seems to me that diversified systems thought leaders will emerge to work with different organizations, communities, and nation states.


Ultimately aspects of human and environmental health that include less tangible goods such as social justice (working conditions), global goods (water & air), and unintended consequences (e.g., the use of nitrous oxide to dispense whip cream).

As a final note, I just want to perpetuate a talking point for those equally passionate about sustainability. Water, carbon (several other molecules), and even minerals are (for the most part) abundant or now available about the Earth; therefore, when using the term renewable, it was proposed to evaluate Renewable vs. Scarcity. So, what does this mean to you?

Where do you stand on the question of renewable vs. scarcity?


johnvasko's picture

Cory, great post. This quote really stuck out for me: "It was mentioned that nearly one-third of the foods brought to market are wasted in the United States." That is astonishing. The fact that we ship food from abroad to this country just so we could have grapes or soft fruit in the off season is always something that I see as a major waste.

johnvasko's picture

Oh, and by the way "Cow Massage Parlor" could very well end up being the name of a band.

ehorahan's picture

Speaking of Supply Chains being impacted by global events... Many electronics manufacturing Supply Chains have been deeply impacted by the events in Japan. In particular, a capacitor manufacturing plant was shut down and should soon (or has) opened for limited production. It will take months before it is fully up and running. In the meantime, companies that were running lean (keeping low quantities of Safety Stock and Inventory) would be the most effected - running out in a matter of hours or days and scrambling to qualify new suppliers. On the subject of packaging: sometimes you can work with a supplier to have materials packaged in a particular fashion that can reduce waste in the production process - not just in material but also in labor. (just to expand on your brief mention of manufacturing). An overall win-win. Great Post!