by Greg Kishbaugh
World Wildlife Fund is an instantly recognizable institution, one of the world’s largest conservation organizations, active in more than 80 countries and supported by more than five million members. It is unquestionably identified largely by its laudable efforts in protecting animal species throughout the world. But the NGO is also heavily focused on a tangential area: that of packaging and the need to reduce its environmental footprint.
At the recent Ford Trend Conference, Erin Simon, SPO, Packaging and Material Science, Market Transformation for World Wildlife Fund, spoke about how WWF and its network of corporate sponsors are focusing on the best ways in which to design, produce and use packaging for the best environmental results.
At the event, Simon spoke on the Greentopia session panel, along with Andy Hoffman, Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, Scott Vitters, Manager of the PlantBottle packaging program at the Coca-Cola Company, and John Viera, Global Director of Sustainability for Ford Motor Company. The conference itself was not specifically geared toward sustainability but WWF’s interest in packaging was big news indeed and quickly became a focal point of interest for the attendees.
The WWF believes firmly in partnering with business to affect the most change. After all, its mission to preserve the world’s most ecologically important regions brings the NGO into constant contact with the businesses that operate in those regions. “[Our strategy] is not about educating seven billion consumers or even 1.5 billion producers,” said Simon, “but to work with those 300-500 companies that buy or sell 70 percent of the things we care about.”
Simon spent 10 years with Hewlett Packard in the company’s packaging design department; it was at HP that she first crossed paths with WWF. She realized that the NGO had huge holes in its understanding of packaging and Simon knew she could merge her packaging expertise with her passion for conservation. Hoping to affect change on a global scale, she joined WWF two years ago.
“The conversation is changing now,” said Simon. “The packaging industry has always had to be on defense. The conversation has to change to why packaging is important. The work I am doing is a part of that. We are growing, we have more and more companies who are coming to us and saying, ‘Yes, talk to us more about systems thinking,’ talking about packaging not in a vacuum, not separate from the product, but about how it adds value and is part of the whole.”
Current business partners bring packaging ideas to Simon and they work together on ways to improve them from the vantage point of sustainability. Simon believes that when packaging is viewed as part of the whole, not a single issue, companies can better develop sustainable solutions for it.
“It’s so exciting to see these conversations happen and people sharing these technologies,” she said, “but it’s just the beginning. We are trying to make sustainability the norm, not the niche.”