Packaging is omnipresent in modern production, distribution and consumption systems. It has multiple functions. They refer to the quality of the products it covers, their advertising/ promotion via its marketing aspects and to the logistics via handling/ storage/ transportation activities it enables. Indispensable partner of different supply chain actors (suppliers, manufacturers, logistics service providers, carriers, wholesalers, retailers, consumers), it is at the heart of packaging scorecards developments since the beginning of our millennium. However, facing the paradigm change heralding the dawning transition towards a circular economy, what about the relevance of these packaging scorecards adapted to a linear supply chain conception? Having studied the imminent relationship between packaging, logistics and circular economy, this article questions the relevance of extant main packaging scorecards and lays the foundations of a new packaging scorecard deliberately oriented towards the circular economy principles.
According to Michel Fontaine, President of the CNE (French Packaging Association), packaging could be qualified as “beautiful stranger” in our societies (Fontaine, 2016). However, having a closer look we notice that packaging is at the heart of manufacturers’, distributors’ and consumers’ or – in a word – any supply chains’ actors’ everyday lives. Surprisingly, it is often ignored, unknown, even unloved or demonized, because one becomes completely aware of its presence only once it adopts the “waste” status. But how to preserve and protect the product without a packaging? How to store and moved it around within warehouses, distribution centers and logistics platforms? How to transport it over both short and long distances, whether with simple vehicles or for multimodal/ intercontinental transportation? How to distribute it and make it available to the consumer or – considering the increasing proliferation of the e-commerce – forward it until his home? Isn’t it the packaging once again that avoids or limits (food) waste, by extending the products’ lives? That enables to consume them whenever and wherever the consumer wants? By doing so, the packaging plays a main role within logistics activities and processes that go far beyond its product protection and promotion aspects (the famous “silent salesman” cited in our marketing textbooks), not to even mention at this stage the information it contains and that make supply chains more performing (Jantzen & Alexander, 1969; Hellström & Saghir, 2007; Verghese & Lewis, 2007; Dominic, 2010; Molina-Besch & Pålsson, 2016). But its role does not terminate there! Adopting a sustainable development perspective, packaging’s role is from now on strengthened vis-à-vis the advent of new research issues related to the principles of an economy labelled ‘circular’ (Sanders, 2012; Le Moigne, 2014; Aurez & Georgeault, 2016). In other words: the packaging seems to become a vector of utmost importance in order to foster the transition towards circular economy. As stressed by François-Michel Lambert, President of the French Circular Economy Institute (see website: www.institut-economiecirculair.fr, accessed April 16, 2017), “this economy breaks with the traditional scheme of a linear production, transiting directly from the product use to its destruction stage, replacing it by a ‘loop’ logic that looks for positive value creation at any phase, avoiding waste of resources while guaranteeing consumer satisfaction”. Conducting the state of the art on this issue, while intentionally positioning logistics functions of packaging (LFP) at the center of our proceeding, suggests formulating two research questions: the first one adopts a static approach (RQ1), the second one a dynamic approach (RQ2) of LFP.