Sustainable packaging innovations start with Good VUCA

Brian Wagner

July 6, 2017

4 Min Read
Sustainable packaging innovations start with Good VUCA
What's your sustainable packaging vision?

Use Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility as a foresight tool to help better understand best directions forward by taking out all the noise and complexity we deal with on a daily basis. We might begin to see and shape new, positive futures that we can all impact. (Photo credit for above image: Designed by Freepik)

In our May 24th article “When it comes to sustainable packaging, embrace the fear,” Bob Lilienfeld and I recognized that the future has and always will involve change, fear, uncertainty and risks. We ended with: "Face your fear. Admit that change is coming. Welcome it. And use it to prognosticate, invigorate, motivate and innovate. Remember: Your most valuable asset doesn’t operate between your factory walls. It operates between your ears. Use it well and use it wisely."

But because facing fear is easy for a few, and more difficult for most, we thought we’d better consult with our experts regarding “How.” So, I turned to PTIS, my consulting firm, and spoke with Michael Richmond, Ph.D. He and I have leveraged foresight, futurists, and led over half a dozen multi-client “Future of Packaging” programs over the past 20 years.

Mike says, “It’s all about VUCA. Bad VUCA and Good VUCA.” 

When I introduced Mike to Bob, he said, “Okay, Mike. What the heck is VUCA?”

VUCA is an acronym that originated in the 1990s U.S. Army War College—describing our present state of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, further complicated by the internet, transparency and globalization, to name a few factors. This is Bad VUCA.

In helping more than 50 leading packaging value chain clients, Richmond recognized that, leveraging foresight, we can shape a Good VUCA: full of Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility. Like scenarios, Good VUCA can be used as a foresight tool to help departments, organizations and companies better understand best directions forward by taking out all the noise and complexity we deal with on a daily basis.

For 20 years, we have worked with Leading Futurists and others to bring new strategic thinking, processes and tools into the world of packaging—leveraging their expertise, and them leveraging ours. Together, we have collaborated to build strategies and roadmaps for our clients based on foresight. The great Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” 

One of the most underutilized tools in the corporate world is “scenario planning,” described in a 2008 Economist article as, "… a structured way for organizations to think about the future. A group of executives sets out to develop a small number of scenarios—stories about how the future might unfold and how this might affect an issue that confronts them.”

Leading Futurists’ principle John Mahaffie describes an “official future” as one that we seldom consider. Shaped by our past and present, nobody can predict it. However, we can apply a range of informed assumptions about the future and create stories, looking at what might happen. We can then develop a set of implications, contingencies and milestones that might suggest we are, or are not, moving towards that potential future. Using this knowledge and insight, you can then build roadmaps that can take us into the future with much less risk.

Who wouldn’t want that?

If we look at all of the “worst case” scenarios that represent our fears, and begin planning to counteract them, much of the fear, uncertainty and risk begins to look manageable. We might even begin to see and shape new, positive futures that we can all impact.

What if we can create packaging that…

• Focuses on solving food waste?

• Creates new, high profit ecommerce value chains?

• Is built of new, more sustainable materials, demonstrating Circular Economy and Sustainable Materials Management?

Okay, take a deep breath, generate a sigh of relief and say…Maybe it isn’t so bad. My future and all of our futures might, in fact, be great, if we channel our bad VUCA energy into new good VUCA energy, and set out to make positive change.

Drop me a line, and let’s talk about turning your Bad VUCA into Good VUCA.


Brian Wagner is a senior director at AMERIPEN, helping the packaging industry shape and benefit from the future. His 30-year professional career as an entrepreneurial business and technical leader spanned Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions (co-founder of PTIS), Kellogg’s, Sara Lee, Multiform Desiccants, Carton-Craft Corp., Burger King and General Foods.

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