Center for Packaging Innovation and Sustainability at Michigan State University is set to blaze a new trail

January 29, 2014

3 Min Read
Center for Packaging Innovation and Sustainability at Michigan State University is set to blaze a new trail



The word “new” appears in front of my name most times these days as the “new” director of the School of Packaging at Michigan State University (MSU). At this writing, I have been on board for about two months, and have been through what feels like a much longer time, as I came upon very challenging times here at MSU. Right now, the university is facing unprecedented budget cuts, and our college is going through a major reorganization.

Additionally, my time and attention have been focused on getting the Center for Packaging Innovation and Sustainability organized and moving forward. Be assured, that it's serious. It's funded and is moving forward at a fast pace. Improving the global sustainability of packaging took a huge step forward last January when the Coca Cola Co. came forward with $400,000 to establish the center. We now have another three founding members on board, and other large donors are in the wings.

The center will be housed at the school and will serve as a think tank for packaging innovation and sustainability, while acting as a research and education hub to measure and reduce packaging's environmental impact.

Through academic partners in the Colleges of Engineering, Business/Supply Chain Management and Biosystems and Agriculture Engineering, the center will provide a platform for both collaborative, nonproprietary research and proprietary work to develop innovative packaging that can reduce production costs and improve sustainability. Under my direction, this center will not operate as academic centers usually do. We are not going to assemble a team of researchers and then bring in projects that suit that team's areas of expertise. Rather, we are going to ask industry what they need in research related to sustainability and what is needed in outreach and education.



Those issues will then be brought under the center's administration, where we will work both in partnership with and independent of MSU researchers to effectively address the issues of sustainability, discover environmentally and economically operative solutions and consider new ways to manage environment impact throughout the value chain.

True sustainability requires that economic, environment and ethical considerations be taken together. We cannot tackle each issue separately and then hope to successfully integrate them later.

The science community must have a voice in the dialogue, and science-based guidelines and audits must ensure continuous improvement and greater accuracy in measuring the effectiveness of any particular course of action. In addition, multi-disciplinary research and whole-system studies are needed to understand how the imposed changes will affect entire systems.

It was clear that a new type of partnership was needed to bring academia (sciences, packaging, engineering, supply chain, social science, etc.) together with packagers, industry and other stakeholders to implement a holistic approach to packaging sustainability.

A more holistic view will strengthen the role of science in finding appropriate solutions to issues and addressing the ways in which any proposed change will affect the entire system.

At the next Packaging Executives Forum planned for Jan. 26, I will lay out the center's mission, governance, its areas of research and its intention to meet outreach and education needs.

But, the forum meeting will also be a working session. I will ask tough questions of packaging community participants about how the new center should focus its efforts in their arena, which is now mired with more questions than answers.

In time, that will change as the new center begins its important work on both a national and global scale. Look for updates on MSU's Center for Packaging Innovation and Sustainability in this column in the coming year.


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