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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Business Model Innovations to Reduce Plastic Packaging

In Germany, plastic manufacturing accounts for 50 % of all microplastic entries into the environment. More than one third of the produced quantity of plastic is used for the production of packaging. In 2015, Germany produced ~ 3 Mio. T of plastic packaging.

The transdisciplinary research project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and will be carried out in cooperation between the Institute for Ecological Economy Research and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (ifeu), the German association of the bulk stores, five major pioneer enterprises, one environmental organization and the city of Heidelberg. We look into innovative solutions to reduce and/or avoid plastic packaging along the supply chain.

To do so, we first conduct a literature research and develop a typology of business model innovations that contribute to reducing plastic packaging along the supply chain. Based on this, a series of hypotheses about business model innovations and their social and technical requirements is developed. After that, we conduct interviews with enterprises in four sectors: food, office supplies, textiles, as well as cosmetics and beauty products. We analyze the type of packaging and technologies at use, the necessary social resources, supply chain characteristics, and communication strategies with consumers and business partners along the supply chain. In addition, the collaborative relationships along the supply chain, the choice of business partners and collaboration types and strategies to change consumer behaviors are of interest. Each business model innovation is evaluated in terms of its waste reduction potential. The assessment criteria include the type and amount of waste, waste treatment and possibilities to reduce or replace packaging. The distribution channels (stationary vs. online retail) and the position and function of the plastic packaging within the supply chain (b2b vs. b2c) are further distinguishing criteria. A workshop finally offers the platform for a presentation of the results and discussion of these between researchers and practitioners.

This typology builds the premises for further research on internal and external factors for the evaluation of the reduction potential of various packaging solutions, the identification of best practices as well as internal and external success factors for businesses.

The first results of our empirical research will be presented at the conference. We will refer to recent contributions to circular and sustainable business models (cp. e.g. Bocken et al. 2016 and 2018, Joyce/Paquin 2016, Schaltegger et al 2012).

Frieder Rubik
Institute for Ecological Economy Research

Pauline Riousset
Institute for Ecological Economy Research

Sabrina Schmidt
Institute for Ecological Economy Research


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