Today we are going to discuss some of the happenings from the SPC meeting I attended the end of March in San Diego. For a discussion of the “Labeling for Recovery” workshop that preceded the conference, visit April 13th’s post.

The first session of the conference was titled “Vision 2050: Pathways for Global Sustainability,” which was described in the conference literature as follows:

“The Vision 2050 project lays out a pathway that will support a global population of some nine billion people living well and within the resource limits of the planet.” As per the presenter’s discussion, The Vision grew out of the leadership of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, where 29 companies—led by Alcoa, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Storebrand, and Syngenta—“worked together to rethink the roles that business must play over the next few decades to enable society to become more sustainable” (SPC meeting pamphlet).

That which I appreciated about the presenter’s treatment of this project was her emphasis on economics—how companies will face difficult economic realities as the price of doing business becomes more volatile due to the understanding that fewer resources will be available to sustain an ever-expanding population. Statistics referenced include: “1/6th of humanity is poor; two billion people live on less than $2 a day; 20 million people die each year from lack of food/water/sanitation; 20% of the world lives in water-scarce areas; etc.” Consequently, it should be every business’s business to investigate how its current model to production may need revision in this fast-approaching resource-scarce world. YIKES. This project’s description reminds me a bit of the World Wildlife Fund’s presentation at a previous SPC meeting insofar as the WWF made a similar argument that we are consuming the earth’s resources faster than is sustainable with the projected population of future decades. As such, we need to dramatically rethink the way we produce and consume so that future generations will not inherit a resource-less planet. And, if I continue on with this thought bubble, both the WWF and The Vision make an argument similar to that which I am discovering in “Cradle to Cradle: remaking the way we make things:” they all imply that our current models of production and consumption are out-dated and rooted in an immature social imagination where the earth’s resources are perceived as plentiful and ours for the taking, which obviously is inherently unsustainable…

The company that spoke on behalf of The Vision was a gigantic timber company, that harvests trees for almost every fiber-invested industry, from packaging to construction. This company representative explained how in 2010, 60% of trees harvested for industry/consumption were done so in natural forrest; the work of The Vision, therefore, is to identify issues such as these and work within the structures of business to develop more sustainable models, like harvesting all wood-derived products from “planned forrests,” or those that are grown with then intention of harvesting.

The next session was titled, “Corporate Cultures that Inform Packaging Design Decisions,” which consisted of representatives from an environmentally aligned household cleaning products company and a representative from an organic foodstuff company speaking about how their companies implement “sustainability” into their business practices. The former company articulated a recent package redesign that consisted of moving from a PCR HDPE container to a “bag N a box” wherein a LDPE bag was enclosed in a molded pulp bottle, which was manually compactable at the end of its life for easy material separation for recycling. This company began their presentation with all sorts of terrible images of plastic marine debris and Albatrosses with plastic bits in their slowly decaying carcasses to set the mood as that which was extremely anti-plastic. It was kind of a bummer. After their whole schpeel about eliminating plastics from this product line, it was time for questions, my favorite! A hand quickly shot up and with reluctance, they took my question. I began, “why is plastic elimination the most important environmental aspect you are focusing on in this package redesign…did you take into account water consumption, aquatic toxicity, eutrophication, GHG, etc. over the life cycle of the previous PCR HDPE container vs. the new bag N a box?”

They replied that they did not perform any LCA’s comparing the former package with the new…they said that the PCR HDPE container “probably had a more attractive carbon footprint overall [when compared with new package],” but that the molded pulp bottle “told a better story to their consumers.” UG. I fail to comment.

The other company discussed their transition from PS to PLA for one of their organic product lines’ multi-pack form/fill/seal containers. This presenter did a superb job outlining where they were now and where they were trying to go in regard to implementing their vision of “sustainability.” She also eloquently walked us through their approach, trials, and results, making for a wholistic treatment of one company’s journey down the path of sustainable packaging. I was also delighted to hear that this company invested in a third-party contracted LCA study comparing the PS to PLA container before moving forward with consumer market research gauging their customers’ attitude toward this product’s packaging…

Alright, that’s all for now. By the by, I had an extremely interesting conference call today with one of the largest waste haulers and recyclers in America in regard to PET thermoform recycling. I will post a description of our conversation pending this contact’s permission.