Solutions-oriented Collaboration sets the Sustainable Packaging Coalition Apart

At the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s annual open conference, SPC Impact, the variety of attendees is striking, both in terms of industry and function. SPC is a collaborative organization that attracts organizations throughout the value chain – retailers, brand owners, packaging converters, material manufacturers, waste recovery organizations, consultants, and government agencies.

What separates SPC from other industry associations is collaboration to find solutions across the value chain

Derrick Lawrence, Director of Packaging Solutions for Seventh Generation, sits on the End Market Industry Leadership Committee. He says that SPC has been a wonderful resource for finding suppliers, discovering like-minded companies for partnerships, and sharing best practices about what’s going on in the packaging industry around sustainable packaging. It’s also a great forum to share technological advances that may be tricky to communicate with customers, but resonate with others in the industry. SPC has a great cross-section of the entire value chain of packaging — resin manufacturers, converters, brand owners, distribution companies, reclaimers — you don’t find that collection of people all in one place and at same time very often.

Assembling that group of people has sparked great partnerships for Seventh Generation. The company won the 2016 SPC Innovator Award (Formerly known as the “Trashies”) award for partnering with Accredo and Dow to develop a widely recyclable package for dishwasher detergent pods. Derrick said that those partnerships formed because of conversations started at SPC events. He also cited a great partnership with Braskem to enable their use of Green PE in combination post-consumer resin (PCR) HDPE.

This year’s winner of the SPC Innovator Award in the Outcome of a Partnership award also demonstrated the power of collaboration. PepsiCo, Natureworks, Danimer Scientific, Omya, Berry Plastics, and Johnson-Bryce commercialized a new bio-based compound for flexible packaging. PepsiCo worked with key resin manufacturer, NatureWorks, and leading bio-polymer compounder, Danimer Scientific, to produce the new bio-based compounds. Calcium carbonate additives, supplied by Omya, were modified to create the right interaction with the bio-polymers and to make the materials more cost effective. Berry Global adapted its film extrusion lines to handle the compounded resin and produce high-quality films. And converter Johnson Bryce optimized its process to print and laminate the new films. Brad Rodgers, R&D director of sustainable packaging and advanced materials research at PepsiCo, says “PepsiCo has the privilege of working with some great vendors within our supply chain and it is with their help that we were able to introduce the next generation of bio-based/compostable packaging.”

Dave McLain, Market Development Manager at Printpack, sits on the SPC Executive Committee, which is designed to have representatives from each supply chain segment. As a major converter of flexible and specialty rigid packaging for large CPGs, Printpack has seen a strong business value proposition in developing sustainable packaging, as consumers are increasingly asking for it. For Printpack, SPC has been a great one-stop forum for insights across the value chain. Dave sees his role a being the executive committee voice for members in his segment of the supply chain. As such, he works closely with the Multi-Material Flexible Packaging Recovery Industry Leadership Committee and the End Market Industry Leadership Committee. Printpack is a potential end market for PCR resin and works with both groups to figure how to get PCR right. Since consumers are accustomed to the performance, look and feel of packaging made with virgin materials, industry leaders are working together to solve the new challenges of using PCR materials.

Walt Peterson, Manager of Packaging Sustainability at Nestle USA, also sits on the SPC Executive Committee. Like Derrick and Dave, he says SPC is about bringing collaborative ideas to the industry. To him, sustainability is not optional, it’s something companies just have to do. Aligning everyone towards a common goal, like using the How2Recycle® label on packaging, allows the industry to move so much further than each acting alone. The label only works if it’s consistent across companies, and Walt describes SPC as a forum where he feels comfortable even talking to competitors about some of these issues. Nestle recently announced a new plastics strategy, with plastics recyclability and the How2Recycle® label at its core. Walt also sees SPC as a good source of information about what is going on in the industry, fresh ideas, and different points of view.

Weyerhaeuser is a newer member of SPC, having joined about a year ago. Ara Erickson, Sustainable Supply and Value Chain Sr. Manager, says that she started asking where the conversations were really happening around sustainable products and found that the SPC’s Forest Products Working Group (FPWG) is a place where the full supply chain is coming together to talk about how to use forest products in the most responsible way. Weyerhaeuser was the first land manager to join the group, completing the missing link of the supply chain – the original resource. She found that Weyerhaeuser could have a voice to participate, but also that it was an amazing way to understand what large brands, converters of paper products, and consumers on the other side were looking for. Since Weyerhaeuser sits at one end of the supply chain, even Weyerhaeuser’s customers are pretty far down. The FPWGallows a direct conversation with end users of the product in a forum that’s really trying to solve a problem. Ara has found that the conversations have enabled her to help people understand sustainable forest management and the carbon impacts and benefits of wood products, so that those further downstream in the value chain understand the upstream sustainability implications of their decisions. She says she has also learned an incredible amount from people downstream in the supply chain of what responsible forest management can do for them.

Reflecting on SPC as an organization, Ara says that SPC has a very inclusive approach about who participates and really brings people into the conversation, not just companies. SPC makes it clear that members are working together towards solutions and that all members need to bring some type of value and positive intention to the group – it’s not just a sales conference or group of sales teams. She also says that SPC does an excellent job of providing resources, tools, and information tailored to what members really want and need.

SPC Impact provides opportunities to learn and connect

For many attendees, SPC Impact is an opportunity to learn about industry developments and connect with potential partners. Sabrina Burkhardt, Director of Chemical Development at Sustainable Fiber Technologies, says that the conference was a good opportunity to keep up with new developments in sustainable packaging as well as meet with companies that they look forward to working with. Derek Atkinson, Senior Business Director Americas at Total Corbion, finds it valuable to connect with brand owners directly, since Total Corbion’s customers are typically intermediaries. It’s an opportunity to develop a deeper connection with the end customer that material manufacturers don’t always get.

SPC is also a forum for connecting with public sector players. Attendees heard from Teresa Bui of the California Department of Resources and Recycling (CalRecycle) about CalRecycle’s plans for packaging reform, and from Allen Langdon of Recycle BC about how Recycle BC has been successful in collecting materials across a large, sparsely populated area, increasing the potential quantity and quality of recovered materials. The Recycling Partnership, in concert with the Cascadia Consulting Group, also shared the results of their work to use better recycling metrics to improve recycling rates and develop cleaner materials streams in city recycling programs. The USDA Western Regional Research Center also opened its doors to attendees to show how USDA research supports private sector research into using agricultural byproducts in developing sustainable packaging materials. Alli Kingfisher, Materials Management and Sustainability Specialist from the Washington State’s Department of Ecology, says that she was attending the conference to find ways to better work with the private sector in the state’s Waste 2 Resources Program.  

Other attendees use the conference to learn about what’s going on in the industry. John Kraseski, Senior Product Development Specialist at Graphic Packaging International, works with moisture and oxygen barriers for dry food, and was particularly interested in panels on fluorinated chemicals in food packaging. Lili Huang, Product Development Manager at Sephora, saw the conference as an opportunity to learn more about advances in packaging to support her conversations with vendors about developing more sustainable packaging.

SPC has a spirit of collaboration and learning that is clear in all the conference sessions and conversations with attendees. The SPC Innovator award ceremony exemplifies that spirit. The community gathers to celebrate awards in categories such as Packaging Innovation, Breakthrough Process, Outcome of a Partnership, and Outstanding Person. Every award recipient acknowledged the collaboration with others that was integral to their success.

Elaine Hsu is a MBA Candidate 2019 at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

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