February 10, 2010

 

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Laura Rowell: On Sustainability
by Glenn Ostle

In the movie Jerry McGuire, Tom Cruise made famous the line, "show me the money!" Today the call could just as well be "show me the sustainability!" But unlike money, sustainability is more difficult to quantify. To bring practitioners up to date on the latest efforts to bring some consistency to this important area, a 1-day Sustainability Forum has been added as part of TAPPI's PaperCon 2010 conference in Atlanta in May.

"It's going to be unlike anything that's been done before," says Forum co-chairperson Laura Rowell, Director, Sustainable Packaging for MeadWestvaco (MWV). "There aren't many opportunities for people to hear--in a one-day session--exactly what's going on in the world today that affects their packaging. It will cover what we do, how we talk about what we do, and how we measure it."

The one-day Forum will be divided into three sessions and will focus on the more technical aspects of sustainability: Session 1 will feature expert speakers on Standards, Metrics and Labeling; Session 2 will cover Scorecards, Databases, and Tools; and Session 3 will address the future in terms of Inks, Adhesives, Coating and Laminates.

NOT SO EASY BEING GREEN
In the 1980s, being perceived as "green" was fashionable. In the 1990s, "greenness" morphed into sustainability but without any consistent ways to prove whether you were or you weren't. Today we are in the age of "show me the data," says Rowell. "The difference between being green and being sustainable requires taking into account the social and economic aspects of packaging. In the past the green package wasn't necessarily one that sold well but rather one that just did well in the environment. Today, if social and economic needs aren't addressed, you don't have a package that can go forward in the marketplace.

"Every company says it is sustainable, but how do you prove you are? That's why things like scorecards, metrics and guidelines, and standards have emerged," says Rowell. "In our Forum, we'll review and discuss these standards that are fast becoming game-changers for our industry."

Lack of consistent standards and methodology has put a burden on the entire supply chain, according to Rowell. Currently different companies use different techniques to describe their global footprint, which confuses retailers and end customers alike. The Global CEO Forum Package Project, which will be discussed during the Forum, was developed in response to attempts by companies like Walmart, to quantify their sustainability efforts. "The industry supply chain was being inundated with scorecards, surveys and questionnaires, and companies not only had to answer multiple questions, but also in multiple formats," says Rowell. "The hope is to develop a common set of metrics, definitions and methodologies that can be used across the entire packaging supply chain."

GREENWASHING AND MISLABELING
Another major topic to be discussed at the Forum is the prevalence of "greenwashing" or the practice by some companies of exaggerating or not being clear about the environmental benefits of their products. The justification for such widespread use of greenwashing is: everyone else is doing it, why can't I?

Greenwashing can create a competitive advantage for a company as consumers can be misled into purchasing its product. But, the practice is considered to be deceptive and misleading advertising, and as such is illegal. "Unfortunately, the FTC has not been able to enforce the laws on the books," says Rowell. "They try sporadically, but not often enough to be effective. If the FTC prosecuted the ten largest violators and published the heck out of it, the practice of greenwashing would probably go away overnight."

Another real concern, according to Rowell, is the increasing emergence of third party certification bodies. While most of these organizations are credible and legitimate, there are some whose certification standards were created under questionable circumstances and are issuing certifications that are essentially meaningless. The difficultly is in knowing who is credible and who is not. "Who certifies the certifiers?" asks Rowell. The Forum will include a presentation on an industry effort, through the Keystone Center, to address this problem.

THE FORUM
"I'm excited about the potential of the Sustainability Forum to get this information out to the industry," says Rowell. "MeadWestvaco is engaged in a lot of the activities we are going to talk about, and I believe these could be game-changing initiatives.

"When we started planning the program we considered using case studies. But the more we talked, the more we saw the need to talk about things that directly impact the industry," says Rowell. "So we asked our customers, brand owners and retailers--those who are actively involved in these initiatives--to present at the Forum. The goal in this one-day meeting is to share a lot with our industry about what's going on out there--about initiatives that are underway and that are going to affect their businesses."

Laura A. Rowell is Director, Sustainable Packaging for MeadWestvaco (MWV). She can be reached at: laura.rowell@mwv.com.

Glenn Ostle is Editorial Director and Associate Publisher, Paper360 magazine and editor of Ahead of the Curve. He can be reached at: gostle@tappi.org.

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