Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Get Onboard – The Sustainability Train is Leaving the Station

By Bill Carteaux, SPI President & CEO

Still trying to determine what today’s green movement means to your bottom line? We all know about the environmental “scorecard” Wal-Mart began in 2005 and how it has impacted plastics suppliers—both good and bad. But there are an abundance of other examples of companies gradually transitioning to more sustainable practices – from NIKE, McDonalds and Toyota to BP, 3M and Alcoa. In a January 6, 2008 New York Times story about Clorox’s purchase of Burt’s Bees (a company known for beeswax lip balm), Clorox stated that one reason for the take-over was “to learn from the unusual business practices at Burt’s Bees — many centered on environmental sustainability. Clorox, the company promises, is going green.”

Don Carli, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Communication, recently told Advertising Age, "A profound change has taken place in the boardrooms of some of the largest corporations in the world that has redefined green in operational terms that go beyond doing the right thing and actually have to do with doing things right from a business perspective…There is a business case for sustainable practices in a company's operations.”

I totally agree with that. In fact, my hope is that our industry’s executives will come to see that the term “green” signifies the money and market share available to those companies that stop being defensive and begin to act on sustainability. I know from talks with plastics CEOs across the globe that many companies have already taken on the challenge. Sustainability feedback cards received from our members, articles in the trade press and the Society of Plastics Engineer’s (SPE) annual environmental award winners all reveal that our industry is already showing innovation in the areas of product design, recycling, materials recovery, bio-based resins, energy efficiency, worker training and environmental management system certification. In January, Sabic Innovative Plastics earned wide-spread publicity at the North American International Auto Show for its technology responsible for plastic parts found throughout a Ford Lincoln MKT that were derived from 2,000 plastic water bottles.

Many company executives have also asked me what its trade association is doing to protect its bottom line in this every changing marketplace. One of our central missions is to help foster growth for U.S. plastics companies in the global marketplace. Toward that end, we have begun to initiate programs that will help companies take gradual steps toward viewing sustainable practices as a sound business decision.

Because SPI represents all facets of the plastics industry on both sides of the tracks, we have spent months hammering out what sustainability means to our industry today and how we intend to resource new sustainability initiatives. At our last meeting SPI’s Executive Board finalized its official position declaring that SPI “will support the development and adoption of sustainability principles through ongoing interactions with manufacturers and customers as well as codes, standards and regulatory bodies.” Using our policy statement as a springboard, our Material Suppliers Council recently took the lead in developing a general action plan that will guide SPI’s sustainability activities in the future.

We have made it a priority to make sustainability a prominent theme at NPE2009 – SPI’s International Plastics Showcase set for June 22-26, 2009 in Chicago. Innovations in plastics products and technologies, as well as the issue of sustainability, will be covered on the show floor and in the conference’s educational tracks. McCormick Place’s new West Hall will feature specialty pavilions dedicated to advancements in the areas of energy, biopolymers, new technology and sustainability. NPE2009 will be co-located with SPE’s ANTEC ™, the leading forum for cutting-edge technological solutions and access to proprietary research. SPI will once again offer a comprehensive NPE recycling program for recycling all the plastic scrap generated during the show.

In addition to new initiatives, SPI will continue its long-standing programs, such as Operation Clean Sweep ™ -- a program launched in 1996 to ensure spilled resin pellets do not make their way into local waterways that now boasts 130 participating companies. SPI's Occupational Health and Environmental Issues Committee (OHEIC) provides leadership and guidance toward achieving continuous improvement in environmental, health and safety performance in the plastics industry. The Committee’s Worker Health and Safety Task Group provides information and tools for members to continuously improve their safety performance. Since 2002, SPI has enjoyed a formal alliance with OSHA to promote a safe and healthy work environment in plastics facilities, and our annual Occupational Safety and Health Survey collects plastics industry illness and injury statistics while recognizing work sites that have excellent safety records.

Working with Seetha Coleman-Kammula (co-founder of Simply Sustain, who has more than 25 years of experience with petrochemical corporations) and other sustainability experts over the past several months, I have learned a lot about both the challenges and opportunities that sustainability offers our industry. In my opinion, plastics companies must add sustainable thinking to their business plans or risk missing out on financial opportunities. Becoming a more sustainable business is not an overnight process, but I encourage CEOs to take a long-term view because the sustainability train is already leaving the station.

SPI is here to make it easier for you to get onboard.

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