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Sustainability: Moving Beyond Good Intentions

By Julie Rice Suggs, Ph.D., and Alli Keigley

May 18, 2023


We all need goals to move us forward in life. Companies without goals remain stagnant, or worse, regress, without them. So, when you think about your company, what are some of the goals you hope to accomplish in the next five, 10, or 15 years?


More than likely, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) efforts factor into your plans. In recent years, ESG goals have become an essential and expected part of business strategy and operational management. Maybe your company wants to set a goal along the lines of ensuring that 95% of your packaging will be produced from renewable, recycled, or recyclable sources by the year 2025—an incredible goal. But you may be at a loss as to how this is accomplished.


With that in mind, AICC and the Packaging School have crafted a sustainability program that enables member companies to develop internal champions who will transform sustainability intent into action. To begin a multifaceted program such as this, we plan to start with an overview of the key terminology a learner needs to speak the language of sustainability with colleagues and customers.


Here are a few of the key sustainability terms we will cover in this program:

  • Biodegradable: biological decomposition process of carbon-based materials by microorganisms (no time frame)
  • Compostable: subset of biodegradable, with measurable time frames and specific requirements for degradation and toxicity
  • Extended producer responsibility: environmental policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle
  • Carbon neutrality: net-zero carbon footprint reached when the same amount of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere as is removed, in turn, leaving a zero balance
  • Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e): number of metric tons of CO2 emissions with the same global warming potential as one metric ton of another greenhouse gas.

After becoming well versed in sustainable terminology, learners will work to set United Nations-based sustainability targets and goals, develop sustainable system designs (on the material level), measure the carbon footprint of their packaging, and select relevant offset programs to achieve carbon neutrality at a per-product level or per-box level. This program is meant not only to be deployed internally but also externally to map packaging solutions for members’ customer-specific sustainability goals.


Overall, this four-phase program consisting of an online sustainability course, a goal-setting workshop, a carbon workshop, and a demonstration of findings at the AICC 2023 Annual Meeting in September will help establish your organization as a thought leader in the ever-expanding sustainability sector. Being able to discuss how carbon is measured, show examples of projects that offset emissions, and present opportunities and alternative solutions to reduce carbon positions you as a packaging consultant and leader.


If you’re inspired to take this step of becoming a sustainability champion within your company and for your customers and prospects, please contact Taryn Pyle for more information at


Julie Rice Suggs, Ph.D., is academic director at the Packaging School. She can be reached at 330-7748542 or

Alli Keigley is production coordinator at the Packaging School. She can be reached at

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