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Not What You Think

By Michael DAngelo

September 12, 2019

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I had the great pleasure to attend the ICCA/WCO Global Summit in Florida back in May. One of the featured speakers at the meeting was Cecilia Alcoreza, manager, forests, for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Her presentation was titled “A Perspective on Our Forests.” She provided an excellent overview of the WWF mission and several major threats facing our planet.

She then turned to the topic of deforestation and presented several slides’ worth of data related to the severity of this ongoing problem. She claimed much of it is due to increasing paper-based packaging consumption throughout the world. She then appealed for leadership against deforestation by citing programs that work toward this goal. Alcoreza shared slides showing that world deforestation is taking place primarily in the Southern Hemisphere, with virtually none occurring in North America and Europe.

Her message was that not enough is being done to combat deforestation. Most of the assembled crowd reacted with polite indignation, correctly pointing out that of the many causes of deforestation, paper and packaging are not the major offenders, even in southern regions. Alcoreza bravely stayed on message during the Q&A period. Does the fact that North American and European companies are paragons of sustainable forestry practices mean that they should not use their relationships and voices to encourage best practices elsewhere in the world?

The following day, Saverio Mayer, CEO of Smurfit Kappa Europe, spoke about plastic packaging’s impact on the paper-based packaging industry. As a nod to the WWF presentation, he began with an anecdote that “even my 90-year-old mother considers me to be a tree killer,” although Smurfit Kappa practices sustainable forestry. Saverio suggested an innovation model that gives paper-based packaging a role in working with plastic packaging to create new structures that combine the advantages inherent in both. In so doing, the amount of waste going to landfills is reduced. He said that “plastic is not the enemy. Packaging waste is the enemy.” He challenged those assembled to action: “Let’s design packaging waste into extinction.”

AICC’s board of directors has made engagement and fraternity with similar international organizations a goal in the Destination Model for the new fiscal year, which began July 1. Steve Young and I met with representatives from five international corrugated associations during the ICCA/WCO conference, hailing from Canada, Europe, Japan, India, and Taiwan.

With these partners and others, there is a role that AICC can play in encouraging best practices here and elsewhere in the world. In so doing, we reinforce the already winning proposition paper-based packaging has in North America, and we get the chance to work with our faraway colleagues to improve conditions in their countries and for their people.

I went to ICCA/WCO knowing that our great industry is in a good place relative to factual arguments on how green and sustainable we are. This remains a bedrock truth. I left the meeting also knowing that there is still a lot of work that we all can do—starting with understanding perspective and how we frame challenges.

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Michael D’Angelo

President, AICC