The Stationers' Company
The City of London Livery Company for the Communications and Content Industries


23 FEBRUARY 2021

Stationers' Company Industry Committee Packaging and Sustainability Seminar 10 February  2021

Liveryman Robert Sanger and the Stationers' Company Administrator, Lucie McCord, report:

On 10 February 2021, over 80 members and their guests attended the ‘Packaging and Perceptions of Sustainability’ Industry Committee event, held in association with BPIF Cartons. We gathered virtually to listen to a panel of six packaging experts, discussing the current state of play for the packaging industry as well as providing insights into the future of packaging.

Liveryman Dr Peter Singleton kicked off the evening by welcoming the attendees and introducing Martin Kersh, Executive Director of the Foodservice Packaging Association and Chairman for the evening.  Martin introduced the panel individually and touched upon some key terms in the packaging world such as the circular economy, carbon reduction, packaging’s role in reducing food waste, recycling, composting, and resource provenance. He also defined ‘sustainability’ for us, giving his own views and citing the Brundtland Commission’s 1987 statement that talked about ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

Martin stressed that this was not a session to claim one material’s superiority over another rather the aim was to highlight the common overall objective of sustainability. The panellists each spoke for 5 minutes about what packaging and the perceptions of sustainability meant to them personally as well as to their organisation.

Staffan Sjöberg and Johan Granås both work for Iggesund, a leading paperboard manufacturer and one of the largest owners of land in Europe, owning 1.4 million hectares of forest. They highlighted how their customers’ knowledge and perceptions have changed in recent decades resulting in an increased interest in paper packaging. Their sustainability department is one of the fastest growing departments in Iggesund and provides them with better resources for discussions about sustainability with their clients.

Dr Helene Roberts, CEO of Robinson PLC, a plastic and rigid paperboard packaging manufacturer spoke of the need for clear direction and for collaboration. Helene stressed the importance of being ambitious in goal-setting, using as an example the drive to be carbon positive by 2030. She also highlighted that it is crucial to not only focus on the environment but also on ensuring that people (both employees and local communities) thrive.

Richard Bracewell, Marketing Director at James Cropper, a paper mill and a material specialist in luxury packaging and papers, said they aimed to ‘pioneer materials to safeguard our future’. Richard echoed Helene’s words that sustainability needs to be more than just about the environment but should also  support the local community. Richard stressed the importance of partnership  – using the example of one of their partners, Burberry, whose boxes and carrier bags are now made from upcycled coffee cups. This could not have been achieved without co-operation from the coffee shop brands, waste management companies, industry bodies etc.

David Newman, founded and leads the Bio-Based and Biodegradable Industries Association UK which works to promote the bioeconomy in the UK. David showed some provocative slides with statistics on how each industry (aluminium, glass, plastics, bioplastics, paper/cardboard) damages the environment while claiming that they are the most sustainable. He stressed that these industries are only telling part of the story which is hindering real progress.

There were lots of lively comments, and over 30 questions submitted, far too many to be able to do them justice. Martin Kersh brought the meeting to a close by asking every panellist to finish with one wish which would make a major improvement to sustainability:

Richard Bracewell wished for a co-ordinated approach to waste management and investment.

Staffan Sjöberg wished that packaging designers were more aware of the climate implications of their chosen materials.

David Newman wished that all materials had the cost of the environmental destruction that they cause priced into them.

Johan Granås, on a similar note, wished that the price of CO2 should be on a level with the damage it is causing.

Dr Helene Roberts wished for leadership in thought and consistency in application.

We were lucky to listen to experts in their field representing producers of paper and board, producers of plastic packaging and an authority on all materials compostable and bio-based. Although from differing manufacturing bases, it was reassuring that there was a common goal.

To watch the video click  the image.