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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sustainability: an industry defining itself

The sustainable packaging industry leaders converged on Charlotte in early October for the SPC Advance Conference, a GreenBlue (GB) | Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) members only plus guests event. Sustainability professionals traveled from across the nation and around the globe for the profound program of stellar speakers, engaging panel discussions, hands-on workshops and tours of successful Charlotte programs | facilities.

After welcoming remarks by GB Executive Director Nina Goodrich, opening conference keynote speaker Domtar President & CEO John Williams set the event tone with his Embracing Sustainability As A Business Framework To Enhance Long-Term Shareholder Value presentation. Throughout his empowering talk, John emphasized the imperative role integrity plays in crafting a sustainable corporate sustainability platform.

SPC Advance attracted a full-house
from across nation & around the globe
For success, top management, Board of Director members and shareholders must commit to a long-term program that may include short-run sacrifices. It is important to quantify success and demand the supply chain complements the sustainability platform. John recommends using a corporate scorecard to clearly communicate expectations and audit results to ensure authenticity.

John emphasized the importance of truth when telling the corporate sustainability story. It is imperative the commitment infiltrates every aspect of operations and the employees are engaged at a core level. With social media's far reaching impact, false or undocumented claims may prove devastating.

One of John's points - sustainability is an industry - was substantiated in the Two Case Studies Of Materiality And Sustainable Packaging panel discussion moderated by Nina. In his presentation, Sealed Air Executive Director, Sustainability Dan Daggett introduced the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and the International Integrated Reporting Council as examples of an industry defining itself.

Jay introducing Kathleen
WestRock Director, Global Sustainability Christopher Davidson mentioned sustainability programs must focus on what is important to the company stockholders. With business strategy the starting point, Christopher recommended a three-step approach to program development: Identification, Prioritization, Validation. In alignment with John's theme, Christopher made a simple, profound closing statement: must be what you do and who you are. Integrity reigns paramount to long-term success!

After the morning networking break, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 Materials Management Chief Jay Bassett introduced Assistant Director of the EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery Kathleen Salyer for her The EPA’s Strategic Outlook On Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) presentation. It was a treat to learn about the EPA SMM Strategic Plan FY 2017 - FY 2022 under development.

An evolution from a series of reports stemming from the 2002 EPA’s report, Beyond RCRA: Waste and Materials Management in 2020, which made the argument for focusing efforts on materials management, the FY 2017 - FY 2022 plan has three SMM Strategic Priorities:

  • Built Environment 
  • Sustainable Food Management 
  • Sustainable Packaging 
Kathleen at podium
According to Kathleen's presentation 44% of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from products and packaging in a systems-based analysis. A staggering $11,402,020,357 of valuable packaging is wasted in the U.S. Per the Weight of Nations: Material Outflows from Industrial Economies, WRI
One half to three quarters of annual resource inputs to industrial economies is returned to the environment as wastes within just one year.
Within the sustainable packaging priority, the EPA identifies three critical action areas:
  1. Convene and foster partnerships around infrastructure development.  
  2. Work with Federal Agencies as Strategic Partners.
  3. Research, Data and Policies for Packaging.
Currently, in the U.S. over 30% of edible food goes to waste resulting in significant social, economic and environmental costs. It is estimated that Americans waste 141 trillion calories of food annually at a cost of over $161 billion dollars. Food production accounts for 50% of land use, 80% of freshwater consumption, and 10% of total energy use in the United States. Food, when disposed, is a large contributor to the 18% of total methane emissions that come from landfills each year.

Under the sustainable food management priority, the EPA identifies four critical action areas:
  1. Convene and support partnerships around infrastructure development for alternatives to landfill disposal of wasted food. 
  2. Promote opportunities across food life cycle to reduce wasted food from landfills, with preference for approaches higher on EPA food recovery hierarchy. 
  3. Food Recovery Summit & Future Conferences
  4. Improve and standardize measurement of wasted food. 

Jeff Wooster (Dow Chemical) w/
Cheryl & Kathleen (EPA)
In 2011 the EPA introduced the Food Recovery Challenge (FRC) as a response to the incredible volume of food waste and wasted food destined for landfills. The ZWA Blog article, Elemental Impact Joins EPA FRC, gives a program overview. Thanks to strong EPA support, the Southeast Recycling Development Council is hosting the November 16 -18 Food Recovery Summit in Charleston, SC. The strategic plan has a strong food recovery foundation to build upon within the sustainable food management priority

With sustainable compostable packaging inherent with Sustainable Food Management, the SPC Advance was a perfect venue for the EPA to preview their SMM Strategic Plan FY 2017 - FY 2022.

Walmart Senior Sustainability Manager Ashley Hall closed the morning sessions with her Sustainable Packaging 2.0 at Walmart presentation. With an emphasis on selling products in recyclable packaging, Walmart participates in the SPC How2Recycle program. Ashley questions why a company does not use recycling labels on their consumer packaging. In addition, packaging made with recycled content is a Walmart priority.

After an excellent lunch served by the Omni Charlotte Hotel, Mecklenburg County Director, Solid Waste Management Jeff Smithburger opened the afternoon sessions with his The Local Perspective on Packaging Recovery presentation. On the second day, Laurette Hall, Mecklenburg County environmental manager, waste reduction, augmented Jeff's broad perspective with details on Charlotte | Meckenburg County's SSM programs in-place.

The remaining afternoon sessions dove into controversial industry issues surrounding extended producer responsibility for packaging, government legislation on foodservice packaging, and finished with the Point-Counterpoint: Bag Bans session. 

Brad during panel introductions
Pepsico Director Advanced Research Brad Rodgers moderated the impactful panel discussion. Leading the discussion, Five Gyres Research Director Marcus Eriksen made a powerful visual statement when he exhibited a large plastic mass found with the remains of a decomposed camel. Beyond the "shock effect," Marcus' presentation was grounded in scientific research, his personal experiences exploring the ocean's plastic gyres and infiltrated with the dangers of microplastic pollution in our oceans, waterways, soils and air.

The ZWA Blog article, Plastic GYRE Symposium: Artists, Scientists and Activists Respond, gives an overview of the powerful Atlanta-hosted event where Marcus was one of the prominent presenters. In addition, the article educates on the ocean's plastic gyres along with their tremendous environmental impact.

For the counterpoint, Elemental Impact (Ei) Partner Phil Rozenski, Novolex director of marketing and sustainability, presented on the valuable role plastic bags play along with the "cost" of their alternatives. Phil emphasized plastic bags are NOT single-use products; 9 out of 10 Americans reuse their plastic bags. In addition, Phil shared the following plastic bag facts:
  • less than 1% of litter by count, only .12% of litter volume.
  • only 2.1% of U.S. beach litter (by count, much less by volume).
  • .3% of municipal solid waste.
Bag Bans Panel
(names in FB album)
Novolex recycles 35 million pounds of plastic bags, film and wraps and consumes over 120 MM pounds of recycled content.

Thanks to Brad's artful moderation, the controversial topic was discussed with finesse and grounded in facts. Though a conclusion was not the point, the panel enlightened the audience on the many perspectives inherent within the plastic bag controversy.

For the evening, the SPC Advance hosted Dinner & Dialogues, small group dinners to discuss topics of interest for the packaging industry.  ... and then there was the popular Second Annual SPC Advance Pub Crawl!

The conference second day began with two breakout panels followed by plenary sessions. Advancing The Circular Economy: Technologies and Innovations panelists dove into the role SSM and packaging plays in creating a circular economy; advancing technologies open gateways in sustainable packaging evolution.

The EPA Grant Team
(names in FB album)
In a separate panel, Scaling Up Composting in North America: Presentation and Working Session, the EPA Grant to the SPC for Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte, NC was featured; a substantial discussion of food waste recovery options, challenges and successes followed.

The ZWA Blog article, Scaling up Composting in Charlotte, NC, details the grant goal, objectives and tasks along with listing partners | sub-grantees. "Scaling Up" was used in the grant name as Charlotte has a solid food waste composting program compliments of Earth Farms, a state-permitted facility. The grant served as a catalyst to increase food waste collection for compost throughout the metro Charlotte area. 

EPA Region 4 Environmental Scientist Kim Charick opened the panel with an overview of the EPA's food recovery commitment along with introducing the grant team. Throughout the panel presentations, the Earth Farms food waste composting facility was heralded as a strong reason Charlotte was chosen for the grant.

Laurette during her presentation
Next, Laurette shared details on Charlotte | Mecklenburg County's stellar waste reduction commitment, including food waste recovery. Beyond their financial, staff and other resources grant contributions, Laurette and her team were the door openers for a multitude of grant intro meetings. The Carolina Panthers and Mecklenburg County Jail joined the EPA Grant Program due to Laurette's introductions.

GB Associate Ryan Cooper and University of North Carolina Charlotte Research Intern Tyler Gilkerson presented on the grant logistics, metrics collections and lessons learned from the participant surveys. It was important to understand the "down and dirty" work accomplished by these two gentlemen.

Panel moderator Ei Founder Holly Elmore called Earth Farms Owner Jim Lanier and EPA Grant Participant Food Lion Sustainability Manager John Laughead for impromptu talks on their grant experience.

The ZWA Blog article, Charlotte opportunities segue into ACTION, chronicles the final EPA Grant Team Charlotte visit and summarizes many of the grant successes.

The pursuing formal food recovery strategy session flowed well into the morning break; informal conversations continued into the late morning program. City of Seattle Business Area Strategic Advisor for Waste Prevention and Product Stewardship Sego Jackson asked pertinent questions and added his valuable experience to the discussion. EPA Director, Resource Conservation and Sustainability Division Cheryl Coleman attended the panel and contributed important federal EPA perspective to dialogue.

Sarah @ plenary podum
Conference closing plenary sessions began with Meet Your 2015 Executive Committee Nominees. Ei Partner Sarah Martinez, Eco-Products sustainability maven, was one of six nominees who presented on their qualifications to serve on the SPC Executive Committee. The final two formal program sessions were Setting the Agenda for Sustainable Packaging: A Special Panel of Leadership Companies followed by Advancing the Agenda for Sustainable Packaging: SPC Member Working Session

In the afternoon SPC Advance hosted a tour of Earth Farms, a 45 minute bus ride from downtown Charlotte. Thanks to Eco-Products' donation, the on-bus lunch was served in compostable packaging and left in windrows to begin their decomposition journey.

Jim educated on Earth Farms' history, evolution and future plans along with answering a plethora of pertinent questions during the impressive tour. The Ei FB album, Charlotte Ei Ptr Tours - Day 2, is an excellent pictorial recount of an Earth Farms tour several years ago.

The EPA's strong SSM, sustainable packaging and food recovery commitment was evident at the SPC Advance with two federal and two Region 4 associates active conference participants. With a strong EPA SSM commitment, state & local governments receive support via many avenues to pursue their specific waste reduction goals.

John Mulcahy of Georgia Pacific
with Scotto Seydel
Beyond Holly & Sarah at the podium, Ei was well-represented at the SPC Advance. The Seydel Companies (TSC) President Scotto Seydel traveled from Atlanta to represent GB Chairman Emeritus and Ei Chair Scott Seydel along with TSC interests. Steve Davies & Brian Glasbrenner from Ei Partner NatureWorks and Chris Mitchell with Ei Partner Innovia Films were active conference participants. Ei Advisory Council Member Lynn Dyer with the Foodservice Packaging Institute was a speaker on the Foodservice Packaging Bans and Legislation: Perspectives on the Changing Legislative Landscape panel. ... and GB | SPC is an Ei Strategic Ally!

A highlight of the conference was embracing GB's SPC Senior Manager Anne Bedarf's baby girl Summer. Prior to her June maternity leave, Anne was the EPA Grant Team manager. It was lovely to reconnect with Anne, meet her family and catch-up on the past months while she was nurturing Summer's arrival.

The Ei FB album, 10-15 GreenBlue's SPC Advance Conference, is an event pictorial recap through Holly's lens.

Keeping with the underlying integrity theme,the SPC Advance walked an impressive talk with sustainability best practices. A source-separated five-bin recycling system was used at the conference: 1> food waste for compost, 2> recycle | paper, 3> recycle | paper 4> recycle | cans only and 5> trash | landfill. The Omni contracts with Earth Farms for food waste collection so there was no extra carbon footprint for the compost destination.

Five-bin recycling | waste station
The Whova conference app was introduced to attendees weeks prior to the event. By using the app, SPC Advance reduced paper in two main areas: 1> minimal extra small conference agendas were provided since the app included a detailed agenda, and 2> reduced business card usage since the app scanned business cards, eliminating the need for a physical exchange. The app had 2,295 views during the conference.

Working in partnership with the Omni, compostable packaging was used for the opening reception and reusuable food & beverage serviceware was used wherever practical.

As documented in the ZWA Blog Beyond Easy Wins .. article, the Spring 2014 SPC Conference in Seattle explored future directions in zero waste initiatives, available recycling options along with the integral role packaging plays in successful recovery systems. 

Once again the GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition takes a leadership role in establishing future industry directions. The SPC Advance program was designed to provoke discussion, clear confusion and establish truth | integrity within an industry defining itself.

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