For sustainable development to be achieved, it is crucial to harmonize three core elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. These elements are interconnected and all are crucial for the well-being of individuals, businesses and societies.

Packaging plays a critical role in the efficient use of resources to get a product from the farm to the consumer. Sustainable packaging protects the product, extends its shelf life, ensures that the product is safe for the consumer to use and can drastically reduce waste throughout the supply chain.

As a global leader in the packaging industry, with over 300 sites in more than 40 countries, Amcor provides innovative packaging solutions to many of the world’s leading consumer brands. The company continues to make important progress in developing and delivering packaging that maximizes its benefits and limits adverse effects on the environment.

We spoke to David Clark, Vice President of Safety Environment & Sustainability at Amcor, to find out more about the sustainable solutions the company are offering and how their “EnviroAction” programme continues to drive improvements in environmental performance throughout the company. David will also be speaking at the Responsible Business Forum Singapore, on 24 November 2016, about Amcor’s role and opportunities in ocean conservation, and what kind of partnership are needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life Below Water.

Interview with David Clark for Responsible Business SDG Center

1. Amcor recently released its latest Sustainability Report for 2016 titled, ‘Creating a new world of packaging’. Could you tell us about some of the performance highlights you are most proud of and why?

In our 2016 Sustainability Review, we’ve demonstrated how packaging adds value to society and how we are working with key partners to reduce externalities associated with packaging. Our latest report highlights packaging designs and materials that have lower environmental footprints, better protect their contents, are easier to recycle and/or use recycled materials.  In terms of our operational footprint, we outperformed on all three of our ‘EnviroAction’ goals; we reduced GHG emissions by 28%, waste-to-landfill by 62%, and water use by 25% on an intensity level since our 2011 baseline.  In regards to reducing the negative impacts of post-consumer packaging, we joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy to work toward an economy in which plastics never become waste as well as the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance. Our partnership with the World Food Programme provides technical and financial assistance so that more food can be delivered safely to those who need it most.  We see many more opportunities ahead and will report on our progress again in our 2017 report.

2. Since the integration of Amcor’s EnviroAction goals back in 2011, what environmental and social issues have seen the most progress and in your opinion which have proven tougher than expected?

Today, a company is expected to manage the environmental and social impacts of its operations. When we first set our EnviroAction targets in 2008 to reduce GHG emissions, waste-to-landfill, and water use, we were ahead of the curve. More companies now have goals such as these, which is a positive change. In recent years we’ve seen a growing importance for companies to manage the impact of their products after they’ve been sold and used.  Increasing the recovery and recycling of packaging has increased more slowly than we would like.  It’s a complex problem involving many stakeholders, but Amcor is excited to be one of the first movers in this space- a packaging company giving serious attention to the impact of post-consumer packaging.

3. The company has a big presence and impact in countries all over the world. How have you managed to balance the two crucial issues of environmental responsibility and continued growth?

Indeed- Amcor has about 200 operating sites in 44 countries around the world. Our size and the scope of our operations has been an advantage in achieving our environmental goals. For example, as a company with its origins in Australia, social and environmental responsibility is embedded in our organizational values, which we apply no matter where we are.

During the last 5 years, we have successfully grown our business while reducing our greenhouse gas, waste and water footprints.  We’ve done this through efficiency improvements in our operations, and through more environmentally friendly product designs and material developments.

Our sustainability leaders communicate regularly and share learnings to improve our environmental performance across all geographies. When we grow through acquisitions, more packaging is made with its impact being considered. For example, new sites must begin reporting their GHG emissions, waste-to-landfill, and water use and work toward reductions.

4. Since the implementation of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development goals last year, what commercial risks and opportunities arise for a company like Amcor?

We were excited to see the release of the SDGs, particularly #2 (Zero Hunger), #12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and #14 (Life Below Water) and welcome the opportunity to collaborate with others to achieve them. For example, our partnership with the World Food Programme demonstrates that packaging serves a need in society and that Amcor can help deliver safe food to people in need. The WFP and Amcor partnership has been valuable in allowing more beneficiaries in challenging humanitarian contexts to be reached with well-packaged, safe and nutritious food. During the first year of the partnership, Amcor provided rapid technical guidance on the quality of packaging material and integrity of the packaging for specific foods, thanks to which WFP was able to deliver safer, nutritious and good quality aid to its beneficiaries. This partnership is an opportunity for our co-workers to use their skills in the design and application of packaging to support the goal of ending hunger.

We were the first packaging converter to become a core member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy and would like others to join the mission of creating a circular economy for plastic packaging. Post-consumer packaging is a resource and should be recognized as such. We support the Recycling Partnership, to strengthen curbside recycling infrastructure in the US, and Project Reflex, REDCycle, and Materials Recovery for the Future, all of which focus on the issue of flexible package recycling. The goal to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” is also relevant for Amcor because of the effects of marine debris, much of which is plastic. Amcor is engaged in several projects to mitigate this. Our membership in the Trash Free Seas Alliance allows us to collaborate with other industry members and customers to reduce plastic leakage into the ocean.  Each year 15 of our co-workers accompany a scientist on an expedition through the Earthwatch Institute. For the last two years, the research has focused on marine debris. I had the privilege of accompanying our co-workers this year to Bali. We learned firsthand how culture must be taken into account when developing sustainable solutions for environmental problems such as marine debris. These partnerships strengthen our technical capabilities and demonstrate to our co-workers how their work can have a positive impact on the world.

5. The company’s partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) has helped improve lives in some of the most volatile regions around the world. What do you feel is the role of global partnerships in finding solutions to the complex problems we face going forward?

At Amcor, we rely on partnerships to tackle the toughest problems. No one company or organization can resolve world hunger or end plastic leakage into the ocean on its own.

For a global partnership to be successful, each participant must give from their strengths. For example, in addition to financial resources, we have talented co-workers who know how to design, manufacture, and test packaging for food and medical products. We are happy to deploy this knowledge toward improving food delivery for those in need.

6. And finally tell us what do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the packaging sector in the next 20 years and how is Amcor equipped to tackle these challenges?

Packaging, and plastic packaging in particular, has many negative connotations. Educating people about the positive contributions packaging makes to society and the environment is a big challenge. Packaging’s first role is to preserve food and keep it safe until it reaches its destination, reducing food waste and safeguarding the energy, water, land, and other resources that went into making it.  But there is also a lot of value in packaging that completed its mission. We must figure out how to capture the value of those resources through recovery and recycling.