One of the biggest focuses of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s recent conference was a shift from end-of-life considerations to material management.
SPC Advance kicked off with Industry Leadership Committees tackling the topics of bioplastics, the value of forest certification, cold chain packaging, and multilayer flexible packaging. These committees brought together thought leadership from throughout the supply chain to share diverse perspectives while identifying tactical actions that will advance sustainable innovation in the industry. Next, attendees were given the chance to attend first class workshops on Greenblue’s Environmental Paper Assessment Tool (EPAT), Trayak’s COMPASS Comparative Packaging Assessment Application, and the integration of sustainability into brand story telling.
Later on in day one, attendees were given a chance to get an exclusive look at a few of Portland’s most innovative companies and sustainability hotspots. Conference attendees were given an open window into the culture of an iconic company and founding SPC member with a tour of Nike’s global headquarters. Attendees could also visit the West Linn Paper Mill, Recology’s Metro Central Transfer Station, and Nature’s Needs Composter.
SPC Advance wouldn’t be complete without great speakers. This year’s event was no exception. Day two started with encouraging comments regarding the state of sustainability from GreenBlue’s executive Director Nina Goodrich. Following this, David Allaway from Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality discussed how Oregon is on the forefront of transitioning from waste management to sustainable materials management and how life cycle assessment (LCA) is helping them make this transition. David described his departments LCA studies on topics from water delivery methods to composting. His two- pronged message was clear; although end of life considerations are important- focusing on sustainable materials management will have a much more substantial impact. David’s other message was that sustainable design and material decisions should always be made in the context of science. Data-driven decisions facilitated by LCA illuminate tradeoffs and validate that a decision is having the intended consequences.
Following this was a panel discussion with representatives from across the global packaging value chain. They discussed the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s ‘New Plastics Economy’ initiative which aims to overcome the limitations of today’s incremental improvements and fragmented initiatives, to create a shared sense of direction, to spark a wave of innovation and to move the plastics value chain into a positive spiral of value capture, stronger economics, and better environmental outcomes.
The Fortune 500 giants stole the show on the last day of the conference. Nike depicted the evolution of its classic shoebox while discussing what a more sustainable future might look like in footwear. Disney pulled back the curtains on their smart packaging initiative and discussed their innovative and robust internal system to benchmark packaging sustainability characteristics and encourage design- for- sustainability considerations. Walmart also shared its outlook on sustainable packaging by pursuing a system in which customers do not have to choose between products that they can afford and products that are better for them and the environment.
Portland’s commitment to sustainability made it a perfect host for the annual SPC Advance conference which drew its biggest crowd to date. This event not only showcased the progress of current sustainability initiatives, but also looked forward and provided a vision for a more sustainable future in the packaging industry.
One of the biggest takeaways from the conference was the complexities of many sustainable packaging issues. Within the industry, there is a realization that one company can’t tackle these issues on their own, but with the help of diverse thought leadership throughout the value chain, strides can be made. With collaboration, continued discussion, and open-mindedness, strides can be made towards packaging systems that encourage economic prosperity and a sustainable flow of materials.