In a new In the Loop blog series, we will be featuring interviews with members of the GreenBlue Board of Directors on why they work with GreenBlue and what they think is ahead for the organization. Eric DesRoberts kicks off the series with a recent interview of Alan Blake, Associate Director of Global Packaging Sustainability at Procter & Gamble, who is the newest member of the GreenBlue Board of Directors. Alan has been involved with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition for a number of years and currently represents Procter & Gamble on the SPC’s Executive Committee.
DesRoberts: As a child, what was your dream job?
Blake: Growing up, I wanted to be a Fireman.
DesRoberts: Can you talk about your journey from Fireman to your current position at Procter & Gamble?
Blake: I was fortunate to go through an education system that opened my mind to a number of possibilities. Having studied sciences, I knew I needed to do something that could be applied, and chemical engineering was an exciting route to pursue. I joined ExxonMobil Chemicals in the late 70’s – at the time, chemical engineering and the petroleum industry was a great place to be. After several years, I decided I needed to expand my horizons, which is when I came to Procter & Gamble.
I’ve been involved in packaging for 20 years. Early on, I don’t know that the word “sustainability” was part of our vocabulary, or necessarily included in our business plan, but I think there has always been a business case for doing the right thing.
DesRoberts: When and how did you first get involved with the SPC?
Blake: Procter & Gamble got involved around 2008. We had just started our packaging sustainability group and we were being proactive with developments like the Wal-Mart sustainability scorecard on the horizon.
I got involved with the SPC back in 2009. I have a lot of support for the SPC vision and find great value in the SPC’s work. Also, I found that meetings are great opportunities to discuss the possibilities and challenges facing the packaging industry. My interest in the organization eventually led to my Executive Committee candidacy at the Atlanta meeting. Aside from personal interest, this was an opportunity for Procter & Gamble to gauge what the industry was thinking in terms of how we were going to manage municipal solid waste streams. Certainly there was interest in cooperation among industry members to demonstrate that we can do the right thing on our own rather than having decisions imposed on us.
DesRoberts: How has the Coalition evolved during the time you’ve been involved?
Blake: It is a journey, so it is always fascinating to see companies joining and asking: “How do we get started on our sustainability initiatives?” This rejuvenation helps progress the sustainability dialogue within the members who have been involved since the beginning. By creating forums where different groups can openly talk about their needs, the SPC is connecting different points along the supply chain and helping to answer important questions. This is also helping to shape projects within the SPC.
DesRoberts: In addition to your involvement with the SPC, you are also a new GreenBlue Board member. Why were you interested in this position, and what would you most like to contribute to the organization?
Blake: I thought it was important for the SPC to have an invested voice at the GreenBlue level. I was actively engaged in board discussions last summer and felt that my thoughts were in line with many of the board members in terms of future opportunities and challenges in front of GreenBlue.
In the short term, I would like to gain a better understanding of the work and the role that GreenBlue is playing more broadly, and better understand its projects outside of the SPC (Forest Products, Advisory Services, and Chemicals). In the long term, I hope that I can help GreenBlue position itself for success over the next 5-10 years.
DesRoberts: This year marks GreenBlue’s 10th anniversary. What do you think the next 10 years will bring for GreenBlue?
Blake: I certainly believe that the next 2-5 years will see significant growth in its Forest Products, and Chemicals programs. I also think we will see considerable global growth in the SPC as we seem to have a really good start with the Essentials of Sustainable Packaging course now being offered in Mexico and China. This will open up the global opportunities and hopefully result in GreenBlue exploring many new potential projects; particularly in developing regions. GreenBlue will have opportunities to forge alliances throughout the world and become a benchmark case study of how to answer some of the biggest challenges we face – namely resource scarcity, managing waste for worth, and doing good.
DesRoberts: You’re planning on retiring this summer. What’s next on your horizon?
Blake: Spending time with family back in England, going to the Olympics, and then consulting work. I have been contacted by a number of interested groups already, so it looks as though I’m going to be as busy as I want to be from about September onward. As long as I am providing value, I will remain active. Otherwise, I’ll be working on my golf game.
Alan is looking forward to family travel and going home for his father’s 80th birthday. He is currently reading “Catching Fire” (book two of the Hunger Games Trilogy) and recommends it to anyone that has not read it.