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Inaugural Sustainability Conference: Sustainability must become corporate culture

“Corporations must be profitable to remain in business,” and “Sustainability in packaging can be a profit-making strategy.” These provocative statements—and many more—characterized last week’s gathering on sustainability in Orlando.
More than 150 packaging professionals spent two days listening intently to 26 speakers outline various aspects of packaging sustainability at the inaugural Sustainability in Packaging conference. The conference was organized by Intertech-Pira and sponsored by Packaging Digest and Converting magazines.
A fairly evenly mixed audience of brand owners and packaging suppliers came to learn about the year’s hottest topic in packaging. During two jam-packed days, the attendees heard several themes emerge.
Sustainability must become a part of every corporation’s culture, from top management down. It must dominate all corporate decisions, from what kind of copier paper is purchased (recycled, of course) to how products are designed and made, and then to how they are transported to the customer.
Life-cycle analysis is critical to measuring the sustainability success of any packaging. However, there are not yet any common metrics by which to make this assessment. Wal-Mart, of course, has offered its scorecard as a guideline. The speakers at the conference spent much time explaining their directives, but each had slightly differing emphases.
Sustainability will never succeed without consumer education. How this information will be disseminated—and by whom—remained undetermined, other than the education process will probably have to be shared by packaging machinery manufacturers, packaging materials suppliers and the consumer goods brand owners, not necessarily in that order of priority. Associations will also play a pivotal role, as well as the media.
Sustainability is, for now, an evolutionary journey that requires much more research. A trial-and-error period is only now beginning for most corporations. While many of the larger materials companies have had sustainability directives for as long as a decade, most consumer goods manufacturers are only now embarking on this journey.

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