Hey guys! My presentation to Woodstock High School science students went swimmingly! The kids were totally great and I was surprised how much fun I had! And, they were SO normal—not what I remember from living the dream in High School, ha!

The teacher had already introduced them to The Story of Stuff so they were familiar with life cycles, providing a nice foundation for discussions of life cycle analysis. Also, the AP class had been researching material health laws (ROHS, CONEG, etc.); this served as a great introduction to extended producer and voluntary responsibility programs. They especially enjoyed my profiling of TerraCycle and Ecovative as two “hip” sustainable start-ups and LOVED Ecovative’s Mushroom Duck! Hopefully I wet their whistle for an appetite of sustainability. But I was totally right—the environment IS seen as “cool” by students: they seemed to completely understand the less than favorable state of environmental affairs we had inherited and the need for more sustainable systems of production and consumption, even at the cost of convenience and altered social behaviors.

The concept I really nailed home—as it is the closest thing to a sustainable philosophy I could articulate— was that there is no waste in nature; everything serves to stimulate another perpetuation of life. This idea was first communicated to me in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things (the students had heard of this book!!!!)—via the symbol of the cherry tree: its cherries feed birds, the leaves perform photosynthesis feeding the tree, the pits of the cherries grow new trees, the fallen leaves decompose and fertilize the soil, and so on and so on. The authors encourage that we model human systems off those in nature—as nature is the ultimate closed loop system. Pretty neat! While I didn’t get a picture of the kids because we spent the leftover time taking about college and life abroad and the like, I DID snap this prom invite; enjoy!

Today we are going to pick up where we left off re: feedback from Sustainability in Packaging.

The last presentation in the “GPP and Proliferation of Tools” panel was titled “Are all Lifecycle Oriented Tools to Evaluate Packaging Created Equal?” by Tony Kingsbury of the Sustainable Products and Solutions Program at UC Berkeley.

Kingsbury began his presentation explaining how many tools have proliferated to meet the demand for sustainable packaging assessment resources; however, few understand how the resources differ. Consequently, UC Berkeley “tested” several popular packaging assessment tools by comparing the data outputs when comparing “apples-to-apples” within the different softwares; in other words, evaluating multiple product packages from the same category using different tools. Kingsbury postulated, “Are all life cycle tools created equal?”

Wow, I thought to myself. I had never heard of anyone comparing the data outputs of the different softwares when comparing the same packaging systems…I had always understood each tool as providing a different snapshot into the “sustainability” of a package/product/service…this outta be interesting…

The study compared the data outputs of popular packaging assessment tools COMPASS, GaBi, SimaPro, Sustainable Minds, and the Walmart Packaging Scorecard. The product package categories selected were cookies, milk, diapers, and 16 oz. cups; and, the scenarios considered were source reduction, recycled content, and shipping distance.

Check out the screen shots from Kingsbury’s PPT below as these demonstrate the study findings:

As per these findings, different tools treat different materials…differently.

Kingsbury then went on to draw some conclusion from the test findings, insofar as the best way to capitalize on the tools is concerned. For Kingsbury, source reduction is the best way to improve your Score, regardless of the tool used, as weight is such a dominating factor in life cycle analysis. Recycled content is good, as long as it doesn’t add weight. Shipping long distance is “always a poor choice;” and, end of life scenarios differ so distinctively between tools that this should not be a high priority.

Lastly, Kingsbury described some of the inherent inadequacies of LCA tools today, insofar as inaccurate data, data holes, and built-in assumptions and methodologies are concerned.

The final study will be available in a month; I will be sure to include a link when it goes live.

And by the way, that’s what I am talking about in this video interview at Sustainability in Packaging.

Thanks yall! Talk soon!

Heyyyyyyy! I just booked my flights to Orlando to speak at Sustainability in Packaging, Feb. 22nd-24th. Hurray!

AND, drum roll please, DA BEARS! It is going to be an awesome showdown between the Packers and the Bears—I can’t wait!

Sooo today is going to be a longer post, providing feedback from Sustainable Plastics Packaging and the Walmart SVN I attended the second week of December.

Let’s see…I know I summarized most of the SPP conference…where did I leave off…

That’s right: My December 29th post finished with my comments about Brandimage—an industrial designer firm, which developed a silly molded pulp water bottle.

The next presenter was Patty from Klockner Pentaplast—she has always been very nice to me and when I found out she was presenting at the same conference I emailed her saying good luck and explaining how nervous I was. She replied that I should think of the audience as the fathers, brothers, daughters, mothers—real people— they are and how I wouldn’t be nervous presenting in front of my own mother, sister, etc.; therefore, why should I be nervous presenting in front of these people? I thought that was really awesome advice…

ANYWAY, Patty gave a really great presentation insofar as she made an argument for plastic packaging in the context of sustainability. By describing a case study in which her company and its partner worked with a pizza producer to redesign its packaging to be more efficient, Patty illustrated how in switching the fiber-based box for a flexible plastic tray and lid, the shelf life of the pizza itself was greatly extended. Because a TON of our natural resources are consumed in the production of food, it is super duper important to ensure that the package medium used to get the foodstuff from the point of production to consumption is efficient and protects the product from spoilage and other health/quality concerns. PlasticsNews reporter Mike Verespej does a great job tying Patty’s argument that packaging can reduce total system waste i.e. food spoilage, into some of the other points made throughout the conference in this article.

And before I forget, it is important to understand that fiber-based pizza boxes are not usually accepted for recycling due to the high concentration of food contamination; be it plastic or paper, the liklihood that this packaging type is or will be recycled is very, very low, due to the economics of cleaning this material for reprocessing.

AND I loved Patty’s reference to “Frustration Free” packaging. As most of you know, I represent a thermoformer of clamshells, which are often times blamed for igniting RAGE in consumers due to their inability to penetrate the cold, plastic exterior of the package to get to the product itself. I wrote a satirical piece on wrap rage in the perceptive section of PlasticsNews; check it out here, it’s sort of funny.

Anyway, Amazon.com came out with “Frustration Free” packaging, which supposedly is mostly fiber-based and allows consumers to easily remove their products, without falling into the much-feared WRAP RAGE state of confusion. The specific example she gave were for CDs: previously packaged in a plastic clamshell to ensure product protection throughout the shipping supply chain, Amazon now packages CDs in a paper envelope with padding. According to customer accounts, numerous CDs were received broken, which ultimately resulted in more supply chain waste when compared with the plastic clamshell package that resulted in no product rejects. Go figure! I guess it depends what your priorities are: an intact product or a package that allows you to tear into it with your bear claws…

OH, before I forget, Mark of Brandimage did make some really great points about how consumers make decisions. He referenced Harvard academic Zaitman, who spent extensive time researching how consumers react to ads and products, concluding that most consumers’ decisions to buy or not to buy are based on 5% conscious thought and 95% unconscious thought. CRAZY! So much for market research, ha! No, but in all seriousness, I do think there is something to say with how a lot of our decisions are based on emotion instead of logical reasoning. After all, I really don’t think I need a crystal Chicago skyline paperweight, but when I saw it at the checkout counter just staring at me in all its reflectivity and gloss, I couldn’t help myself! So yea, he called this immeasurable reality between conscious and unconscious thought in the context of dictating consumers’ reactions to products, “creative economy.”

OK, next I want to talk about Terry of the Shelton Group. Her company provides LCA software that allows product producers to quantify the environmental profile of their products in the design phase. Like COMPASS, this software allows you to build a product archetype i.e. toaster, and then manipulate different aspects of the product i.e. material and/or electrical components, to see where your environmental “hot spots” are in order to work to elivaite said hot spots in your supply chain. So, if you were sourcing your toasters from aluminum mined in the Far East (I am being vague because I have NO idea how this resource is procured for industry) and found out that the process of aluminum production for your toaster results in the highest concentration of VOC emissions, or something, you could choose to source your aluminum from a recycled aluminum mill domestically located, thereby reducing the total supply chain and overall “carbon footprint” of the product. She also referenced the Storyofstuff.com, which is a cartoony representation of the inefficiencies of most product productions’ supply chain. Check out there most recent cartoon, the Story of Electronics, here.

Terry suggested that from a competitive standpoint, one could use this software to conduct LCAs of a concept vs. a manufactured good vs. your competitor’s good and make an argument depending on the software data output in the context of sustainability.

OH, and for more information on this product LCA software (she did some live demos and it seems AWESOME), visit sustainableminds.com and sign up for their free webinars.

Next I want to summarize Sean of ModusLink’s presentation, as it was the first time I was ever introduced to such a macrocosm view of “sustainability.” For those of you unfamiliar, ModusLink is a company that specializes in taking consumer electronic products from the point of conception i.e. an awesome new invention or product, to the point of production through fulfillment, distribution, and consumption. Because most of their clients are large consumer electronic manufacturers, which is itself an extremely competitive market, ModusLink uses various tools that allow them to take a supply-chain approach and determine the most efficient, and therefore “sustainable” way to move product throughout the supply chain. In order to put the audience in a total supply-chain frame of mind, Sean gave the following example of how manufacturing, assembly, logistics, and environment must all be taken into account when assessing a product’s total supply chain:

Ex1: Overseas manufacturing of product and packaging

Low cost of labor
Low raw material costs
High logistics costs
High green house gas emissions


Ex2: Domestic manufacturing of product and packaging

High cost of labor
High material costs
Low logistic costs
Low GHG emissions

In a nut shell: there is always a tradeoff; ModusLink will assess the tradeoffs via fancy software and present clients with the most efficient option for supply chain management.

The software cited during Sean’s presentation, which I know so little about, are:

And that’s the last presentation of the day I saw! I skipped out and had non-hotel produced food for the first time in days with Sean!

And again, for more feedback on this conference, check out the editorials in PlasticsNews!

AND, to end today’s post, check out this abstract art collection of environmental disaster photographs. My favorite is the “Facial Tissues” image showing the pollution resulting from pulp mills in the production of Kleenex and what not.