Conferences, Featured

A Vision, a Design Lab, and a FutureWorld

October 14, 2020


The second day of Virtual SPC Advance showcased speakers who fully embraced the theme: Sustainable Resilience in a Time of Change. First, we heard from Steve Voorhees, CEO of WestRock, a paper and paperboard manufacturing company that also owns paper mills and recycling facilities. This allows them to drive circularity within their own company. Voorhees shared Westrock’s vision for delivering on their promise of a more sustainable future.

Using his triple loop graphic above, Voorhees walked the audience through the steps they are taking to support people and communities, the planet, and innovate for customers. Notably:

  • Safety is WestRock’s number one priority; they immediately implemented COIVD-19 safety guidelines (Wash, Wear, Watch) as the pandemic spread resulting in overall safety improvements and less injuries at their facilities around the world. 
  • WestRock is dedicated to making everyone feel welcome, heard, valued, and safe. To do this WestRock senior leadership has created diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies and action plans. They’ve implemented mentoring and training programs for all employees and partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and 3DE Schools. 
  • Sustainability is in the “fiber” of WestRock. They aim to be forest positive, growing more trees than they harvest, and sustaining healthy working forests. When they need virgin fiber, WestRock uses a responsible procurement process through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) chain-of-custody systems. 
  • Innovations from WestRock like the CanCollar® Eco, a paperboard alternative for beverage multipacks, helps remove nonrecyclable packaging, like six-pack rings from the market and replaces them with recycled fiber products that can be recycled. 

Kaave Pour, the CEO of Space10, a research and design lab in Copenhagen, Denmark was the second keynote speaker on the second day of Virtual SPC Advance. Space10’s mission is to create a better everyday life for people and the planet. Pour acknowledged that while Space10 does not specifically work on packaging, the holistic approach of Space10 most certainly includes packaging as they work to create a better home and daily life across the globe. Pour asked the audience a simple question to start, “Where will the future hit?” Space10 explores this question every day in the following ways: 

  • Space10 put emphasis on innovation in areas like clean energy, autonomous mobility, digital products, sustainable food, and augmented reality striving to see patterns where most see chaos and incorporating playfulness with insights. Pour noted the importance of data and reports, but making them more engaging to its audience. 
  • The future will be new things in new places – not new things in old places. Space 10 has created open source digital files as an example of this. In order to preserve ecosystem services such as pollination, Space10 created free digital files that can be downloaded by anyone. These files contain bee home templates that can  be customized and printed at a local makerspace, making this innovation inclusive of new things in new places.

The final speakers, Paul Kerns of Miliken and David Rakowski of PA Consulting, honed in on best practices for predicting what the future of single-use plastics will look like. Rakowski noted we will never exactly predict the future, but most of us will be right about facets of the whole picture. This is where FutureWorlds™ comes in. FutureWorlds™ is a framework for predicting multiple future scenarios or outcomes instead of  a single future. 

When it comes to single-use plastics, Miliken, a plastic additive producer, posed the questions, “What will the market for single-use packaging be like in 2030?”, and, “What role might additives have to enable a circular life of plastics”? 

Miliken and PA worked collaboratively to: 

  • Gather as much information as they could including interviewing resin producers, governments, brands, and recyclers. Once the interviews were completed they worked up a list of uncertainties. The key drivers were recognized, grouped, and debated tirelessly. This led to the FutureWorlds ™. 
  •  Policy and technology were established as the dominant drivers used to shape the four FutureWorlds ™ scenarios PA and Miliken developed. Rakowski walked the audience through two of the most extreme worlds: Lean Machine and Frontier World. 
  • The Lean Machine World is governed by joint policy, meaning there is a global convergence on plastics, with high regulation and data-based government decision-making on end of life infrastructure. Oppositely, the Frontier Worldlacks regulations, abundant choices for materials, and many end-of-life options making recycling uneconomical and fragmented.
  • Rakowski expressed that while we are unable to state which scenario is most likely, the world will give us signals that will guide us to take action. Then, Kerns applied this thinking to the second question, “What role might additives have to enable a circular life of plastics”? Miliken established that additives can aid manufacturing factors like melt flow, impact resistance, shrinkage, and help eliminate multi-layer packaging, all adding up to more circularity. 

So what do a vision, design lab, and a FutureWorld ™ have in common? They all provided the Virtual SPC Advance audience with novel ways to view the sustainability challenges ahead beyond packaging. The rationale is to spread this information throughout your networks to get them thinking about the future not as a final destination but as a direction for where we can successfully prepare for a more sustainable future.