When you consider achieving the goal of sustainability in your business, it is time to think about what is saving for everyone in the value chain. The whole idea is if everyone wins, then you move forward. Reji John unpacks and identifies the best business ideas of packaging expert Parit Shah’s presentation on the 3Rs of packaging to build sustainability in flower logistics.

For the past several years, the market for cut flowers has become a global one. Flowers and cut foliage sourced from throughout the world are sold as bunches or combined into arrangements and bouquets in the major target markets, such as North America, Japan, and the EU. The high export value of cut flowers has led to dramatic increases in production in many developing countries.

Production of cut flowers and foliage can be highly profitable in countries with an ideal growing environment (particularly those close to the equator where the environment is uniform throughout the year like Kenya), and low labour costs. The costs of establishing production in the field or even in greenhouses are relatively modest, and harvest may start within a few months of planting. Because of this global production system and marketplace, and the high perishability of cut flowers, air transport has been the transport system of choice.

According to industry estimates, the value of cut flower market globally was at $34 billion in 2019 and it is projected to reach roughly $45 billion by 2027. While the US and the UK continue to be the largest buyers of cut flowers, the demand for cut flowers is on the rise from Japan, South Korea and Australia. The largest growers are the Netherlands, Ecuador, Colombia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Due to the short shelf life of fresh-cut flowers, the need for fast shipping with stabilised and specific shipping conditions is required. Shipping fresh-cut flowers by air is the only method that makes sense.

Maintaining quality in air-freighted cut flowers depends on understanding the factors that lead to deterioration. Understanding these factors allows the grower and shipper to develop and implement optimum postharvest handling technologies. There are a lot of factors in the postharvest that decide the quality of flowers at the destination after several hours of journey through different modes of transport and several handlings. Packaging is an important factor that determines the health of the cut flowers. The material, in this case, the quality of the paper, used in the making of the paper itself has a direct impact on the life of the flower carried inside those boxes.

“So if you can identify and differentiate your product from the person next to you, as being better for the environment, grown ethically and all the other things that are required for sustainability, then I believe you will have a better leg to stand on.”
Parit Shah, Owner, Silpack Industries

With sustainability becoming a key component in flower transport, it has become even more imperative on growers and shippers to ensure that the packaging is in line with the overall sustainability goals. For the export market, packaging is especially designed to provide the required amount of water resistance, strength and insulation to meet the physical requirements of the supply chain. Sustainable packaging is no longer a term for the future. It’s the current state of corporate responsibility and package designs.

The concept of sustainable packaging includes a wide range of environmentally friendly practices, designs and materials that integrates the entire supply chain. The objective is to improve the longevity and quality of our environment by decreasing pollution caused by plastics and other non-degradable materials.

When it comes to sustainability in packaging, it is not just about the packaging of the product but it encompasses the entire supply chain. By sourcing non-toxic materials and implementing clean and eco-friendly production methods, shippers can significantly decrease the energy consumption levels involved in the manufacturing process. It will also benefit from the cheapest energy contract and outperform your competitors by far.

Through the implementation of eco-friendly packaging solutions, one can streamline the processing procedures and lower the material costs and labour required. By switching to eco-friendly packaging solutions shippers will develop a cost-effective business model based on lower energy consumption, decreased labour force and less expensive packaging materials.

Parit Shah, who owns Silpack Industries Limited in Nairobi, has close to four decades of experience in creating packaging solutions for the Kenya’s flower exporters. Over the years, Shah has been working with growers and shippers and other cut flower industry organisations to change the packaging solutions for the cut flower export keeping in mind the rapidly changing industry demand to reduce wastage and increase reusability of boxes. Silpack has partnerships with companies that allow it to leverage technology in developing packaging products which help industry to reduce waste.

Shah spent about 30 minutes at the Flower Logistics Africa (FLA) conference, held recently in Nairobi, to talk about the “three Rs of packaging to build sustainability in flower logistics”. Reduce, reuse and recycle are the three Rs that Shah concentrated during his presentation. “Our key focus areas have always been the reduction of waste. So when we talk about the three Rs, it's a natural fit, or rather, that what we have been doing, he said. He presented a model which he called the total cost of ownership”.

“A lot of people may be familiar with that concept where you don't only look at what is the saving for you; you're looking at what is the saving for everyone in that whole field. So whether it's the grower, the trucker, the transporter, the shipper, the airline, the customer; the whole idea is if everyone wins, then you move forward. If one party wins, the other one will feel bad, and say he is taking the pie or you know, the share of the pie. I'm not involved in this anymore. And if you look at the push and pulls in your marketplace today, a lot of the changes and challenges are coming purely because one party feels the other one is taking too much of the client's share. So he doesn't get involved in it anymore,” Shah explained.

According to him, often we find good ideas in the industry and they are destroyed because we are unable to find common grounds where everyone finds a chance to win. “So the whole point of the total cost of ownership model is to say, look, I might win less than you but we are winning. That way we move forward,” he added.

Reflecting on the topic of sustainability Shah turned very realistic and raised the question – what is our environmental impact? The reality is, we need to find the carbon footprint of what we're doing sustainability comes from that one question, what is our environmental impact?

“Today's marketplace, the millennials and the new generation coming after us are choosing products based on their impact on the world. And that's a very honest fact. I would have bought something based on a certain parameters, but I'm pretty sure my children and the people purchasing today are using different parameters, whether you like it, or whether you accept it or not. So if you can identify and differentiate your product from the guy next to you, as being better for the environment, grown ethically and all the other things that are required for sustainability, then I believe you will have a better leg to stand on.”

Shah also emphasised the role of design in packaging while addressing the sustainability goals. “You can have the right paper but the wrong design and you've got problems. Or you could have the right design but the wrong paper and you still have problems. I know people complain to me about the boxes used currently. And I've got other people who tell me, it works perfectly fine. But they buy from two different sources, two different paper requirements, and you have two different problems. So get the right paper choice, you're going to have the right design.”

According to Shah, it is possible to make packaging designs more sustainable and what he suggests and what his company does is to use less material to produce the same cargo movement package.

This feature was originally published in the Jan - Feb 2023 issue of Logistics Update Africa.

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