Partnership with third parties is vital to develop shoppers' growing environmental understanding, says Rik Jacobs

Being and buying green are still ranking highly on the consumer's agenda despite the recession. And numerous surveys and the 50% reduction in the number of carrier bags issued, compared with 2006, show the public are willing to act. Yet, as consumer understanding and expectations of environmental performance continue to grow, there is increasing public demand for a more holistic view of product impact, rather than just dealing with the end of the product's life.

For many years, recycling has dominated the consumer agenda. It is a fairly easy concept to understand and provides a means of comparison between material types. As such, it has long been the cornerstone of the green strategies of the multiples, and the development of the BRC's on-pack labelling, which defines packaging as 'widely recycled', 'check local recycling' and 'not currently recycled', has cemented its position as a barometer for 'green'.

However, increasingly, organisations like the Forest Stewardship Council and Carbon Trust are spearheading a move towards a holistic world, where manufacturers, brands and consumers are beginning to appreciate we need to look at specific stages as well as the entire life of the product, rather than just recycling.

First, wherever possible, measures should take into account the product itself, not just the packaging, to give a true reflection of an item's impact. This means that evaluations need to span the entirety of the supply chain.

While the recyclability of cartons has long been top of our agenda, renewability and carbon impact are rapidly emerging as brand and consumer priorities and supermarkets and customers are starting to revise their own environmental policies.

However, there is still a lot to be done to define and explain these 'other' measures. Words like 'carbon footprint' and 'water footprint' will soon become commonplace on-pack and in-store, but do they have any real significance for consumers?

Retailers, government and industry all have their roles to play in furthering consumer education, but partnership with third parties will also be vital. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of 'greenwash', so the impartiality of third parties can go a long way to reassure and substantiate a company's environmental claims. One important tool for understanding and verifying environmental impacts across the whole value chain, which can be independently commissioned and peer-reviewed, is Life Cycle Analysis. LCA can also be useful for informing decision and policy-makers.

Last week, we announced that most Tetra Pak cartons in the UK and Ireland can now use paperboard sourced from FSC-certified forests and other controlled sources, which means more than 1.5 billion Tetra Pak cartons will now carry the FSC logo in the UK alone across some of the nation's favourite brands.

As the industry inevitably moves to a more holistic way of comparing environmental impact, third party organisations are crucial to reassure consumers and authenticate claims. By working closely with appropriate partners and meeting their independent standards, companies will be able to dispel 'greenwash'. Additionally, this will encourage manufacturers, retailers and brand owners to be more ambitious with their green targets.

Rik Jacobs is MD of Tetra Pak UK & Ireland.

Tetra Pak eco nod gives drinks brands green boost (29 October 2009)