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Innovation and sustainability-- two parts of a whole

Big buzz words in today’s packaging lexicon, “innovation” and “sustainability” are too often viewed as mutually incompatible. This is a mistake.

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They should instead be viewed as complementary components of an enlightened management strategy, a strategy that recognizes that you have to involve as many players as possible along the packaging value chain. Put another way, it’s a strategy that recognizes the importance of innovating sustainably.

If a manufacturing firm is to embrace this strategy as its own, every professional who touches packaging must get involved. It has to involve marketing, production, engineering, legal, and all the other in-house functions. It has to involve such outside resources as designers and consultants. Sometimes it involves a retailer who can add a unique view to innovation or sustainable packaging.

One thing that is a must is support from the CEO. Packaging professionals have seen that grow in recent years. Evidence is the growing number of packaging professionals who have a “vice president” title. Just a few years ago you could count them on the fingers of one hand.

One perspective on this evolution is in IoPP’s Fundamentals of Packaging Technology Seminar. The seminar’s sustainable packaging module looks at how the packaging value chain has changed.

The most common way of looking at the value chain has been as a linear connection. At the beginning was the raw materials supplier talking to converters. They, in turn, presented ideas to companies involved in packaging who in turn sold the ideas to customers—often retailers or other members of the distribution network. Finally the consumer was at the end of the value chain. Figure 1 illustrates this chain.

The next advance in the packaging value chain is one that has been called the “integrated value chain” (Figure 2). Here the idea is that everyone along the chain talks to each other, rather than just to the organization immediately adjacent on the chain. This management strategy is critical in the emphasis on innovation because it brings in ideas and real-world concerns from everyone involved. (By the way, a quick thanks to consultants Brian Wagner and Mike Richmond, who may have coined the term “integrated value chain.”)

As sustainable packaging has gained importance, we have added even more “stations” to the value chain (Figure 3)—particularly reuse and recycling concerns, as well as material analysis. For packaging professionals, communications have become even more complex in what we call the “sustainable value chain.”
IoPP has seen packaging professionals take two steps to be more responsible participants in that scenario.

First is education. As the coordinator of multiple requirements, the packaging professional has to have a command of all factors along the value chain—the base materials, line operations, distribution channels, marketing, end-of-life scenarios.

In January, IoPP member Tom Blanck used this space to pass along education on a way to evaluate packaging costs versus damage costs. A lot of packaging professionals know that evaluation process, but it is base knowledge that people new to the community need.

Two is networking. We all need professional contacts to complement gaps in our knowledge. This is especially true at a time when staff downsizing has diminished the collective knowledge we have in our own companies.

There are a couple of things IoPP is doing to foster both education and networking. Our “Blueprint for Sustainable Packaging” seminar, scheduled for IoPP chapters, is a 21⁄2 hour seminar. It focuses on the basic elements—including management directions—needed to make sustainable packaging work. IoPP has put the seminar through peer review because we believe professional education needs that kind of evaluation.

The other is IoPP’s annual Packaging Summit Conference, which stresses the mutually supportive roles that innovation and sustainable packaging should play. They are both complementary sides of a management strategy. Packaging professionals who see that are in a better position to be leaders in taking packaging to where it needs to go.

Suzanne Fisher, CPP, is president of the Institute of Packaging Professionals. Currently, she is a Packaging Specialist at Nichols, a packaging supplier who also is a supplier of Green Cleaning products located in West Michigan. Suzanne also spent 9 years at Herman Miller, Inc.

For information about IoPP, visit

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