With over 80 years of history, DS Smith is one of the world’s leading providers of sustainable packaging solutions, paper products and recycling services, covering the entire packaging supply cycle. The group, located in 37 countries, has been in Spain since 2015. We spoke to its general manager for Spain and Portugal, Ignacio Montfort.
You have been managing director of DS Smith Iberia since 2019, possibly a period that you weren’t expecting due to the situation we have endured over the last two years. What is your assessment of the current state of the sector after the hardest part of the pandemic? What was the experience at DS Smith Spain?
The health crisis has been a turning point where all sectors have had to adapt to new consumer needs in record time. We should highlight the role our company has played as an essential supplier, proving we are key players in packaging production for certain sectors such as food, pharmaceuticals and e-commerce.
As for the current state of the sector, we see that both e-commerce and plastic-free packaging projects have accelerated and we are well positioned to capitalise on this growth.
DS Smith has three business lines: packaging –mainly in carton board–, paper and recycled. Are they all established in Spain? Are any of them particularly relevant in our country?
All three divisions – packaging, paper and recycling – are found in Spain as part of our strategic commitment to sustainable materials and the circular economy. Following the sale of the plastics division in 2019, we have established ourselves as a leading sustainable packaging company, focusing all our efforts on the manufacture of paper fibre-based products.
The Packaging division is at the heart of DS Smith’s business. In fact, “redefining packaging for a changing world” is our purpose as a company. This is reflected both in our global strategy and in the company’s facilities in Spain.
The company places circular packaging at the heart of its business strategy. To what extent can you help your customers with such solutions? Do you see a growing demand for more sustainable packaging?
At DS Smith we specialise in sustainable packaging solutions and indeed, circularity is a key pillar of our “Now & Next” sustainability strategy.
Our customers demand increasingly sustainable packaging that is in line with their environmental commitments and also consumer demands. In fact, according to a study conducted by DS Smith in collaboration with Ipsos MORI in 2021, 45% of Spanish consumers say they prefer to buy products that use as little packaging as possible. They also attach importance to produced packaged with recyclable materials (40%), packaging made from recycled materials (33%) and materials used from sustainable sources (31%). We are convinced that beyond the snapshot of a moment, these data reflect a clear consumer trend towards more sustainable products that will increase in the coming years.
In line with the circular economy, can you tell us about some of the tools you have designed, such as circular design metrics?
“Circular design metrics” are a revolutionary tool in the industry. With them we offer our customers a unique insight into how packaging choices can reduce their impact on the environment.
This innovative tool allows you to view and compare the performance of a packaging design across a total of eight indicators, such as recyclability, renewable content or supply chain optimisation, providing a clear view of circularity and helping to identify areas for potential improvement.
Through this collaborative design process, customers can compare the environmental impact of different packaging alternatives to create more circular solutions, a key factor for companies wishing to boost their sustainability efficiency through their packaging.
DS Smith has announced its ambitious commitment to align all its global operations to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-Industrial Revolution temperatures. How is the company committed to moving towards a zero net carbon transition plan?
To achieve this target set in the Paris Agreement, we are accelerating the reduction of carbon emissions in our operations and in the operations of our partners and suppliers. To this end, we are committed to reducing our scope 1, 2 and 3 greenhouse gas emissions by 46% – in absolute terms – by 2030, compared to 2019 levels. Furthermore, this target is aligned with our commitment to achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050.
Innovation is also a cornerstone and part of your DNA. As part of an international group, does innovation cut across all countries or is it carried out locally and adapted to the needs of the different regions where you operate?
Without a doubt, innovation is fundamental to our company. Our designers work with customers to create innovative packaging solutions to suit their products and market demands, always with sustainability in focus. In Spain, for example, we have three PackRight Centres, where designers and engineers work hand in hand with customers to find the solutions that best suit their specific needs.
At DS Smith, we believe that best practices should be shared, which is why our 700 designers work in an interconnected network and coordinate across all regions to take advantage of what is learned and then adapt it to the specifics of each market. In addition, we have our own design library where we share our know-how globally.
To what extent do you think innovation can help the digitalisation of the sector?
For us, innovation and digitalisation go hand in hand; we do not see them as separate entities. Innovation is key to remaining a leader and achieving our sustainability goals, and digitalisation is a key enabler and facilitator of this process. An example of this is our first hybrid innovation hub in Lisbon. This centre, which is the first company-wide pilot in DS Smith of this concept, was created to host working, inspirational and analytical sessions, both in-person and virtual. This makes it possible to shorten project response times and ensure people are safe at times when mobility becomes more complex, as we have seen during the pandemic.
The packaging industry was able to adapt to a new context during the pandemic. Not surprisingly, food and healthcare, two key sectors in the health crisis, positioned packaging as an indispensable element in securing the supply of essential products. Looking ahead, what do you see as the most important challenges for a sector that has been key in the last two years?
The packaging industry is currently facing several fundamental challenges that will determine the future of the sector. Firstly, we must continue to work towards our sustainability and decarbonisation goals, especially at a time when packaging is so prevalent in consumers’ daily lives. On the other hand, the healthcare crisis has highlighted, more than ever, the need to be able to adapt to change quickly and to make digitalisation a fundamental pillar of our sector. For example, we see an increasing demand for personalised products, where digital printing plays a key role. This is why last year we added a digital single-pass printer to our Lisbon plant, which allows us to offer photographic quality in record delivery times.
With three months out from the Hispack event, can you let us in on any of the new trends or innovations that will be seen at the trade show?
This year we will present some of our key innovation projects specifically targeted at the FMCG market, such as Ecovete, Atlas or Ultim-8, as well as specific solutions for the e-commerce category, such as Oyster and Secure ePack. We will also emphasise our projects related to plastic substitution, developments for specific segments such as wine and some surprising designs, such as a packaging solution for bicycles or a box designed for footballs.
In the industrial area, we will present several self-assembly and sustainable box pallet solutions, our new line of 1,000 l. containers for bulk liquids and solids and our returnable packaging solutions with ESD treatments.
Beyond product-focused innovations, we would also like to highlight our working model and commitment to innovation with the new hybrid hub concept and the opening of our latest PackRight Centres in Iberia, which have marked a turning point in the way we create our packaging solutions.
What does a trade fair like Hispack offer to the packaging sector?
Hispack highlights the relevance of an essential industry that plays an essential role in the supply chain and also undeniably has a specific weight in contributing to the sustainability strategies of many sectors.
It is also a wonderful opportunity for us to meet again after these two years of distancing ourselves. The real potential of this fair is to create a space for dialogue and collaboration where we can delve deeper into the needs of our customers, suppliers and partners. It will undoubtedly be the ideal forum to discover market trends and also showcase the innovations that will help us to take the packaging sector one step further.
Cristina Benavides, Hispack contributor