1. SUSY, the term and the idea:

SUSY is an acronym for Sustainable System.

The idea is to evaluate packaging in terms of its sustainability and environmental impact compared to similar packages in the same segment. With SUSY, assessing the sustainability of packaging is as simple as comparing prices.

SUSY is backed by the Central Agency for Green Commerce. They promote the use of statements regarding integrated sustainability and ensure that the industry and commerce employ them in a credible and responsible manner.

SUSY is a score. It’s scientifically based and independent. The evaluations are run by independent external laboratories.

Manufacturers can choose to publish their results on the SUSY website (susycheck), and if they advertise their SUSY scores, they are obligated to disclose their results.

Consumers can view the SUSY scores and results on www.susycheck.eu.

Ninety percent of consumers do not trust manufacturers’ self-declarations. With SUSY, manufacturers can utilize their sustainability efforts as a trust provider because SUSY is scientifically grounded, independent, and credible. Additionally, SUSY provides guidance on the path to more sustainable packaging.

SUSY is a pragmatic tool that allows manufacturers to comprehensively evaluate the sustainability performance of their packaging. Unlike other systems, it does not require time-consuming and costly life cycle assessments (LCAs), but it utilizes data from LCA databases to account for the negative environmental impacts of typical materials. Furthermore, SUSY considers other factors for sustainable packaging, such as functionality, labeling, and recyclability, from various perspectives in calculating the SUSY score. Thus, SUSY is a comprehensive system that evaluates not only ecological criteria but also encompasses the four value creation phases: raw materials, production, use, and disposal.

SUSY is an initiative of academia and industry, initially conceived through collaboration between EYglobal, EYetventure, and EYwavespace, along with numerous industry partners. The scientific authority was transferred to fjol GmbH, which collaborates with the Center for Sustainable Corporate Management (ZNU) at the University of Witten/Herdecke.

The Central Agency for Green Commerce is behind SUSY. It promotes the use of statements on integrated sustainability and ensures that industry and commerce use them in a credible and responsible manner. The SUSY packaging algorithm assesses the integrated sustainability of packaging and provides recommendations for action at the company and product level. Consumers gain better guidance and transparency when making purchases, while manufacturers can demonstrate their sustainability efforts with SUSY.

The evaluations are conducted by independent and accredited external laboratories.

SUSY evaluates not only material and circular economy capability but also declarations and functionality of packaging. Integrated sustainability means that packaging, through its material and circular economy capabilities and its design, contributes to resource efficiency. Aspects such as food waste, residue removal, and declarations also play a crucial role in evaluating the sustainability of packaging.

Yes, SUSY reinforces manufacturers’ sustainability efforts as an independent trust provider and supports statements on the sustainability of packaging as a “third-party audit,” as required by the EU Green Claims Regulation.

Through the evaluation conducted by SUSY, improvements and potential savings can be identified. Additionally, manufacturers can assess whether their own data on material usage reflects the current state in collaboration with SUSY.

The objective of the EU Green Claims Regulation is to prevent greenwashing, which refers to the deliberate deception of consumers through unsubstantiated claims about the environmental impact of actions and activities of companies. The EU requires that all justifications for environmental claims must be made by neutral third parties or government authorities. Although the EU Green Claims Regulation has not yet been adopted by the EU Parliament, SUSY already aligns with all drafts and represents the current state of the discussion.

Packaging is the most visible element of sustainability for consumers even before purchasing a product. So far, there has been no packaging evaluation system or score in the German market that comprehensively assesses packaging and provides guidance to manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. The EU is planning an ecological sustainability labeling system, which may include packaging but will still require some time to become market-ready. However, there is a growing number of packaging solutions entering the market that are advertised as sustainable, despite violating principles of sustainable material selection and recycling. This is where SUSY comes in.

SUSY is a dynamic score that evaluates the overall (integrated) sustainability of packaging. Scores usually have a multidimensional evaluation approach and differ significantly from simple labels. Through SUSY, manufacturers and consumers can gain better guidance regarding their actions. The goal of SUSY is to identify improvements and enable more sustainable actions. Additionally, innovations and improvements in packaging continuously contribute to the data foundation used to evaluate the SUSY algorithm, supporting this continuous improvement process. The score approach is modern and consumer-friendly as it provides evaluation and guidance. The SUSY score thus distinguishes itself from the informational content of a label.

SUSY not only evaluates the overall sustainability of packaging but also raises awareness about sustainability as a social influencer, initially focusing on digital media and potentially expanding to offline channels in the future.

2. What should be considered regarding packaging?

The first criterion for this is that the packaging materials of a product can be separated effectively.

“Environmentally harmful” is a broad and imprecise term. Some packaging solutions are highly optimized in terms of material selection and recycling, promoting a true circular economy. In some cases, the maximum level of optimization has been reached, yet every material, production, and disposal process has a (negative) ecological footprint that should be minimized.

For example, glass can be rinsed and reused, but it has a high weight, which negatively impacts long-distance transportation. Glass has a high CO2 footprint during (initial) production, and more microplastics are generated during transport due to tire abrasion. However, glass can be recycled to a high percentage. In conclusion, reusable glass is a good alternative to plastic disposable products.

Bioplastic is derived from renewable resources such as corn, sugarcane, or cellulose. In the case of bioplastics, products labeled as “bio-based” may only partially consist of biomass, with the remainder being fossil-based polymers. Some bioplastics require significant energy input, which can negatively impact the environmental footprint. Bioplastics can also include fossil-based components that make separation into individual components impossible, rendering the packaging non-recyclable.

Plastics are valuable resources and can be reused multiple times through recycling. The quality and purity (e.g., food-grade) of recycled plastics have improved in recent years, allowing for the reuse of recycled plastics up to 100%.

Manufacturers or retailers who introduce packaging into circulation are obligated to comply with packaging laws. One of the obligations, in addition to participation and data reporting, is the requirement to register through the LUCID system.

3. From Algorithm to Score: The Overall SUSY Evaluation

Consumers can access and review the results on susycheck.eu to gain information.

That depends on the results. SUSY is a measuring tool that enables companies to improve the sustainability of their packaging. Consumers can use the score to make informed decisions when shopping.

SUSY requires specific information from companies, which is collected through a data based questionnaire.

SUSY is an evaluation tool that assesses the overall sustainability of packaging using an algorithm, referred to as the “packaging algorithm,” which incorporates over 80 criteria.

The main criteria (levels) include material and recyclability, as well as packaging declaration and functionality. The material criterion also considers the transportation routes of the packaging to the manufacturer and the retailer. The evaluation criteria cover the four value creation phases (raw materials, production, use, and disposal).

We evaluate the packaging itself. Additionally, the production of packaging materials is not included in the score as the data in this area is still too inaccurate. The SUSY Score aims to provide reliable information and avoid working with false precision. This is a dynamic process, and as the data or data sources change, they are reevaluated for inclusion in the SUSY Score.

We relied on life cycle assessment data for the material and disposal aspects (from Ecoinvent 3.8.) to compare the environmental impacts of different materials. While there is abundant data available for conventional and fossil-based materials, there are only studies available for bio-based materials. Unfortunately, depending on the study approach, this data is not 100% clear and consistent, and it is not available for all newer materials. Therefore, approximations and average values need to be used.

SUSY evaluates the design of the packaging. The ratio of packaging to content is also assessed.

We obtain data from life cycle assessment studies conducted in recent years that compare the environmental impacts of bio-based materials.

The SUSY algorithm distinguishes between material-based and descriptive criteria. Points are assigned to the materials, reflecting the relative impact of the materials for each criterion, such as CO2 emissions during the production of glass versus paper or their recycling rates. For the material-based criteria, each material is evaluated separately, and the individual evaluations are then aggregated based on their weight proportion in the packaging. Similarly, the packaging receives points based on the fulfillment level of the descriptive criteria. All criteria are weighted against each other on three levels by experts. The weighting factor, multiplied by the assigned points, determines the score for each criterion. These scores are summed up at each level to derive a score for the higher-level criterion, which is then weighted against other criteria at the next higher level. By summing up the scores at the top-level criteria, which include material, functionality, declaration, and recyclability, the SUSY Score is obtained. In a final step, the score is converted into a star rating (1 to 5).

All criteria are weighted against each other on three levels by experts. Material-based criteria result in a score that is determined by aggregating the evaluations of the individual components, based on their weight proportion in the overall packaging.

We presented the criteria catalog to packaging experts and had them weigh the criteria against each other in terms of their importance for packaging. There was a clear consensus among the experts. The weighting model is based on the best/worst method by Liang et al. 2020 (Consistency issues in the best worst method: Measurements and thresholds, Omega Vol. 96, 102175).

In addition to material and recyclability, declaration and functionality also play important roles in the assessment of packaging sustainability. Is the packaging resealable, easy to use, and can it be completely emptied? Does it promote separability and motivate consumers to act more sustainably? These factors help to avoid packaging waste, collect valuable resources, and reduce food waste.

Through the large number of individual criteria (>80), time series analyses are established. The documented improvements in the individual criteria contribute to the improvement of ESG scoring in the “sustainability of packaging” domain.

Conflicting goals are resolved by considering and evaluating each criterion individually, while weighting the criteria against each other. This approach allows for the resolution of any conflicting goals, such as the use of recycled material versus recyclability, when considering the overall score.

The SUSY Score is an absolute assessment of the packaging based on over 80 criteria. The conversion to the 5-star system is achieved by evaluating and optimizing the current best-in-category. This score, plus an innovation buffer, determines the maximum achievable score, which is then divided into four score ranges and assigned the corresponding 5-star rating. Thus, the SUSY Score is initially an absolute method that is highly objective due to the weighting methodology, but it is relativized to other products through the translation into the star rating.

The standardization of the evaluation allows for a scalable methodology that is acceptable and practical for manufacturers and companies, and also significantly more cost-effective than conducting full life cycle analyses. The evaluation of individual products, categories, or brands can be completed within a few days to several weeks.

4. The Involvement of Science in the SUSY Score:

The scientific evaluation of the sustainability of packaging is the foundation of the SUSY Score. There is a wealth of information, and sometimes conflicting statements, regarding the advantages of different materials, which can only be resolved and organized through scientific assessment.

Packaging materials and manufacturing processes are constantly improving, and these advancements are reflected in the data sources used for the SUSY Score.

The ongoing evaluation of scientific findings for the development of the SUSY Score is accompanied by numerous experts. The selection and appointment of an advisory board are currently underway.

5. Testing of Individual Criteria:

The testing is conducted by external, independent and accredited laboratories.

Yes, we collaborate with multiple independent and accredited laboratories.

Description and explanation of the environmental impacts of the individual criteria.
There are over 80 criteria in total.

The algorithm is applied uniformly across all product categories. A significant portion of the criteria is based on material types and quantities, meaning that the points assigned to the materials automatically result in a score for each criterion. The fulfillment of descriptive criteria related to functionality and declaration is determined by trained testing laboratories based on a questionnaire, and points are awarded according to the level of compliance. Subsequently, the scores for the over 80 weighted criteria are summed up to derive the SUSY Score for a packaging. By employing the weighting methodology proposed by Liang et al. (2020), a highly objective and comprehensive assessment of the overall packaging is achieved.

SUSY evaluates a packaging based on >80 criteria across the four dimensions of material, circular economy, functionality, and declaration, and determines the SUSY Score through a weighting process.

6. Control within the SUSY System:

The laboratories each contribute to evaluating specific criteria for packaging, from which the SUSY Score is automatically calculated. The algorithm was thoroughly tested before and during a pilot phase involving companies. The conversion of the score into the 5-star system and the actual score assignment are carried out by CAGC.

All testing institutes use the same testing procedures and guidelines for evaluating packaging according to the SUSY Score, ensuring consistent results.

It is planned to establish a specialized advisory board to oversee the testing institutes. By involving multiple institutes, SUSY ensures that the results are objectively and reliably determined by each individual institute.

During the development of the SUSY algorithm, numerous companies from the food industry participated in pilot phases.

7. Implementation / Final Outcome:

Companies can enter into a license agreement to use and display the SUSY Score on their packaging. The usage of the score is guaranteed for a period of 24 months until the end of the year.

No, the usage of the score is voluntary.

Yes, definitely. We provide information on the results and assist manufacturers in producing more sustainable packaging to achieve a better score.

Yes, it needs to be rescored, alongside with the existing data this is a swift process.

This needs to be assessed on an individual basis. In most cases, different color schemes or labels already affect the score. It is also necessary to ensure that the evaluation is clearly related to the specific product and its packaging.

SUSY measures the overall sustainability of packaging. The results can be used indefinitely by the clients for internal purposes. In external communication, companies are allowed to use the SUSY Score for a full two calendar years, provided that no changes are made to the packaging during that time (for example, if the testing is done in 2022, the results can be used by the manufacturers on packaging, websites, and publications until the end of 2024).

To prevent misleading communication of the SUSY Score (greenwashing), manufacturers must have a minimum score across all their products in a category before they can advertise the results. Furthermore, manufacturers commit to using the score only for the products or packaging for which they have obtained results. Changes to the packaging can only be communicated after a new evaluation.

Manufacturers are required to have their communication regarding the SUSY Score reviewed and approved by the Central Agency for Green Commerce GmbH. The Central Agency for Green Commerce GmbH conducts ongoing checks of the publications.

The evaluation and scoring process by independent laboratories, as well as the application and maintenance of the algorithm, and the support and communication provided by the Central Agency for Green Commerce GmbH, are resource-intensive. The high standardization of the measurement allows manufacturers to use the score across all products in their brands, which was economically unfeasible with the previous approach (creating full life cycle assessments for each product). The usage of the SUSY Score opens up opportunities for the first time to communicate with consumers about the packaging and the brand’s sustainability efforts. Packaging serves as a “meta-reference,” representing evidence or lack thereof of sustainability efforts by the manufacturers. This perception is even more pronounced among younger target groups, and their reactions (liking or disliking) are significantly more radical. Therefore, relevant communication should include independently verified sustainability of chosen packaging solutions to strengthen the brand’s added value and ensure its long-term growth. These are important cost aspects to consider when using (or not using) the SUSY Score.