Let me introduce you to SPRING, which stands for the Sustainable Packaging Research, Information, and Networking Group. It’s a virtual think tank that helps policy makers, the media, business leaders, and thought leaders make effective decisions about the creation, use, and regeneration of packaging, thus providing optimum environmental, economic, and social value to consumers and their communities.
The group encompasses scientists, consultants, engineers, thought leaders, and packaging practitioners both across and within all types of packaging: paper, plastic, glass, metal, biomaterials, etc.
Our efforts are based on sound science, transparency, and respect for those with whom we both agree and disagree. Personal attacks, self-promotion, and political agendas are not tolerated.
My LinkedIn page has been converted into a SPRING global forum for the exploration of all issues that impact sustainable packaging decision making. Anyone can participate in our public discussions. Simply request to be connected to us, or to follow us.
Why did you start it?
I started thinking about this concept in 1995, when working on a project called the Center for Informed Decision Making. The goal then is the same as it is now: help ensure that future decisions regarding the environment, and what was then called sustainable development, are based on sound science.
I decided to get serious about the idea about six months ago, as the amount of misinformation regarding plastics and other packaging materials was starting to build at an exponential rate. I also realized that after about 30 years as a sustainable packaging consultant, I now have the contacts, expertise, experience, and hopefully the credibility, to bring SPRING to life.
How does SPRING function?
We have four levels of participants, all with sterling reputations and credentials in the fields of material science, packaging, food safety & waste, mechanical and chemical recycling, environmental policy and law, and supply chain management. The top level is my Advisory Board — people with both recognized management and functional expertise. They help guide the direction of SPRING, as well as provide years of operating experience to the group.
The core level is our Subject Matter Experts (SME), who are academics, engineers, and scientists. There is a great combination of university intellectuals and hardnosed businesspeople. This grouping sometimes makes for fiery discussions, but ensures that we see issues from multiple perspectives and develop multiple solutions.
The next group are people that could in fact be SMEs, but for personal reasons or for legal reasons related to their employers, are known as Personal Contributors. This was merely a creative way for me to build my “dream team” without stepping on political hands and feet.
Finally, we have a few young PhDs and post-docs who are doing research for us. Over time, we’d love to see that the work they do with us, and on their own, allows them to grow into SME roles.
You can see the entire list of participants, and learn more about them, by going to https://www.springpack.net/about. You’re free to ask any of our experts for help or advice. I think you’ll be amazed with whom you’ll be interacting, and their interest in helping you to make better sustainable packaging decisions.
How do you get paid for your work?
We don’t, at least not directly. Most of us are close to retirement and are simply looking to apply what we’ve learned over the last 30-40 years and in effect “give back.
Also, we don’t take donations, as we want to maintain both our independence and credibility. However, if organizations wish to hire any of our SMEs for consulting work, they’re free to do so.
What’s your position on plastics?
We are anti-waste, both in terms of energy and materials. We take no position on materials, as we want the biggest toolbox available when looking at solutions for specific applications and packages. Most problems are global. But most solutions need to be local, requiring us to be as open-minded as possible.
That stated, most of our expertise is in plastics, because it’s the group of materials about which the public, media, and policymakers are most concerned. However, we are constantly building out our expertise in paper, metals, and glass as well.
What are you working on now?
We’ve created a Sustainable Packaging Roadmap, which lays out our definition of sustainable packaging along with key objectives, strategies, and tactics needed to get there. It’s on our website at https://www.springpack.net/roadmap.
If you look at that page, you’ll see our “Sustainable Packaging Wheel” at the top (and shown at the top of this article).
On November 18, which is the 25th anniversary of Use Less Stuff Day (something I started with renowned “garbologist” William (Bill) Rathje), we will release a full presentation that helps packaging developers and decision makers to create more sustainable packaging, and do so for any city, state, country, or continent on the planet.
We’re also working on four position papers that will dive deeper into key topics related to both this roadmap and general interest regarding packaging policy. These are:
- The value of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and best implementation practices;
- The identification and prevention of greenwashing;
- Strategies to improve the effectiveness of mechanical recycling; and
- The value of chemical recycling along with ways to improve its odds of success.
Where can I learn more?
Robert (Bob) Lilienfeld has been involved in sustainable packaging for 25 years, working as a marketing executive, consultant, strategic planner, editor, writer, and communications expert. He’s President of Robert Lilienfeld Consulting, working with materials suppliers, converters, trade associations, retailers, and brand owners.