Sydney’s Luna Park, known for its face and slogan “Just for Fun,” was the venue for the 2008 AIP National Conference organised by Australian Institute of Packaging .
The AIP National Conference hosted over 280 delegates, exhibitors, members of the press and other interested parties. A strong suite of speakers from Australia, the UK, Finland, NZ, Singapore, China and the USA addressed its theme “A Climate of Change”, bringing clarity and many resulting questions on the magnitude of climate change on the planet and packaging sustainability.
Angela Nicholls, an Al Gore Ambassador on Climate Change, moved delegates as she presented Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” in dramatic demonstration of the undeniable impact of global warming.
Placed as a stakeholder in the packaging industry with Visy, Angela brought packaging technologists into the climate change debate, detailing the problem facing every human being on this planet.
A wide range of speakers followed and these included brand owners, associated industry organisations, supply chain, industry observers and consultants. James Tupper (IGD UK) brightened the day with his illuminations on international retail developments including shelf ready packaging and distribution re-engineering.
The AIP National Conference progressed through a better understanding of the magnitude of the climate change problem, carbon footprint assessment including PIQET, updates on the NPC and next steps, options for sustainable materials including biopolymers, the waste cycle and recycling, intellectual property, the new importance of design, segment specific case studies, returnable packaging, distribution channel innovation and more.
Gavin Williams and his team from the PCA gave an enlightening welcome address on their ‘warts and all’ analysis of the National Packaging Covenant effectiveness – a contribution the AIP Board was grateful for as a measure of anticipated collaboration between its organisations in years to come.
Gerard van Rijswijk put an interesting and controversial position arguing against the impact of global warming, climate change drivers and the economic sense of changes in industry policy. As a Senior Policy Advisor to National Association of Retail Grocers of Australia, Gerard challenged the real impact of packaging on the environment and the debate between reduction and recycling versus landfills. Gerard was successful in stimulating debate and forcing delegates to determine where they sat on the climate change issue.
Gerard van Rijswijk said that while there is a chasm between views, there is also a high level of community sentiment on climate change and that packaging is highly visible. An educated audience knows that packaging is a small contributor of greenhouse gasses compared to other segments of a full life cycle analysis (e.g., agriculture production).
However, packaging is perceived as a big contributor of environmental problems, the emotional response it creates elevates it to similar standing in the eyes of the public along with power station emissions, fossil fuel consumption, water and energy shortages as well as the destruction of the Barrier Reef.
Consumers will demand change to packaging systems (among other climate debate agendas) based on their concern for their children’s future. Industry engagement and initiatives (ergo, NPC) will hopefully result in logical and sustained debate and appropriate implementation targets as AIP seek economic pathways to marry against environmental demands.
Bottom line is that packaging has an impact, both real and perceived. Members of the global community need to play their part even though the cost of this action seems disproportionately high at this point. The unknown in this ‘climate’ debate is the cost of inaction.
All of which places the packaging industry fairly and squarely in the new “Green Economy” where FMCG will address consumer fears of climate change.
And in all the doom and gloom there lies opportunity for the paradigm shifts in product design, handling and positioning with visible long term benefits both economic and environmental and the recognition and future of packaging technologists.
Retailers and FMCG supply chains globally face a massive task to determine current environmental status for every product (carbon footprints etc), then set and meet environmental targets for packaging with these targets facing increasing scrutiny due to carbon trading and other economic imposts.
‘Green’ strategies will increase packaging ‘churn’ forcing pack re-designs that begin with the end in mind to achieve the following:
- Material reductions
- Material re-selections – including biocompatible and elimination of recycling nasties such as PVC
- Re-engineered distribution and handling
- Development of secondary product life cycles, and more
Climate change trends cannot be reversed without global cooperation and so too, environmental outcomes affecting brand owners and retailers can only be achieved by concerted action at every level in the chain – growers, converters, brand owners, distribution, retailers, consumers, recyclers. Ultimately, innovation of product and process design at each level is the key to achieve required changes in this new ‘green era’ and its impact on packaging.
Packaging technologists will be pivotal in delivering the solutions required and organisations large and small that do not recognise the value of packaging to their brand investments or the importance of packaging technologists as key organisational stakeholders will struggle in this new ‘green economy’ where marketers leverage ‘green brand value & loyalty’.
In this context of ‘green’ branding and with overall spends on packaging raw materials, I expect that packaging technology will be re-profiled to greater prominence within company structures – delivering a bright future for existing and future technologists around the globe.
Following on, the role of the AIP has never been as important as we seek to address both the shortage in packaging technologists, as well as the lack of formal qualifications within the existing ranks of packaging departments. The AIP exists to educate for the advancement of packaging technology and we expect corporate demand for holistic training to be strong, especially given portability of these qualifications globally.