Hello my packaging and sustainability friends!

I sound like a broken record but again, I apologize for not blogging this week; please forgive me!

I have been super busy with creating new marketing materials and restructuring our advertising mix on greenerpackage.com. Check out our new and improved Design for Sustainability white paper here: http://www.greenerpackage.com/corporate_strategy.

And my fabulous Recycling Report here: http://www.greenerpackage.com/blisters_clamshells and here http://www.greenerpackage.com/recycling.

And guess what: PlasticsNews is going to publish my recycling report in the “perspective” section. Look out for it in print in the next 3-4 weeks.

Oh and for all you Packaging World E-newsletter subscribers, look out for our Recycling Report in the August New Issue Alert, scheduled to go out tomorrow! My ad man told me that pictures of people generate more interest (and therefore clicks and leads), so I include the picture of me giving the thumbs-up sign in my ghost buster suit in the garbage during our first waste audit (the one before I got all sweaty and sad). Ha! Good times…

I don’t know if I told you guys but when Dordan was exhibiting at the Walmart Expo I met a gentleman from SupplierHub, which is this online education exchange for private packaging buyers and sellers for Walmart. Anyway he was super nice and I got him hooked on my blog (Hello if your reading this!) and now we are advertising on this site! Go Dordan!

And lastly, I have implemented some changes on Dordan’s website under the “sustainability” tab to reflect our new social and environmental sustainability efforts. While I still have to create some of the language for the new pages it is “live” so check it out; I am quite proud: www.dordan.com.

Advertising excuses aside, the main reason I haven’t been blogging is because I have been passed the Pack Expo baton, which means I am coordinating the show for the first time ever. I was totally freaking out because I just inherited this project and I thought the due date for submitting all the order forms was August 17th but its SEPTEMBER 17th, phew! So now I can relax and resume my blogging!

Ok, enough random embellishments for the day, let’s talk sustainability!

We are going to begin construction on our composter next Tuesday, yippee! I sent an email to the woman who is helping us (also the farmer who is going to use our land to grow organics for the Woodstock community), asking if we needed to begin collecting our food waste. If so, we have real motivation to begin educating our employees about source separation; that is, segregating out the food waste from the food packaging waste, garbage, and recyclables.

As an aside, we just got in some new bio-based material to sample, which is certified “OK to home compost.” This material is unique in that it exceeds the standard 120 degrees F heat deformation temperature currently dominating the market AND can break down in ANY disposal environment, besides landfill. If this is “true,” then this is crazy cool as one of my biggest concerns with biodegradable plastic packaging is that it often doesn’t make it to its intended disposal environment, which is usually an industrial composting facility (D6400 Standard for Industrial Composting). ANYWAY I’m excited to play mad scientist and test the performance of this new material’s biodegradation by tossing it our soon to be erected compost pile. While I will not be able to determine if it completely biodegrades (no plastic particulates available after 90-180 days) because I don’t have insanely microscopic eyeballs, I will be able to determine if it breaks down until no longer visible. By conducting a test of this material’s biodegradability in our compost pile, I will be more comfortable adding it to the reservoir of resins Dordan offers our customers and prospects. So that’s pretty cool…

In regard to my work with our community schools:

I met with the co-chair of the Environmental Task Force for Woodstock School District 200 yesterday. He was super duper nice and I liked him right away! The ETF, he explained, is this organization of administrative folk, including school principals, and two student representatives, who discuss and implement different sustainability initiatives at the schools. One project they are working on this fall is an energy contest, whereby the D200 schools compete to see which one can reduce their energy use the most. They envision having this big thermometer, of sorts, which shows how much energy they have used per week compared with the previous school year. Sounds neato!

The co-chair of the ETF was also interested in having me talk about the field of sustainability as a profession in hopes of generating more interest in environmental sciences. I think this is great! I can’t believe I may be one of these people that comes into schools on “career day;” how funny!

As the meeting came to an end, I provided him with a couple suggestions for how I thought my work could enhance the goals of the ETF. I offered COMPASS tutorials so students could be introduced to life cycle analysis as a methodology for assessing the sustainability of a product or service; recycling education; and, a discussion on environmental advertising and manipulative and misinformed advertising claims. I still remember taking a class in high school called Rhetorical Analysis of Media, which introduced for the first time the idea that I was being marketed to as a consumer and encouraged an awareness and analysis of said media. It was such a cool class and I would love the opportunity to encourage this kind of reflection among students in the sphere of environmental marketing claims, as so many are, in my opinion, flirting with that fine line between reality and greenwashing. In a nut shell, I am really excited to get involved with D200 schools and help spread the love of all things sustainable!

Talk tomorrow!

Holly Toledo!

May 21, 2010

Happy Friday!

So I have been working on a presentation on everything sustainability for one of Dordan’s customers. Sustainability and Packaging 101, per se.

Anywoo, it took me two days and 190 slides to finish, but I am FINALLY DONE!

It’s jam packed with good stuff–basically a summary of all my work to date–so check it out!

Sustainability and Packaging Presentation, Blog

Enjoy the heat-wave this weekend, my fellow Chicagoians!

Also, please do not reproduce or distribute without my written consent. Thanks!

Recap # 2: Walmart Expo

April 27, 2010

Greetings world! I feel like a million bucks—finally cleaned my office and organized all the information I gathered the last several weeks traveling. I will now resume my diligent blogging!

Soooo, where did I leave off? That’s right, I still need to fill you all in on the Walmart Expo in Arkansas.

Well, first of all, Arkansas is really nice! The drive from the airport to Bentonville was beautiful—very lush and it smelled so good! It appears as though the entire town of Rogers-Bentonville has been created to sustain the Walmart community, which is crazy! All the main buyers and movers and shakers for and to Walmart live around the headquarters, which must make company outings easy and enjoyable! Everyone we met was super duper nice and the whole “dry county” thing didn’t really apply because every restaurant we went to suggested you “sign in” thereby giving the establishment the status of a “club” and consequentially allowing them to serve us booze!

The Expo itself was really exciting! It being my first time “working the booth” I was thrilled to get in front of the packaging community and talk about Dordan and all our exciting new happenings! All the passerbyers were, again, super awesome and polite and all in all it was a good show! I got to see some old packaging buddies from the SPC and meet more people within the industry. Because I have only been to one or two other conferences, I was surprised to run into people that I had met previously—I didn’t realize what a small community the sustainable packaging realm was!

Check out our beaut of a booth:

AND all the Walmarters are really, really nice. Some of the top guys came by our booth and asked how the show went and thanked us for coming. We couldn’t believe the hospitality of the entire event and look forward to participating next year! If any of you Walmarters are reading, thanks again, we had a blast!

It was really cool too because our engineers had JUST finished running our samples that we designed for the Expo literally hours before we flew out of Chicago, which gave us the ammo we needed to initiate conversations with anyone. They looked great and showcased our thermoforming capabilities; and, demonstrated the different materials we were now offering! Basically it is a fancy business card holder with cool engravings and what not and the tray is made out of a bio-based, certified compostable resin and the lid is made from supplier-certified 100% PCR PET, which derives its feedstock entirely out of bottles post-consumer. We found that having something tangible to give to passerbyers really helped initiate discussion and we got a lot of attention because of the clarity of the PCR PET. For those of you not familiar, high concentrations of post-consumer content in PET often times give the resin a sort of orangy-brown tint; our source for 100% PCR PET, however, ensures a level of clarity that we have not been able to find elsewhere. In a nut shell: Good times all around.

This is a sort of poopy picture of our sample offer; but you get the idea:

Yum!

During the Expo there were education sessions, too. I found the content of these sessions very interesting and compiled my notes to debrief our sales and marketing departments upon my return. I have included these notes below, FYI.

Walmart Expo Summary:

  • Scorecard seminar, misc.
    • ECRM created the software for the Walmart Scorecard
      • “Efficient collaborative retail marketing”
    • Direct suppliers are REQUIRED to enter packages into scorecard
      • Via “retail link” i.e. per vendor number and item number
      • Allows you to compare with packages in same product category i.e. dairy. ECRM is working to narrow the categories down so you are only compared with direct competitors.
    • Indirect suppliers do not have access to retail link.
    • Focus of Score: Material type, material weight, material distance, packaging efficiency
      • Distance: the point the package travels from point of conversion to point of fulfillment.
    • Completion rate of Scores:
      • Each item sold in Walmart has its own number. Suppliers are required to fill out a Score for each item number. Currently, COMPLETION of scores is the easiest way to influence purchasing decisions. In other words, suppliers that have more than 85% of their Scores completed receive an “A” in the Walmart world; suppliers that have 55% complete receive a “B;” everything below comes up as a “red flag” in Walmart-internal. 
    • Package modeling software: Different than the Score card but formatted the same way; this is what we subscribe to.
      • Intended for indirect suppliers to utilize the modeling software in such a way that they can approach their customers (direct suppliers to Walmart) and explain how by doing X you can improve your score and here is the proof.
      • “Reversed engineering;” encouraged doing this on competitor’s packages, too.
  • Paperboard Packaging Council seminar, misc:
    • Fiber-based packaging is a by-product of the lumber industry? I need to look into this…
    • I asked why the recovery rates for corrugated were higher than paperboard…
      • Answer: Difference is attributed to post-industrial collection (corrugate) vs. post-consumer (paperboard). I need to examine this further.
    • Fibers can be recycled 6-8 times before the fibers become too small to reprocess
    • China currently buys most of our post-consumer mixed paper and reprocesses it; we need to find a domestic source for recycled fibers.
    • All corrugated has 46% post-industrial content in the U.S.
    • SBS is almost ALWAYS virgin fiber, with the omission of MWV’s Natralock.
    • I asked what the difference in energy demands are for virgin vs. recycled paper; I received a very ambiguous answeràapparently a controversial topic.
  • Plastic fundamentals seminar:
    • Discussed the benefits of plastic such as:
      • Keeps food fresher for longer;
      • Lightweight;
      • Didn’t address fossil fuel consumption;
      • Didn’t discuss MSW rates;
      • Did say that recycling for non bottle-PET has grown from 7.5% to 11% in the last year;
    • ACC supports re-writing the Toxics Control Act, which we referenced in our first Newsletter.
    • The ACC released LCI data on RPET and recycled HDPE. HURRAY!
  • SVN meeting:
    • There are a ton of different organizations that Walmart has its involvement in; I will try to explain the various relationships as follows:
      • ISTA—transit assessment; I don’t know what this is.
      • Global Packaging Project: Walmart funds this but is not the only CPG company on the board; this looks for a GLOBAL metric for assessing the sustainability of packages and product; this is bigger than the Scorecard, as the Scorecard will be a component of these metrics; the metrics used will be country-specific. This grew out of the CONSUMER GOODS FORUM, which was originally called the GLOBAL CEO FORUM. The GPP metrics look to take into account the Scorecard metrics, COMPASS, and other existing and legitimate metrics. If one wants the inclusion of another metric, it must be reviewed for application prior to being incorporated into the GPP metrics.
      • ISO project for Sustainable Packaging: I don’t know.
      • Scorecard: For packaging only; scores based on ITEM level.
      • Supplier Sustainability Assessment: Consists of 15 questions, which are asked of all product suppliers to Walmart; “scores” based on CORPORATE level.
      • Sustainability Index: the Assessment is part of the Sustainability Index, which is a project of the Sustainability Consortium. Again, Walmart funds this organization but is not the only CPGs company that participates.
  • Points of discussion:
    • “Sustainable material” metric: What does this mean? What are the limitations?
      • Should everyone get the same “score” until clarified?
      • Should we remove the metric?
      • Is Recovery taken into consideration?
      • Is it a LCA approach?
      • Does it consider conversion or primary production?
      • What about toxics?
      • Sourcing certificates?
    • Determined that it would be helpful to have a health and safety metric AND a sustainable sourcing metric.
    • Should inks/adhesives be included in GPP and Scorecard?
      • Not until proof that it has an impactàI have proof and will see that it gets into the right person’s hands.

Sorry if the format of my notes are a little confusing. Please let me know if you would like me to expand on any of these points or provide clarification.

AND I met a gentleman that gave me a PLETHORA of information about non-bottle plastic recycling and I am forever indebted to him. Seriously, good stuff and AMAZING feedback in regard to the various approaches I was considering for our clamshell recycling initiative. Once I get through recapping my recent travels, I will resume my clamshell recycling narrative. I think we are getting somewhere

Stay tuned!

Day 12: Oct. 26, 2009

February 8, 2010

Happy Monday Funday!

I hope everyone enjoyed the Superbowl. What was your favorite commercial?

I swear, my job as the Sustainability Coordinator at a plastic company is making me crazyyyyyy! I interpret any reference to the environment and plastics in the context of popular culture as a case to be studied; as an academic text to be analyzed.

Such crazyiness manifests itself in my life outside work, when, for instance, I am watching the Super Bowl with friends, drinking beer and eating pizza.

And roll Audi commercial about the Eco-police:

Opening scene: Would you like paper or plastic?

My ears perk up; my senses ready.

Plastic, the man at the check-out counter says.

Enter: Eco Police. They arrest the man at the counter, thereby implying that because he opted for plastic, he is transgressing against our ecosystem. Ug!

And the funny thing is, Obama suggested that American-produced cars utilize more plastic in their construction than previously manufactured cars because it makes them lighter; therefore, less energy consumptive.  

AND the new Audi has plastic components for this very reason. It’s cool though—I understand what the marketers of this car were going for; after all, this Audi runs on diesel, which releases less green house gases than the burning of fossil fuel. So that’s neat. I just wish they wouldn’t continue to propagate the notion that plastic is bad for the environment when, because of its lightweight and versatile properties, it actually facilitates innovation in the field of sustainability.

You can check out this commercial at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_MuqoSsuTQ&feature=player_embedded.

Anyway where am I? Oh that’s right; awaiting an email from the educational tour guide from Recycle America…

Until I speak with this contact about the contents of this email and receive her approval to include it in this blog, I am unable to continue the narrative at this point. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Day 10: Oct. 21, 2009.

February 4, 2010

The next day I received the following email from the educational tour guide at Recycle America:

Chandler,

I just received this and will gladly answer as best I can but it will not be until tomorrow as I have tours.  I appreciate your patience. 

Lisa

Okay…what else can I do in the meantime to move this initiative forward?

I thought back to the lectures at the SPC’s members-only meeting in Atlanta. The president of Environmental Packaging International (hereafter, EPI) gave a very honest presentation about environmental marketing. Basically he explained what kinds of environmental claims on packaging are misleading or manipulative and what kinds are acceptable. Because the FTC is being restructured, he explained, they have not been able to investigate the environmental claims on packaging; however, that will change, and those making unsubstantiated or vague claims will be sought out by the FTC. Therefore, he explained, it is in all of our interest to only make claims that can be validated via scientific analysis.  

Hurray, I remember thinking. Finally, marketers will be held accountable for manipulating consumer’s desires to do well by the environment.

To be honest, I probably would not have a job at Dordan as the Sustainability Coordinator if people in our industry were not greenwashing. In other words, it was because my father, the CEO of Dordan, didn’t know how to interpret the claims being made by our competitors that he hired me to investigate them. And what I found, more often than not, was because the FTC didn’t have the man power to investigate environmental claims our industry was in sort of a Wild West limbo where marketers could get away with saying almost anything. This Wild West limbo was catalyzed by the recent consumer research that showed how most consumers would buy the product with the better environmental profile if at a comparable cost and performance to other, less environmentally friendly products. I am sure we are all familiar with this…

Anyway, I remember the President of the EPI discussing the Mobius Loop symbol and how that can be a form of greenwashing in and of itself insofar as it implies recyclability or recycled content. All of our packages have this symbol, which houses the SPI resin identification number; both the symbol and ID number were mandated by SPI (Society of Plastics Industry) decades ago.

I sent the President the following email, hoping to get some clarification about the applicability of this symbol to our packages:

Hello,

This is Chandler Slavin with Dordan Manufacturing—we spoke briefly following your presentation in Atlanta entitled, “Are the Labeling and Green Claims on Your Packaging Meeting FTC and Retailer Requirements?” First, I wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for your presentation: it was the most honest, direct, and educationally insightful discussion I had yet experienced at the forum. At the same time, however, there are some questions still lingering.

For instance, you said that the mobius loop i.e. chasing arrows symbol, which houses the SPI resin identification number, implies to the consumer that the package is either: (1) made out of 100% recycled material or, (2) is 100% recyclable. After telling this to the president of our company, we were confused because we thought that this symbol was mandated by the SPI. Are you and the FTC suggesting we remove this symbol from our packages? Is there someone at the FTC we could talk with for clarification? Is there someone at SPI that would be of assistance?

Sorry for the quick-fired questions: this is all new to us and we are trying to be honest with our labeling in order to inform our customers about the sustainability of our packages. Additionally, I would really like the opportunity to talk to you about industry-led EPR initiatives in the U.S. When would be a good time to reach you?

Best,

Chandler Slavin

The same day, I received the following email from the President of the EPI:

Chandler,

The SPI code as required by 39 State Laws are allowed if used as prescribed by those laws. If you placed it in an inconspicuous location on the container (e.g., embedded in the bottom of the container) it would not constitute a claim of recyclability or recycled content and is allowed.

If you have a questions let me know, Hope this helps.

Phew…I thought to myself; we only place the chasing arrows symbol on the bottom of our packages. We are FTC clear, at least for now.

Tune in tomorrow for more recycling in America tantalizing tid bits.

Day 3: Oct 13, 2009

January 25, 2010

One of my professors from undergrad, Dr. Scott Paeth, continues to be a sounding board for my inquiries about ethics, even several months into my post-grad life. As my academic advisor and my Senior Thesis mentor, I had the opportunity of developing a relationship with him that expanded beyond the parameters of the classroom; I still consider him a great friend and mentor.

Two months into my new job as the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Mfg., I was struggling with the “ethics of sustainability.” I shot Dr. Paeth the following email, looking for any direction to point my ethical compass towards:

Hey! 
 
How is the school year going? Good stuff? 
 
Okay, so consider the following: 
 
I went to a contract packaging facility on Friday, which basically assembles the different components of the package i.e. paper card, plastic clamshell, sticker, product, etc. They don’t make anything, they just put it together. This facility is the home of the Chia pet. Ironically, the Obama Chia is made in
China, imported to the US, packaged in the US, and then distributed in the US. Similar products are made in China, packaged in China, and then distributed in the US. How can companies market themselves as green, while the product and often tines package is made in China under lax environmental regulations and poor working conditions? 

In a nut shell: I am trying to figure out how to market ourselves as an ethical company, both environmentally and socially, but am having a difficult time because marketing in general seems disingenuous…why do consumers care about being green when they don’t even consider the people that are making the product and the conditions they are working in? 
 
Sorry to ramble– I am just so frustrated. I keep trying to sell our product to people who get their packaging from overseas. Yet they market themselves as green. I can’t tell if the green washing acts as a distraction from the reality– that the only thing that matters is money– even at the expense of people’s lives. 
 
If you have any insight, or books, or information pertaining to the ethics of advertising or environmental advertising or overseas manufacturing or anything that you think might provide some clarity to this cluster of craziness, I would be very happy. 
 
Oh, the real world is hard! 
 
I look forward to hearing from you! 
 
Best, 
 
Chandler 
 
I met up with Dr. Paeth the following week, who gave me a bunch of books on business ethics and the “corporate soul.” To be honest, however, this was the first time that I realized that his extensive knowledge didn’t apply to my new job: he was not able to provide me with the data I was requesting nor was he able to explain why certain information, even information about consumer products’ and their packages, could be classified as proprietary. I believe that this initiates the schism between the academic and the corporate for me; the great divide where one world no longer informs the other—a.k.a. “the real world.”

Paeth did hook me up with one of his colleagues in the science department. Although we never met, he suggested I look into the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which, he offered, may shed some light on why it is difficult to find environmental information on different packaging materials. While I found some vague information on this Act, it wasn’t until January 4th of 2010 that an article came out in The Washington Post that described this Act in laymen’s terms; I have included the pertinent sections of the editorial below:

Use of potentially harmful chemicals kept secret under law

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010; A01

Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States — from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners — nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision.

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics — including the Obama administration — say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to.

Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, manufacturers must report to the federal government new chemicals they intend to market. But the law exempts from public disclosure any information that could harm their bottom line.

Government officials, scientists and environmental groups say that manufacturers have exploited weaknesses in the law to claim secrecy for an ever-increasing number of chemicals. In the past several years, 95 percent of the notices for new chemicals sent to the government requested some secrecy, according to the Government Accountability Office. About 700 chemicals are introduced annually.

“You have thousands of chemicals that potentially present risks to health and the environment,” said Richard Wiles, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that documented the extent of the secret chemicals through public-records requests from the EPA. “It’s impossible to run an effective regulatory program when so many of these chemicals are secret.”

Of the secret chemicals, 151 are made in quantities of more than 1 million tons a year and 10 are used specifically in children’s products, according to the EPA.

The identities of the chemicals are known to a handful of EPA employees who are legally barred from sharing that information with other federal officials, state health and environmental regulators, foreign governments, emergency responders and the public.

YIKES! It appears as though I have opened up a can of worms. Tune in tomorrow to see where this information takes me.

Day 2: Oct. 10, 2009

January 22, 2010

After nearly missing the train from Chicago to Woodstock and spilling coffee on my new pencil skirt, I made it to the office, hoping that something would be waiting there to lift my spirits: 1 new email from Robert Carlson! Yippee!

Chandler,

It was nice meeting you as well.

I don’t have a lot of time just now to address your question, but I’ll try to point you to the most likely location of that info and then do some research a bit later when I have more time.  I’d suggest looking at the AF&PA’s website (American Forestry and Paper Association). They have a lot of information although a fair amount of it must be paid for. 

My experience has been that this info can be difficult to get for a few reasons…1) some people don’t like to talk about this stuff, they call it proprietary or they think it will taint their image…2) It varies considerably from mill to mill depending on if they’re using scrap from the timber industry for energy or if they’re using natural gas or grid electricity… Anyway, have a look at AF&PA and if that doesn’t pan out for you, I’ll try to look through some of my resources a bit later on.

 Hope you’re doing well, Robert

Hmmm I thought to myself as I scrolled through the email; I had never thought of data about the environment as being proprietary…shouldn’t the public have access to the information about how certain consumer goods and packages impact our world? I guess if people don’t even check where their clothes or shoes or Gucci bags are made and in what kind of conditions (ahem, dormitories in factories anyone?) they obviously don’t care to investigate the repercussions that their buying decisions have on the environment—especially when it comes to packaging! But that’s changing, I thought to myself, as I clung on to the shred of idealism still remaining from college. And, I continued to reason, it is my job as the Sustainability Coordinator at a plastic packaging company to know the effects that packaging has on the global community. How hard can it be, I questioned?

Having spent the last four years in the cushy atmosphere of college where one little user name and password grants you access into some of the most powerful databases in the world (LexusNexus, for one), I reasoned with myself that I could find the information I was looking for; little did I know, however, the extent to which the “proprietary” bubble expanded into the blurring world between business and the environment.

Tune in Monday to see how, by law, chemical manufacturing companies can hide behind a veil of secrecy; otherwise know as the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.