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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Sustainability conference draws crowd

Sustainability in packaging has become, without a doubt, one of the key issues facing the industry. This was evidenced by the turnout of more than 300 for the Sustainability in Packaging 2008 conference, presented by Intertech/PIRA and sponsored by Packaging Digest and Converting.

 With nearly 40 speakers, conference attendees representing a wide cross section of consumer product companies, packagers, converters and some vendors participated in presentations on a wide variety of related topics. The conference was held March 11-13 in Orlando, FL.

 “In the first conference held in 2007, people in the industry didn’t quite seem to have their arms around the concepts of sustainability and weren’t quite sure whether they needed to devote a lot of resources to the issue,” according to John Kalkowski, editorial director of Packaging Digest and Converting, and chairman of the conference. “What a difference the last year has made. Many of the people attending are in new positions as designated sustainability leaders within their companies. It appears companies recognize the importance of sustainability in packaging and are committed to making it a part of their business. Now they just want to understand what companies are doing and what are the industry best practices.”

 The conference kicked off with a one-day workshop that explained carbon footprints and Life Cycle Assessments (LCA). Gary Parker, head of sustainability for Ciba Expert Services, explained why the two tools are so important to the packaging industry to measure and to identify opportunities to reduce a product’s impact on the environment. Using case studies, the workshop demonstrated how an LCA is conducted and showed how available software can dramatically help in the process.

 In plenary sessions, attendees were given the perspectives of consumers, retailers, consumer product companies, packagers and materials suppliers. For instance, Fabian DeGarbo, sustainable packaging program advisor for Whole Foods market, explained how his company has been able to achieve a balance between environmental demands and business drivers, using sustainability as a competitive advantage in the market.

 Speakers from some companies, such as Kevin Rabinovitch of Mars North America , Scott Ballantine of Microsoft and Andrius Dapkus of Nestle, U.S., explained the consumer perspectives they have gathered and how they are using the principals of “Reduce, Recycle and Reuse” to improve the supply chain aspects of their businesses.

 Recognizing Wal-Mart’s role in driving sustainability, several speakers addressed the recent implementation of the company’s scorecard. Dr. Jane Severin, a consultant to Wal-mart, discussed the mechanics of the scorecard process and gave indications of changes that are being considered.

Lillian Bagus of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave the government’s perspective on progress toward sustainability and outlined steps it is taking to help protect the environment and business. Meanwhile, James Downham of the Packaging Association of Canada and Atussa Sarvestani of NNZ Packaging Network in The Netherlands, gave reports on how sustainability is being addressed in those countries.

 Bioplastics, such corn-based polylactide acid resins (PLA), were hot topics as potential solutions to sustainability issues. Many speakers pointed out, though, that these biodegradable resins have some disadvantages and their use is still in its infancy. However, several leading researchers shared their ongoing work on new materials and enhancements for this type of product.

To allow attendees to focus on their particular interests, the conference had breakout sessions on such topics as green design, consumers and the supply chain, recycling and waste management, materials and technologies, metrics for sustainability and bioplastics. 



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