Hey guys!

Boy howdy do I feel like a real business woman now! Had my first terrible plane debacle—but I’m alive—so its obviously not that bad.

In a nut-shell I booked a flight to Northwest Arkansas to attend the Walmart/Sam’s Club Sustainable Value Network meeting Monday; from which, I was scheduled to fly to Dallas to connect to Miami in time for my presentation at the Bioplastics Compounding and Processing Conference the next day. Due to intense thunderstorms in Chicago Sunday night, flights Monday morning out of Chicago were delayed, which made me late for the SVN meeting. I ran in heels and everything. Then my flight from Arkansas to Dallas was delayed, due to roving thunderstorms over Dallas. So, I would have missed my connection to Miami, even if I made it to Dallas that night, which I didn’t. While at the rebooking agent in Arkansas, I was completely floored to discover that there was no possible way for me to get to Miami by noon the next day. The last flight out of Arkansas was the flight I was scheduled to be on, which was at 5:50 PM! CRAZY. So the moral of the story is: don’t assume that all airports are like O’Hare; and, try to keep things in perspective— even while trapped on the jet bridge for HOURS with a hysterical baby and crabby flight attendants. As my father says, “nothing is that important.”

Luckily, I attended a large chunk of the SVN meeting regardless of my late arrival, so I have some updates to share.

The section titled “New Packaging Implementation” began with Director of Packaging for Walmart Chet Rutledge and his Sam’s Club counterpart Robert Parvis performing a skit: Chet was playing a Walmart buyer and Robert was playing a supplier trying to pitch “magical pixie dust,” which renders all packaging material nonexistent when disposed in landfill; and, “even taste like chicken!”

The metaphor here is that Walmart has heard it all before, and what they encourage from their suppliers is due diligence when investigating new packaging innovation: “do your homework.” Instead of trying to sell just for selling’s sake, suppliers to Walmart should align their objectives with those of the retailer; this is to deliver the best valued product at the lowest cost—using sustainability as the vehicle for driving change. Urging an item-specific approach, Walmart looks to collaborate with its suppliers to facilitate improvements throughout the supply chain, like those communicated in the “Packaging Success Stories” to accompany the next days’ Expo proceedings.

Next, Chet and Robert moved on to a discussion of “Best Practices for Product Suppliers,” emphasizing sales, profit, inventory and SKUs as the talking points through which product/packaging improvements be facilitated via sustainable packaging systems. Only if a proposed change addresses these concerns will Walmart buyers consider it. Conversations of cost implications are also crucial, for if neglected, imply no savings to be incurred. Product suppliers were urged to look to their packaging suppliers for help, welcoming proactive innovations over a retailer-proposed agenda. Chet concludes, “Innovation is good…change is difficult; keep it simple— Walmart’s system and scale will complicate the most simple of tasks.”

My next post will provide feedback Ron Sasine’s “Future of Packaging Team,” PACNEXT, and AMERIPEN.

Hello and happy Friday!

Today we are going to discuss the second part of the Walmart SVN/Expo. For a discussion of the first part, visit April 20th’s post.

After a discussion of Metrics, the SVN Packaging leadership team discussed changes to the Scorecard. Since its introduction to the packaging community, the Scorecard has been used as a tool for information entry, not action facilitation. What this means is that Walmart suppliers have only, for the most part, demonstrated the “completion of Scores,” as opposed to how said Scores inform procurement. Now, however, it is not just Scorecard completion per item file encouraged, but total impact and progress.

The Walmart SVN packaging leadership team intend on orchestrating this by allowing software users to calculate total GHG equivalents emitted per CMUM (“consumer meaningful unit of measure,” i.e pair of socks or 16 oz bottle of water), in order to establish a baseline off which to gauge progress. This will be accomplished by multiplying the selling unit (CMUM) sales by GHG equivalents emitted per item. The progress of Walmart’s goal of reducing GHG emissions across all stores (and clubs?) by 2013, therefore, can be quantified and qualified by performing reports on item level (CMUM) GHG emissions from 2008 vs. 2013; if a 5% reduction is observed, Walmart has reached its GHG reduction goal. The take away? Vendors should demonstrate a change in GHG/CMUM by 2013 when compared with 2008 Scores (assuming they were entered and active).

A representative of the Walmart SVN packaging leadership team then encouraged the following actions by the SVN participants:

Product suppliers: look at item files and make sure all are active and verify Scorecard entry per item; cancel the non-active files. Work to decrease resource and energy use, thereby reducing GHG equivalents emitted per selling unity/CMUM.

Buyers: ensure vendors complete above mentioned tasks; be ready and informed for how to read reports when they come.

Packaging suppliers: understand what is driving buyers (GHG reduction per selling unit/CMUM) and work to aid progress in this area.

Have a splendid weekend!

Hello!

It has been raining in Chicago for almost a week and it is forecast to rain throughout the weekend, too. UGGGG. I hope you are all reading this from much more attractive climates.

I am about a third of the way through “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things,” and boy is it a downer, though an extremely thought-provoking one at that! I know the book is a bit dated (published in 2002), but I find it extremely relevant to today’s “sustainability” discussions. That which I enjoy so much about authors McDonough’s and Braungart’s treatment of how humans interact with their natural environment is the way they contextualize everything—from the way we design cities to packaging—in regards to the Industrial Revolution, capitalism, and the prevailing social systems of the times in which these concepts took root in the social imagination of the masses. They not only intertwine history (the replacement of guilds and craftsmen with the mass migration into cities due to the demand for increased production resulting from a variety of technology innovations), but philosophy, politics, art, religion, etc. into their discussion of how humans have come to understand our natural environmental and our place therein. They basically argue that we need to dramatically redefine the way we design things to replicate those designs found in nature: instead of using the earth’s resources to fuel economies, designs should engage in mutually beneficial relationships with the resources inherent in the specific system in which they exist to create systems of sustainment. Think of the way the sun is a “free” feedstock that is responsible for the sustainment of all life on this planet. Plants consume this resource, which is infinite and results in no negative environmental emissions to the environment, and the circle of life begins…whenever I say the circle of life I instantly think of the Lion King.

Wow, that was quite the tangent! Anyway, I encourage everyone to read this book as it illuminates how a lot of the dialogue today around “packaging and sustainability” sort of misses the boats insofar as everything we have created—the systems of our sustainment—are themselves inherently unsustainable do to the way capitalism informs our understanding of our natural environment. What I am implying is that while baby steps towards sustainability are always encouraged (like switching from one packaging material to another due to lower GHG emissions per selling unit), they are but a drop in the gigantic bucket that is the inefficiencies of our current approach to production, distribution, and consumption. Bummer, right? But again, this is an argument, and as with all arguments, please take with a grain of salt.

I feel like I am in Environment and Society 101.

Today we will discuss the happenings of the Walmart SVN, which I attended in Rogers, Arkansas, on April 11th.

The Packaging SVN is comprised of one representative from each company that is involved directly, or indirectly, with the packaging sold at Walmart/Sam’s Club stores or the systems used to move packaging through the supply chain to distribution. Other attendees include members of trade organizations/academics/and packaging service providers. The SVN convenes twice a year so the Walmart/Sam’s Club packaging professionals can discuss with their Network progress/changes to packaging goals and other areas of interest to the Walmart packaging community. Issued covered previously, as narrated in my post describing the events of the December SVN, include, but are not limited to: Walmart Scorecard, Global Packaging Project, US EPA environmental packaging working group, developments in sustainable packaging, packaging success case studies, etc.

The SVN leadership team began by discussing metrics. For those of you immersed in the sustainable packaging scene, you are probably all too familiar with the “metrics dilemma,” which I understand as follows: Metrics can be understood as a description of a component of a package’s sustainability i.e. GHG emissions per selling unit. For each metric considered, LCI data is needed to quantify the specific environmental packaging attribute in question with hard data, from a life cycle based approach per system of investigation. While the SPC, GPP, Walmart and others have done a fantastic job creating “metrics” describing how to gauge and understand the sustainability of a package, the reality is that regardless of the tool used to quantify said metrics (COMPASS, Scorecard, etc.), not enough LCI/LCA information is available to allow for accurate results. As a revered LCA practitioner said at the SPC meeting in San Diego, “LCA is a COMPASS, not a GPS.” What this means is that because there is not enough data history, existing data, and relevant LCI data per packaging material and/or specific system of production, distribution and end of life, all metrics/LCA tools can do is help point you in the direction of where you should be heading; they are not representative of where you actually are. The Walmart Scorecard, SPC COMPASS, and other LCA-based packaging modeling softwares all use the same publically available data provided via the ACC, US EPA, Eco-Invent, etc.; consequently, these tools don’t have access to all the information needed to holistically represent the “sustainability” of a package/system from an LCA-based approach.

We began the SVN meeting discussing the state of “metrics” as they are available for use in LCA-based packaging modeling tools. LCI data for nine virgin resins and two recycled resins (I believe RHDPE and RPET) have been submitted and approved; LCI data for recycled paper and paperboard has been submitted and I believe may have been approved and/or is pending approval; LCI data for virgin paper and paperboard was submitted but not approved by the US EPA’s WARM model— updated LCI data is expected end of 2012; LCI data for corrugate was submitted but not approved by the US EPA’s WARM model—updated LCI data is expected end of 2012; LCI data for glass has not been submitted; I am blanking on aluminum…

What all this means, that is, the state of the available LCI data as it applies to metrics used to quantify the sustainability of a package/system from an LCA-based approach, is that we are attempting to put science to something that doesn’t really have ALL the science available…yet. By using COMPASS to quantify the environmental profile of different packaging concepts in the design phase, engineers attempt to understand how to design packages that have less of a burden on the environment throughout their life cycle than the existing package; however, if the LCI data for, lets say, virgin paperboard is from 1980 (I may be wrong but I believe that is the most recent LCI data set used), then changes to manufacturing processes implemented thereafter or holes in data resulting from uniformed LCA practice from when the study was performed may provide a hazy picture of the actual “sustainability” of a package. We are on the right track, but until we have accurate, up-to-date and verifiable LCI data for all dimensions of the packaging chain, it is difficult to use the existing packaging modeling softwares to perform accurate LCA case studies of different packages/concepts.

So yeah, the Walmart Packaging leadership team discussed how they are working to incorporate more accurate LCI data into the Scorecard, once that data is available.

Wow, today’s post has been a bit involved. I am going to stop here and let you all digest. And please note that I in no way shape or form pretend to be an expert on LCI/LCA; this discussion is the result of what I have taken away from recent conferences and the Walmart SVN.

Waa wa. It turns out Dr. Narayan’s PPT requires a more recent version of Adobe Reader, which I can’t download on my work computer because I am not the administrator of the network. Therefore, I will work from home tomorrow and be sure to upload his PPT, along with my notes and a summary of what I took away from the workshop, by lunch time tomorrow at the latest. Sorry friends.

Real quick: On yesterday’s post I got a comment from a TerrayCycle rep; it turns out that the article I referenced about Scotts Miracle Grow merging with the Worm Poop division of TerraCycle was an April Fools joke by a friendly blogger! I don’t know why but I find that extra funny. It’s nice to see companies in this industry not taking themselves too seriously. Kudos!

Sooo in the world of recycling thermoforms, I was delighted by this PlasticsNews article, which reports on the APR’s recently issued bale specifications for non-bottle rigids. In my post titled “New Insight into PET Thermoform Recycling,” I dance around the “do specs for thermoform bales exist” question, and was never really ever able to conclude if they exist, and if so, what that implies for the industry. For those of you familiar with my Recycling Report, one of my arguments was that MRF’s will not collect thermoforms for recycling if specs for thermoform bales don’t exist. Hopefully, thermoform containers will be included in the seven new bale specs for non-bottle rigids being developed by APR. The new spec categories, as explained in the above sited PlasticsNews article, are as follows: bulky rigid plastics, tubs and lids, all-rigid bales, olefin bales, household containers, bottles and containers, and pre-picked rigid bales. I already sent an email to my contact at APR, congratulating her for their work, and inquiring into what this means for recycling thermoform containers. I will keep you posted.

Shall we discuss the third and final part of the Walmart SVN meeting I attended in Rogers, Arkansas, in December?!? For a description of the first and second parts, visit the posts with the associated titles.

December 14th, 2010
Sam’s Clubs Headquarters, Rogers, Arkansas
Walmart’s winter SVN meeting

In January 28th’s post, I describe the Sustainability Consortium, which is working with Walmart and others in the collection of data necessary to facilitate the construction of Walmart’s Product Index. The PI looks to contain LCIA data on every product sold at Walmart. In preparation of this massive undertaking, the University of Arkansas—either apart of or partnered with— the Consortium, is in the process of executing 5 pilots. These pilots are based on collecting the research necessary to create standards and therefore develop tools to increase the sustainability profile of Walmart’s products. And forgive me if this information isn’t 100% accurate—my notes are scribbled on 3”X5” “Embassy Suites” stationary, which is special. Anyway, one of the pilots introduced was the “electronics sector;” another, “food and beverage,” and lastly, “home and personal care.” I believe Walmart is looking to develop a SMRS (sustainable measurement and reporting standard), which will facilitate research and reporting from business to business, business to retail, and business to consumer. AND I am pretty sure that Walmart will allow suppliers to enter in their own LCIA data, if the industry averages do not do justice to their specific manufacturing processes.

Next we moved onto a discussion of how packaging informs the PI, highlighting the progress made by the GPP and how the Scorecard will kind of get sucked up into the former’s metrics. The GPP is super cool—anyone can join and get updates on the progress being made and how to get involved. Anyway, I drew an umbrella right about here in my notes, with “INDEX” scribbled on the top of the umbrella, and “scorecard” and “SSA” placed underneath, implying that the Scorecard and Supplier Sustainability Assessment will be a COMPONENT of the overall product’s sustainability profile within the index. Kind of like the big fish eating the little fish.

Then we switched to an introduction of the EPA’s new working group titled “Sustainable Financing for Waste Management for Packaging Materials.” This is when we queued the jumbotron (LOVE jumbotrons), and were connected with an office in Washington, where I spotted some familiar faces from the world of sustainable packaging. After the traditional greetings, it was explained how this group is in the process of researching different approaches to managing the financial responsibility of waste, hoping that they can bring several ideas to the table, weighing the pros and cons of each approach before moving forward with policy and implementation. I guess this working group is composed of 8 states (NC, MN, Wisconsin, NY, Iowa, Nebraska, Washington, and one whose name I can’t decipher), 4 governments (VT, Seattle, CA and NY), and 12 brand owners that focus on food/beverage, health/beauty, and home care. This group is hoping that their well-researched dialogue will inform legislation, where they attempt to bridge the gap present in our current approach to waste management by developing more efficient, and sustainable means to finance the recovery of packaging waste. While the US EPA rep did say that there is or would be a website dedicated to describing the agenda of this group, I just googled “Sustainable Financing for Municipal Management of Packaging” and nothing came up…I put in an email to my contact at the EPA so I will let you know what I find. This is all very exciting I think! And, this may or may not be the same thing as AMERIPEN, which was just covered in this article, though I honestly am not sure what the relation, if any, is. Hmmmmmm

The meeting closed with a couple presentations from fellow SVN members/trade associations. The first was by a representative of the tab/label manufacturers, who introduced their certification program titled L.I.F.E. Then a representative from TetraPak presented on how his company and competitors worked together to develop the composite carton recycling stream, which as per this gentleman, is at an impressive 30%!?! Lastly, a gentleman from, perhaps, the metal association (?) presented on how BPA is not bad and is a necessity of modern consumption. I care not to comment on the BPA situation as it is one of the several topics of my upcoming research project and I don’t want to speak without doing my due diligence.

And, not to poke fun or anything, but I just received this email from an unknown contact… thought I would share it with you to get your salivary glands ready for tomorrow’s feast!

I am curious. I saw you Power Point and feel that if and when we can get the recycling of more products, it is a loss of a valuable product that can be reused. So have you considered adding a biodegradable additive that will enable the plastic to biodegrade in landfills AND will not affect its ability to be recycled with mainstream plastics? I have been in biodegradables for 9 years and feel the a landfill biodegradable product is the answer until we get the infrastructure to recycle more.

AND, check out this great Advertising Age article, which summarizes today’s post!
Alright, that’s that. Until tomorrow!

Walmart SVN, feedback 1:3

January 21, 2011

Hello and happy Friday! I am taking a much-needed break from sketching Dordan’s new website “information architecture,” which is really just a fancy way of saying website organization and navigation. For those of you who are considering launching a new website or redesigning an existing one, I thoroughly recommend the following—I would have had no idea what to do without these sources!

Steve Krug’s Don’t Make me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

Rosenfeld’s and Morville’s Information Architecture for the World Wide Web

As an aside, yesterday I went to The Brat Stop, which is sort of a historical icon on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin in Kenosha. It was AWESOME—I felt like I walked into an 80’s movie! I had the best garlic Bratwurst that I piled sky-high with raw onions! If you are ever in the area, I suggest you make a stop—the fried cheese curds are reason enough!

OH, and while there, I discovered this wonderful piece of art: a 3D sculpture of the Chicago Bear mascot hung with a noose. Those jerks…we will see Sunday; Go BEARS!

OK, so today I’m going to discuss the Walmart Sustainable Value Network meeting I attended in Rogers, Arkansas, December 14th, 2010. For those of you unfamiliar, Walmart hosts bi-annual meetings for its “preferred suppliers,” wherein members are updated on Walmart’s sustainability initiatives. These meetings also serve as a platform where suppliers can asks questions and get answers in real time.

Shall we begin?

December 14th, 2010
Sam’s Clubs Headquarters, Rogers, Arkansas
Walmart’s winter SVN meeting

The first topic introduced at the meeting was the new “Sustainability Leadership” team at Walmart. For various reasons, there had been some dramatic restructuring of the sustainability team. New names were introduced, accompanied by new faces and punctual speeches.

After each new team member had said his/her part, the host began explaining some revisions to the metrics of the Walmart Scorecard.

To begin, the Scorecard was put into its intended context; that is, to assist suppliers in helping Walmart achieve its 20 million metric ton GHG emissions reduction target via overall packaging reductions, among other things. Consider the following statements:

By January 2011, Walmart suppliers should provide companywide emissions reductions through packaging improvements.

By mid 2012, SKU-level reductions in emissions for companies/divisions/and categories should be reported.

The reporting audience is intended to be a compilation of the following: The buyer/supplier/management/SVN/etc.

I do not know what the status of these suggestions are, however.

Next, the host explained that contrary to popular belief, it is not just Scorecard completion that will influence a suppliers’ standing within the system, but the result of how the supplier uses the Scorecards’ data output. In other words, in completing one’s Scores, a supplier is granted access into how to improve said Score; be it through changing materials or the way in which the fulfilled package cubes out, it is only when you complete a Score that you can begin to understand how to improve it.

Next was an explanation of the “cube utilization” metric within the packaging Scorecard; this attempts to quantify how the relationship between the product volume and package AND fulfilled package and transport packaging informs its overall supply chain efficiency and therefore sustainability.

Previously suppliers had been required to provide the cube utilization for the selling unit and transport unit. In other words, you first had to determine the ratio between product and package in the context of volume for the selling unit i.e. fulfilled package, AND the ratio between the packed out product and its transport shipping in the context of volume. In a nut shell: cube utilization tries to see how efficiently the product exists within the package and how efficiently the package exists within the transport packaging.

NOW, in the name of simplicity, suppliers only have to provide information on the selling unit cube utilization, thereby eliminating an entire calculation of transport cube utilization. These are the notes I have from this discussion; hopefully you can make more sense out of them than I can…

Cube utilization:

Selling unit + transport unity–> pallet load efficiency

*Volume of transportation cube utilization

Volume of transport unit/volume of product

Next, the host explained that while previously suppliers had to enter two separate Scores for the merchandise unit and the unit for sale, now they only have to enter one for the unit for sale. In other words, instead of having the supplier treat the same product that is sold in different parts of the same store as two different products by entering two different Scores, now the supplier can report one Score, for both SKUs. After all, the selling unit is the same if it is sold as a unit for sale within its category or as a promotional merchandise unit; therefore, why double the work?

Lastly, it was articulated that Walmart now has devoted an entire team to helping suppliers with the Scorecard, contacted via the retail link of the Scorecard support. Seeing as how the above described changes to the Scorecard metrics are just as impossible to write about as they are to truly understand, I am glad that Walmart has made this investment!

Tune in Monday to learn about updates with Walmart’s Supplier Sustainability Assessment, its latest goals, and its Sustainability Index!

Have a great weekend. And go BEARS!!!