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Attendees at the May WMSBF Monthly Meeting were treated to a diverse discussion that covered a variety of topics, from sustainable packaging efforts to GRI materiality assessments. Held at Perrigo in Allegan, the afternoon program featured a presentation on updated GRI metrics and methods by Elsie Palabrica of Environmental Resource Management. Travis Gibbs, packaging engineer and Product Sustainability Council member at Disher Design and Development, and Dave Auperlee, senior manager of product safety and testing at Bissell Homecare, also spoke at the event on May 12.
While the topics covered by Palabrica, Gibbs and Auperlee were all different, each of them highlighted the importance of communication and engagement with stakeholders and consumers for sustainable businesses.
Palabrica’s presentation provided attendees with a quick look at updated Global Reporting Initiative [GRI] standards, and focused on the increased importance of organizations’ materiality assessments in complying with current GRI requirements. She noted that since the range of GRI sustainability performance indicators is extremely broad and comprehensive, determining the most critical and material issue areas for reporting is extremely important for businesses wishing to complete a GRI sustainability report.
Palabrica noted that determining the materiality of an issue has to involve both company stakeholders and customers and consumers, as well. By utilizing surveys and other inputs from customers, and also communicating with key organizational players, sustainability professionals can discover material issues that may have been ignored or poorly recognized. Combining these missing pieces not only helps to build a comprehensive sustainability report, but also creates opportunities for promotion and development of programs.
“Every functional organization I know is discussing sustainability in their conferences and their journals,” she said. “There’s a lot more going on throughout your companies than you’re aware of, and this is a good excuse to go in and have those dialogues on who’s talking about what, what’s being done, what do you care about, what do you think is going to possibly impact you in the future.”
Gibbs and Auperlee also highlighted the importance of communicating with consumers and internal stakeholders as well. For Gibbs, packaging is not only a way to protect and deliver products safely, but also an opportunity for developing sustainable efforts and alternatives. “It’s about figuring out what’s going to work for your process and your product, and picking materials that way,” he said.
Gibbs also noted that 35 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for a sustainable package. “It is the face of your brand, and it is the first thing people see when they’re purchasing your product,” he said. “Having a more sustainable package, especially nowadays, can be a good influence.”
While the raw materials for sustainable packaging can be more expensive, Gibbs pointed out that there are many opportunities to offset these costs in the packaging process and packaging design. Something as simple as reducing the size of a package or cutting back on weight can change packaging prices drastically, and utilizing currently available product life cycle analysis tools can help businesses determine the ideal sustainable option for their processes or products.
For Auperlee, communicating Bissel’s commitment to sustainability not only engages stakeholders, but also a new generation of consumers for whom sustainability is a social problem that can be solved by businesses. “There is a new generation that is embracing [corporate sustainability],” he said, “and they’re putting their dollars behind it.”
Auperlee noted that these consumers, dubbed “Generation World,” demand communication from the business world in order to decide who to support and what goods to purchase. “They’re pretty much saying, ‘Hey, if you’re doing something good, say it! Promote it, let everyone know. Don’t just quietly do these programs in the background.’”
Auperlee encouraged attendees to consider sharing information and reports on sustainability efforts not only internally, but also with the public to fill this demand.
“Sustainability is not a fad,” he said. “It is here to stay.”
To register for the June 23 Monthly Member Luncheon Meeting at the University Club in Grand Rapids, click here.