The SPC at PackExpo 2012

This year the SPC participated in PackExpo as an event partner, and several GreenBlue staff were on hand in the SPC booth to speak with visitors about the role of sustainability in packaging, the activities that the SPC engages in, and the tools and resources it and GreenBlue offers that support the implementation of sustainability activities. The event was a bit under attended, perhaps due to the big Hurricane Sandy that hit the east coast, but it was still eventful with lots of energy and buzz as usual.

Being listed as a “green” partner, one thing we noticed was the prevalence of the “PACK EXPO Green” logo and placards meant to identify vendors that offered sustainable solutions or alternatives. In principle the concept was good, yet in implementation this turned out to be little more than a self identification badge. Several SPC members and others stopped by the SPC booth to report that many of the exhibitors that displayed these placards were unaware of how or why they received the signage. On our own exploration walks around the enormous exhibition halls, we learned that simply being a supplier of light weight flexible packaging, using plant-based inks for printing, offering some level of recycled content, or offering “recyclable” packaging solutions was sufficient to gain the placard.

Another thing that struck us was the shear amount of waste generated at such an enormous industry trade show. For example, when I arrived the day before the opening day to set up our booth, I was a bit dismayed to find a completely barren booth–just cement flooring and the booth walls with a paperboard sign identifying the booth as reserved for the SPC. None of the items we had shipped or ordered had been delivered. At first I was annoyed to have arrived so early to set up and then I couldn’t do anything. Of course the staff were extremely helpful in sorting out the situation. Then, as I awaited delivery, I decided to make an inventory of the items being delivered by the various trades–flooring, electrical, network cabling, furniture, and audio/visual. As a good data man should, I built the inventory and chatted with the different folks about how the stuff got used and disposed of at the McCormick Center. To my dismay, each trade in turn reported that by trade show standards, PackExpo was small-to-medium sized, and that they did not have room or personnel to store and reuse any of the materials. Plus, it was easier and cheaper to start with new items to fit the booths. Easier and cheaper is not necessarily compatible with sustainable. But we will save that discussion for another day.

Here are the items that were intended for single use. Any guesses as to the environmental profile, say in terms of greenhouse gasses invested in this bill of materials? Consider also that the SPC booth was a relatively basic set-up of three tables, a few chairs, a large flat-screen monitor, a couple of laptops, and some project flyers. I will see if I can estimate the impact after the holidays.

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