It’s not every day you get to hear packaging executives at Amazon talk about sustainability in packaging for ecommerce. And that is just one headliner of many scheduled for the SustPack 2017 conference (Apr. 24-26; Scottsdale, AZ). Attendees will also gain insights from sustainability chiefs from Nestlé Waters North America, Nike, Coca-Cola, Target and more.
With a decade of success in its past, SustPack is co-produced by Smithers Pira and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, in partnership with Packaging Digest. This year it focuses on the Inputs, Outputs and Impacts of Packaging in Supply Chain Sustainability with sessions on ecommerce, sustainable sourcing, alternative technologies, recycling programs and food waste reduction.
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Need a bit more enticement? Ciaran Little, director of operations—Americas, Smithers, gives us a preview of some of the hot topics on the program at this leading sustainable packaging event.
This is the 10th year of the conference. Is there anything special planned for this milestone anniversary?
Little: This year will be the biggest and best attended edition of the event in its history—and that’s pretty special. We have a range of exciting presentations, site visits, tours, workshops, awards, social events, volunteer activities and more packed into the three days this April.
What does it say about the topic of sustainable packaging that the conference has succeeded for a full decade?
Little: When Smithers Pira and Packaging Digest launched the inaugural Sustainability in Packaging conference in 2007, the focus was on trying to understand what it meant to be sustainable and the defining characteristics were determined by a small number of retailers. Now every company in the packaging value chain recognizes not just the importance of sustainability to their future business but also the complexity of it. Everyone who has worked on a sustainability project will relate that the deeper you get into it, the more there is to consider.
The conference over its history has continued to evolve to meet the changing needs of the industry as the packaging value chain makes progress on these issues. The event is a great way to chart progress along the way but also to recognize and acknowledge the challenges we still have to face and the importance of collaboration in addressing them.
The program for this year’s event focuses on sustainability in packaging for the supply chain, with material sourcing, ecommerce and food waste among the key topics. How can new knowledge in these areas help nearly any packaging professional, whether they are tasked with sustainability goals or not?
Little: Making packaging more sustainable is a multi-faceted and multi stakeholder challenge. Many companies bring people from procurement, logistics, R&D and marketing—as well as packaging teams and sustainability teams—because they recognize that many different people across the organization have a critical role to play in developing a new pack or a new product that will be more sustainable.
I didn’t see anything specific to the Circular Economy on the agenda. Has interest in the Circular Economy peaked? Why or why not?
Little: I don’t think we will get through the entire SustPack agenda this year without Circular Economy being discussed. Our overarching theme this year is Inputs, Outputs and Impacts. The premise of the circular economy is closely aligned with these principles. We will be looking at the materials coming into the packaging value chain, the options for post-consumer packaging waste and the impact these choices have and—in this sense—our program is consistent thematically with circular economy principles so we didn’t feel it was necessary (or perhaps even possible) to address it as a singular topic.
What are some of the top challenges of packaging for ecommerce as it relates to sustainability and how will these challenges be discussed at the event?
Little: We are delighted to have two speakers from Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, presenting at SustPack this year: Dr. Kim Houchens, director of worldwide packaging (CPEX), Sustainability, and Brent Nelson, senior manager of worldwide packaging (CPEX), Sustainability. Ecommerce is clearly a game changer for the packaging industry and everything from branding and consumer perception to the value chain and transit requirements are different from the packaging designed for the traditional retail world. We are looking forward to an in-depth view from the industry leader on how to design sustainability into your ecommerce packaging.
Several workshops are short this year (1 hour), but also seem to be more narrow as far as the topic is concerned. Why that format this year?
Little: We do a lot of research to get feedback from our attendees. We had a lot of great proposed topics to choose from and so we decided to run a larger number of shorter workshops to give people quick access to a range of topics rather than a deep dive into a couple.
The SPC Innovator Awards celebrates people, products, partnerships and processes. Why is it important for the industry to recognize innovation in these four areas?
Little: All four of those areas are necessary to the success of sustainable packaging and while they are all obviously inter-related we thought it would be important to recognize each individually. Often awards focus on products and we felt it was also important to recognize the people and the partnerships that play a crucial role in creating the products and the processes that make them successful.
Anything else notable about the agenda that you’d like to point out?
Little: This year’s agenda has the greatest breadth and depth we have been able to achieve so far on the topic. We have some senior perspectives giving leadership direction, such as Diego Donoso, business president, Packaging and Specialty Plastics of The Dow Chemical Co., and Nelson Switzer, chief sustainability officer at Nestle Waters.
We’ve also worked with our program consulting experts to see that stakeholders from retail to raw materials to recycling facilities are represented. Having engagement and perspective from everyone involved will give us not just a fascinating agenda but a real chance of driving real progress in sustainable packaging.
Sustainable packaging leaders on the agenda at SustPack 2017 include:
Top (left to right): Nelson Switzer, chief sustainability officer, Nestlé Waters North America; Brent Nelson, senior manager of worldwide packaging sustainability, Amazon; and Kim Houchens, director of worldwide packaging sustainability, Amazon.
Bottom (l to r): Sarah Dearman, sustainable packaging program director, The Coca-Cola Co.; Liza Blackwell, packaging sustainability manager, Nike Inc.; and Kim Carswell, group manager, owned brands packaging, Target.
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