Standardizing Sustainability Reporting in Partnership with Academia

Posted on 
April 24, 2023
Danielle Goad
Specright Network Manager, Specright
Cal Poly Consortium Sustainability Template

In recent years, sustainability has become a major focus among companies of all sizes and industries. And this trend is not going anywhere - actually if anything, the pressure to address sustainability is increasing each day.

I’ve seen this first hand in the past year, especially within the packaging industry, and at industry events, like the 10th Annual Cal Poly, Poly Pack Symposium, which featured several speakers sharing best practices, trends, and innovation around sustainable packaging. 

Across-the-board speakers focused on the need for collaboration and commitment in order to meet sustainability goals. Specifically noting that when it comes to sustainable packaging, it requires buy-in from all stakeholders involved – meaning not just the packaging department but everyone from quality assurance, procurement, and up through the C-Suite.

Sustainability Relies on Data

And, besides the focus on addressing sustainability goals, was the theme around the solution – developing a strong data foundation.

When it comes to data though, you can’t just think about the data within your own organization, rather you have to look at it from your entire supply chain. If one aspect of your supply chain is lacking in terms of sustainability, it can hold your company back from meeting its sustainability goals. We all have to work together and collaborate to pilot real change. 

And that is why, partnering with businesses, organizations, and academia who are also working towards a more sustainable future, is a driving mission at Specright. 

Promoting an interconnected ecosystem where like-minded individuals can support change is a must – making partnering with academic programs such as Cal Poly even more valuable. 

As Specright furthers its relationship with Cal Poly and all of the top academia programs in North America, we are able to train the future workforce on a digitized approach to specification management to help drive a more sustainable future. 

What is the Consortium?

Now you may be wondering, how exactly does Specright work with academic institutions such as Cal Poly? Besides providing our patented, cloud-based Specification Data Management platform in the classroom, we are always looking for ways to collaborate on research and innovation.

As one of the leading academic institutions for packaging in North America, education and research around distribution packaging is a core strength at Cal Poly - making the opportunity to work with Cal Poly’s newly established Consortium for Distribution Packaging, even more exciting. 

Cal Poly’s newly established Consortium operates on NSF’s Industry–University Cooperative Research Centers (IUCRC) model. The model encourages breakthrough research by enabling close and sustained engagement between industry innovators and world-class academic teams.

The main goal of the Consortium is to recruit member companies from the packaging industry, from providers of packaging products and technology to major users of these products and technology, the goal of the Consortium is to encourage collaboration among these groups.

Critical R&D-specific tasks surrounding distribution packaging and related logistic dynamics are tackled by the groups. And the research agenda is developed exclusively with the members’ direct participation and input.

With 22 members on the 2022 Consortium board, from TOPS, ISTA, and Trayak to Amazon Lab126 and Dow, the research is no joke. And with the help and collaboration of Cal Poly instructors, TOPS, and Trayak, Specright got the chance to develop our own data-driven research. 

What is a Sustainability Data Template?

In 2022, Specright submitted a project to the Consortium to create a sustainability data template, where the idea received the most votes out of the 23 projects submitted. 

Since then, the project has gone through various stages of production and refining to create the most valuable final product– a Sustainability data template.  

With increased pressure to produce sustainable packaging and products, tracking, optimizing, and reporting is becoming even more crucial. And with this in mind, the goal of the data template was to create standardization around sustainability data collection and reporting.

Today companies have to submit all types of data and information about sustainability to retailers and partners of theirs. 

But unfortunately, for many companies, this data isn’t captured in one standard template and is usually not proactively tracked. As regulations become stricter, having this data will become even more critical. To be a qualified partner, retailers will be looking for this information to future-proof companies by ensuring they have the data needed in the coming years to comply with upcoming sustainability trends and needs.

After a tedious and thorough research process, the Consortium Research Team was able to create a two-page data template that companies can send to suppliers and incorporate into their development process so they won’t have to ask for sustainability data later. 

Researching, Data, and Results

In order to develop this one-page template that would be useful for both companies and suppliers during the product development process we needed to do some research.

With a group of professionals from Cal Poly, TOPS, Trayak, and Specright, along with an international professor - for a global perspective - our team set out to create the best data template possible. 

Our team began by exploring the current tools and regulations in the ecosystem related to sustainability - and with these findings in mind, we conducted two surveys.

Survey #1

From the first survey, a total of 487 responses were received for the 40-question survey, and after eliminating incomplete/questionable feedback, 290 responses were considered for further review. Of all the respondents most were involved in making decisions about packaging across all industries, from Food and Beverage to Beauty and Cosmetics. 

The survey responses showed us that many companies have or are working on sustainability strategies and have very clear sustainability targets, such as reduction of GHG emissions or increased recycled content and decreased material usage. 

When asked, 

Does Your Company Request or Submit a Sustainability Scorecard?

71% of the participants responded “yes” and of the participants who responded “no” none mentioned that the idea of having one was not of interest or possessed helpful qualities. 

With topics and information included on the data template such as material type, recycled content, and GHG emissions, the survey results showed that the use of data templates within an organization provides necessary insights into many business processes. 

Having this comprehensive data in one central template makes understanding business activities such as waste, financial, and data transfer much simpler. Additionally, data templates were seen as a useful tool for customer relations as they assisted in effective communication between both groups.

As attributes were identified by importance, the data collected from Survey #1 showed our research team that data templates are an incredibly valuable tool for companies, especially as they continue to work through sustainability goals and commitments. 

Survey #2

Following the results of Survey #1, we narrowed down what attributes should be included in the template, although they had yet to be categorized. 

And that’s where Survey #2 came into play.

Our team of researchers worked to develop a rough data template, ranking the considered attributes based on the results of Survey #1.  

The attributes were split up by category and respondents were able to determine whether they viewed the attribute as a must-have or a nice-to-have on their ideal data template.

And with these results, we considered what the most valuable data template may look like, based on the respondent's preferences. 

The Final Data Template

After detailed scrubbing and analysis of all the data collected through these surveys, we were able to develop what we believed to be the best solution.

This led us to create a data collection template for sustainability. 

This sort of data collection template would be valuable for teams in an effort to narrow down and organize valuable data. 

In the future, our team here at Specright hopes to implement this template into our software, enabling customers who fill out the template with accurate data to then digitize it in Specright, where the data can be housed for all team members to access. 

How the Data Template can help you and your team

As our results showed, the ability to track and standardize data across all of your internal and external teams is highly valuable. 

Collecting this useful data upfront prevents companies from scrambling to find it in the future, increasing companies' abilities to quickly adapt to new expectations surrounding sustainability. 

Companies implementing the use of data templates and organized templates will find increased accuracy of data moving forward and collaboration among all stakeholders - such as internal teams, suppliers, and other supply chain touchpoints - much more seamless. 

With this data, companies are empowered to make decisions related to packaging optimization and GHG emissions to meet sustainability goals and decrease overall climate impact. 

Through partnerships with top academia programs such as Cal Poly, our team at Specright is committed to helping the next generation of packaging engineers and the workforce. 

Projects such as the data template develop the best possible tools for the future of innovative companies, helping them optimize cost savings and work efficiency.

To start using the template and empower your team to optimize its data you can download it here!


Danielle Goad

Danielle Goad is the Manager of Specright Network, a Spec-First Marketplace that enables true end-to-end traceability for all supply chain partners. Danielle has held roles across departments at Specright including Project Manager on the Customer Success team and Strategic Program Manager/Academia Manager on the Partnerships team. She leverages her diverse Specright experience to guide the product roadmap, head the Network Beta Program, and manage the Spec Assist & Spec Squad teams. Prior to Specright, Danielle graduated from California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo with her undergraduate in Industrial Technology and Packaging - focused on supply chain.

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