Sustainability and Innovations in Packaging Solutions: Interview with Janne Asikainen, Co-founder and CEO of Koepala

Sustainability is increasingly getting the attention of people and all companies in different industries. The professionals’ hard work to make a positive impact and implement sustainability practices in businesses is admirable. I had the pleasure of interviewing Janne Asikainen, CEO and Co-founder of Koepala. Janne is an expert on innovative packaging solutions who is placed in the Fairforce list of “Green Professionals in the Packaging Industry, Finland”.

Janne’s skills as a packaging designer and engineer in food technology lead to develop award-winning smart packaging products which are flat, functional, and light. The innovations in the design of ready-to-go food packages and the use of sustainable materials by Koepala made them easy to transport and economical with lower logistic costs that result in less carbon footprint of the company as well as providing a unique meal experience and increased carbon handprint for the consumers.

Environment as a core towards sustainability

The three main pillars of sustainability, namely profit, people and planet refer to the economic, social and environmental aspects of this concept which are in fact interrelated to each other. Due to the global climate change problem and our common future challenges, the environmental dimension of sustainability requires a more significant attention. Janne expresses that the environment is the core of what they do and they build their business around it. He defines the mission of Koepala as getting rid of packaging waste and solving the problem of littering.

Janne indicates the importance of environmental perspective for Koepala in every step, saying: “We started moving towards sustainability with commitment to it internally and following certain agendas like Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation to get rid of single-use plastic for instance”. He also mentioned that they’ve recently hired a sustainability specialist to their team, a strategic level decision. A successful business is faithful to its core mission and values from the ground to its concrete actions.

Sustainability for a successful business in the long term

In almost all industries, sustainability is becoming a major trend. However, there’s a long way to go for implementing sustainability practices in real-life context. The SDGs as 17 global goals have made companies to consider the key role of sustainability for success of a business in the long term. Janne believes that “It’s a business thing to be sustainable and being part of that”.

According to Janne, “In terms of business and company, sustainability and making an impact is a MUST. It’s not required yet but sustainability is essential for building a successful business in the long term. It has to be a fundamental part of any business and we have started from the beginning at Koepala”.

Benefits of going green

The proactiveness of a company to be sustainable and green is not only beneficial for its brand image but there are also advantages for other parties like their client customers and consumers. Janne indicates that a company with a sustainable strategy not only shares good but sharing its success story can help other companies, people and the environment to succeed. He reveals that Koepala’s success in the journey of going green was “firstly because of a strong crave for sustainability and then learning on the way and taking steps towards it”.

A good example of a win-win scenario for all stakeholders in a sustainable ecosystem of people, profit and planet is the smart packaging product Ateriamo developed by Koepala. The sustainable packaging solution into Ateriamo made it multipurpose and convenient according to consumer needs besides reducing the amount of waste by 50% and CO2 GHG emissions compared to existing alternatives. It also requires minimal investment for foodservice and retail businesses as Koepala’s client companies.

Being sustainable will bring more than just financial benefits as the green food-packaging solutions by Koepala does. “We are changing the urban food system, making that for better, and having an impact on how people can enjoy eating in the environment, big cities, without affecting the surroundings and nature”, Janne explains.

Going green may bring new opportunities but it does come with challenges

There are both internal and external challenges to struggle for a company in going green. The packaging industry hasn’t really changed much from the beginning of the industrial era a hundred years ago as Janne points out. The innovation within the industry has been simplified basically into how we can produce more and make it more efficient. He adds that in the packaging industry, there are lots of linear business models which are conservative to change. According to Janne, “This makes it difficult to bring new business models, new types of partnerships, sustainability and impact as such”. He implies that it’s quite challenging for a small company to prove its business model, especially when it is trying to change the attitude and mindset.

Regarding internal challenges, Janne describes that “We are thinking how to combine sustainability into a profitable business model and scale it, or building a team who share the same goal and motivation”. He also expresses another important matter in business cooperation which is thinking on how to work with the partners and clients to keep them aligned with the same values, impact and sustainability point of view.

Making value is the future of packaging solutions

For the future of packaging solutions, Janne has an insight saying that “It is about value, as putting the value of a product into packaging makes it valuable throughout the whole value chain, so you’ll not consider it as waste anymore. No one wants to get rid of value. It’s also a natural way of saying that there is actually a circular model”.

Janne believes that packaging will become smarter and the smartness has to target what relates to consumer experience. Then, this is the evolved value which will bring a new type of business model.

Sustainability practices create new innovations

As mentioned earlier, the improvements in the packaging industry so far have only been limited to the existing production and technology. Janne says “I won’t call these incremental changes innovation”. He believes that with this conservative industry, the first thing is to show that developments in packaging solutions can be compatible with the current technology. Meanwhile, moving to more circular systems can be considered as an extension to the business. The packaging industry as a whole is in need of radical innovations for shifting from the linear business model of take-make-dispose to the circular model of make-use-return.

Companies with business related to the packaging industry are in the pressure of finding new solutions in terms of legislation, consumer or changing consumer behavior. They are really pressured to implement new innovation and now I think the discussion and conversion have changed somewhat. And these types of innovations are regarded as possibilities to retain or get new customers and build the business in the long run and packaging manufacturers are struggling with hide margins in their businesses”, Janne explains.

Innovation is the key to accelerate sustainability which is the current requirement of packaging companies, their clients, consumers, and legislations all together. Revolutionary innovations open new windows to circularity and sustainability in this industry based on value creation and smartness for consumers.

Having a positive impact as a consumer

In addition to implementing sustainability practices in Koepala company, Janne is a green person himself, being vegetarian. He admits it’s not easy though. Janne describes it as an environmental and sustainability act as well. Moreover, as founder of a green company, Janne says “I feel relaxed”. He believes what he’s doing is the right thing and Koepala is the right place for him. He adds that personal motivation to one’s career is a significant driver to learn more and grow.

From the writer

Sustainability is the present essential need of the planet, people and businesses. This Fairforce internship has given me an amazing opportunity to engage with professionals who are working hard to have green impacts in their industries. Thank you again, Janne Asikainen for taking the time for this interview. It was so insightful to hear your perspectives on the current and future needs of the packaging industry.
Hopefully, in the near future within a circular system, the packaging waste is not wasted anymore.