Procure. Research. Develop. (12) Steps To Sustainable Packaging

You’re blazing through your calendar app, lining up appointments, noting approaching deadlines, and getting the weeks ahead in order. Your eyes drift up to “February 2021” in the title bar. A new year, and that means another year gone by.

And how things have changed. You’ve lived through a pandemic that upended not just the packaging industry, but global society. In spite of the challenges, you’ve furthered your career by leveraging your best assets: coworkers, customers, and ultimately yourself.

In our last two blog posts, we discussed procurement and research & development while touching on sustainability. Now, in this roundup, we’ll examine sage insights for building a sustainable packaging firm.

Sustainable Procurement: A Sound Choice For A Better Tomorrow

Sustainability is the name of the game in the packaging industry. Aligning your procurement efforts with your sustainability strategy can go a long way towards becoming an industry leader in sustainable packaging.

Writing for Industrial Packaging, David Roberge notes:

“It doesn’t always have to be a drastic change in business practices, even simple changes can make a difference. There are many benefits that come along with being sustainable, and going greener with packaging brings many along with it.”

One step for companies procuring packaging is using smaller packaging. This reduces the amount of material needed and as Roberge points out, it shrinks the:

“Space required for transport, allowing you to ship more product than you had prior while still reducing your freight costs. This helps you cut down on the number of transports you have to make which saves you money in the long run.”

From : 6 Benefits Of Sustainable Packaging

Fewer transports may also reduce the greenhouse gases emitted by semis, ships, and the like. Your choice of transport matters too. Packaging firm Ebro Color notes:

“Businesses aiming to be sustainable need to assess their distribution channels to find ways to use them more efficiently and to consider alternative means of transport. Rail transport for goods, where it is possible, has a lower environmental impact that [is ] moving the same volume by road.”

From: Sustainable Packaging: Why Should We Care?

Another way to increase sustainability through procurement is building a circular economy. William Brittlebank writes for ClimateAction.org:

“Opportunities are sought to use recycled materials in their production and to facilitate subsequent recycling so that, after becoming waste, they can again be transformed back into a resource, thereby furthering the implementation of a circular economy in the packaging industry.”

From: Packaging design to prevent waste and emissions

‘Recycle’ is perhaps the hottest word in sustainability. However, during procurement ‘reuse’ may produce even more benefits. Kim Overstreet quotes Martin Blacher, the Director of Sustainability at Bockatech, who argues for:

“Low cost durable containers that allow innovative reuse models at scale.”

Blacher further states:

“Reuse is throwing down a challenge to materials and packaging manufacturers to come up with new solutions that really suit this format of packaging.”

From: Innovations in Reuse – a Sustainable Solution

Of course, recycle and reuse need not be one or the other. Both can contribute to systemic efforts to improve sustainability. Stepping back to consider larger systems, McKinsey experts Peter Berg, David Feber, Anna Granskog, Daniel Nordigården, and Suku Ponkshe ask:

“Can system-level approaches, including collaboration along the value chain, make our approach to packaging more sustainable?”

The answer:

“To truly achieve significant progress toward sustainable packaging, changes to the broader packaging and recycling system will be required where development and implementation costs are also much higher—and will be difficult to achieve by individual stakeholders.”

From: The drive toward sustainability in packaging—beyond the quick wins

High costs may scare some off, but by working together, packaging companies and their customers can share burdens and drive sustainability. Continued research and development will also contribute to a more sustainable future.

R&D Lights The Way To A Greener Future

R&D builds the future. Yet, the future is uncertain. Throughout the years, many of the world’s best and brightest have failed in their forecasts. So how can we predict where research and development will take us? Jana Iverson suggests:

“By analyzing emerging technology, global packaging trends, and market projections, we can get a pretty good glimpse into what the packaging industry will potentially look like by 2028 and beyond.”

Iverson bravely jumps into bold predictions for the years ahead, noting:

“As the world moves towards more advanced and sustainable methods, packaging manufacturers and consumers will benefit from efforts that will revolutionize customer experience, manufacturing & shipping, and environmental protection.”

From: Future of Packaging: Technology & Design in 10 Years and Beyond

This brings us back to sustainability, R&D, and innovation. Writing in Forbes, Matt Jones takes a gander at the world’s leading tech companies:

“Most of today’s top global tech companies got where they are very quickly. Their products and services are in a constant cycle of innovation to avoid being outdone by their peers or by disruptive startups.”

Jones further suggests a data-driven approach to R&D, noting:

“Data can also make R&D more cost-effective. It reduces research time by guiding research scientists to experiments with the highest chance of success and dismissing unproductive routes. Making R&D data accessible reduces duplication of research and allows new discoveries which may otherwise not have been considered.”

From: How To Gain A Competitive Advantage With Your Research And Development Data

Research and development can promote sustainability. Writing in the Harvard Business Review back in 2008, Andrew Shapiro states:

“R&D, of course, is a core driver of product innovation and critical to staying ahead in any changing market. Sustainability, in turn, is a lens on innovation that is becoming increasingly important in diverse industries – from energy and transportation to consumer products.”

From: Make Green R&D a Competitive Advantage

One area of active research that could drive sustainability is simplifying packaging. Writing in R&D World, Dr. Bob Maughon and Dr. Mark Jones urge us to simplify packaging, noting:

“Most users are unaware of the technical complexity contained in the packaging they encounter. Many packages are made up of multiple layers, with layers for structure, for barrier and for aesthetics. Multiple materials complicate recycling so efforts to provide more functionality from the same base resins continue to be ripe for innovation.”

From: R&D Efforts to Make Plastic More Sustainable

Ultimately, our products, packaging, and indeed global society as a whole are what we design them to be. Writing for Recycling Today, Megan Smalley quotes Joe Iles from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation who says:

“Everything is designed – from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat, and the buildings we live in. Considering the principles of the circular economy at the design stage can have a huge influence over how such items are produced, used, and what happens to them after use.”

From: DS Smith establishes Circular Design Principles for packaging

So when approaching R&D, it’s important to design it to be sustainable from the get-go. Let’s wrap this up with a wise quote from Amit Kalantri in Wealth of Words:

“Research doesn’t assure definite rewards, but it assures lesser risk.”

From: Wealth of Words

The Big Takeaway

It’s hard to say just how your packaging R&D efforts will pay off. Yet if you want to remain competitive over the long haul, R&D is a must. And packaging companies serious about building a sustainable future will have to ante up the resources to develop sustainable new products and to rework inefficient processes.


What does R&D have to do with recruiting? EVERYTHING! How to find the best and brightest thinkers in the packaging industry if you don’t know what they look like? We get innovation. We get thinking outside the box.

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Digitalization And Rapid Transformation In The Packaging Industry

Shopping may never be the same. Go back to 2019, and for many, shopping meant swinging by your favorite grocery store on the way home from work, or else popping into Best Buy for a gadget. And perhaps the UPS truck dropped off a package on the porch.

Now? The Amazon Fresh driver is pulling into the driveway in ten minutes, give or take. Then you’ve got to stop by Walmart for a curbside pickup order placed through an app. Walmart’s out of the secret sauce you like, but fortunately, you found it on the Kroger app. And your vitamins are in the mail, or was it UPS?

Consumers have felt the full impact of digitalization in recent months. Companies big and small are also feeling the influence and are utilizing digitalization to reshape operations and business models.

Wondering what digitalization means? There are so many terms tossed around these days, it’s hard to keep them straight. Fortunately, Gartner provides a succinct definition that suits the packaging industry well:

“Digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.”

Ultimately, digital transformation may improve business models, increase customer engagement, and generate valuable data. Change for the packaging industry could be immense.

We often think of packaging in physical terms, such as boxes, labels, and containers. However, digitalization is shaking up supply lines and packaging is gaining a digital life of its own. So let’s look at what transformation could mean for your business.

Honing Your Competitive Edge With Digitalization

It’s tempting to view digitalization as a threat to the packaging industry. If more things go digital, doesn’t that reduce the need for paper and packaging? Yes, but digitalization also creates opportunities. Writing for Bain, Ilkka Leppävuori, Will Poindexter, and Oliver Straehle note:

“Contracts, invoices and everyday communication flow without paper, and consumers are switching from print magazines and newspapers to online and mobile versions. There is, however, another side of the digital story in paper and packaging, one that creates opportunities for cost savings and product innovations with new revenue streams.”

Leppävuori, Poindexter, and Straehlefurther further state:

“Digital transformation offers tremendous opportunity in the paper and packaging industry, but success will require a significant investment in new talent and capabilities, as well as careful prioritization.”

Markets drive competition, and competition necessitates transformation. That means embracing emerging opportunities to spur innovation. Digital technologies hold a lot of promise for packaging firms, enabling smart packaging and allowing organizations to better control supply chains. Alexandre Pauchard, Head of Group R&D, BOBST, points out that:

“By and large, digitalization is not just the implementation of digital technologies into existing business architectures; it is about questioning existing business logic in the light of new possibilities offered by the latest digital technologies.”

Pauchard goes further, noting:

“The packaging industry is also undergoing a profound transformation, with brand owners shaking its value chain. They are under pressure from competition, market expectation and new local brands to reduce new product cycle times, from packaging design to arrival on the shelves.”

Pauchard also argues that the “packaging value chain remains segmented and poorly interconnected,” and suggests that:

“Through digitalization, the entire production chain will become more transparent, agile and flexible. Across the whole production workflow, timely decisions are made possible. We are entering a period where connected systems will contribute data to the entire production process for faster and precise optimization.”

As globalization has reshaped the world, managing supply chains has proven difficult. There are so many touchpoints, and countless products and assets are in constant motion. Writing for PTC, Prema Srinivasan says:

“Assets along the whole value chain will continuously send and receive information. Key data from raw materials suppliers to manufacturers to customers will be harvested and utilized. This will result in greater energy efficiency and less waste.”

And as digital transformation steams ahead, labels are especially promising.

Wondering how else technology could impact the packaging industry? Check out our blog (10) Key Insights From 2019 That Every Packaging Executive Must Know!

With Labels, Knowledge is Power

Some consumers rarely notice the labels on packaging and the products themselves. However, for companies, labels are essential for controlling supply chains and maintaining flexibility. Markets are more cutthroat now than ever before and efficiency is king. Those companies that can best streamline their supply chains are in a better position to compete. As Josh Roffman puts it in Packaging Strategies:

“Globalization and digital technologies are changing business, especially as companies look to accelerate growth and expand into new markets. To do this, companies must create efficiencies in their supply chain and be able to address complex and ever-changing supply chain dynamics.”

The Internet, improved shipping, and yes, improved packaging solutions, have made globalization possible. Globalization has spurred economic development in many countries and lowered the costs of goods for consumers.

Yet controlling vast supply chains can feel like herding cats. Josh Roffman notes in another article:

“As companies expand their supply chain to include new partners and regions, they need better visibility to ensure quality and faster reaction to events — from fake or falsified goods to counterfeit parts to faulty products that impact customer safety (which is especially critical when it comes to food and beverage).”

Improved and more intelligent labels may bring order to chaos. Roffman further points elucidates:

“The label provides that essential link so that companies can capture specific product information, which may include certificates of origin, PO numbers, lot numbers — all of which can be used to link back to the source.”

Big companies controlling massive supply chains dominated the first phase of globalization. In recent years, an increasing number of small and medium-sized enterprises have aggressively built global linkages. Now, producers must be more agile, catering to SMEs placing an increasing number of small orders. Writing in the Packaging Newsletter, Sebastian Reisig argues:

“Packaging producers need to adjust their production capabilities to handle a larger number of smaller orders, making their entire supply chain, from design to the final product, more agile. This transformation requires more digitalization, more automation and more data sharing across the entire production workflow with machines talking to machines for more intelligent and timely decisions, enabling ‘just in time’ packaging production.”

While we often think of labels in physical terms, digitalizing them is now essential for businesses big and small. The right online platforms allow companies of any size to more efficiently and effectively manage their labels, and thus their supply chain. Ken Moir, vice president of marketing at NiceLabel suggests:

“One further step is to move your labelling system to the cloud. As cloud capabilities become available to all businesses, not just large enterprises, using label management SaaS solutions mean that all your data is stored in a central location.”

Digitalization will continue to drive transformation in the decades ahead. Many of tomorrow’s most competitive companies may embrace digitalization to improve supply chains, increase agility, and provide transparency. This could include better labeling, leveraging the Internet-of-things (IoT), and utilizing as much data as possible.


What does this have to do with recruiting? EVERYTHING! Adopting cutting edge technology hones your competitive edge. The same is true with your senior leadership. When you retain us to find a cutting edge leader for your organization, we seek nothing less than the savvy executive that will elevate your brand.

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Gaining A Competitive Edge With Sustainable Procurement

The shipping warehouse bustles, workers moving supplies and materials in, sending products and packaging out. Everyone’s rushing to meet tight timelines and keep customers happy. You’re hitting the daily milestones, checking off must-dos on the list. Yet a constant question haunts your thoughts: are operations as efficient as they can be?

It’s not only about cutting costs, not anymore.

It’s about the trash piling mountain high in landfills, the litter clogging up streams, and forests falling to chainsaws and fires. Rising temperatures and oceans too, hurricanes growing stronger.

Sustainability has moved from a high-minded goal for some, to a necessary pursuit for all. Packaging is part of the greater equation. And that means procurement is a vital variable for packaging companies and their clients.

Reduce waste. Increase efficiency. Produce better outcomes. Through optimizing your procurement process, and helping your clients optimize theirs, it’s possible.

It won’t be easy, but great accomplishments rarely are. That’s why we’re going to cover some strategies and concepts that will help you build a sustainable procurement process and create the team buy-in necessary to run an environmentally friendly packaging company.

Leveraging Procurement to Champion Sustainability

Sound, effective procurement will allow you to keep costs low and protect your competitive edge. Done right, procurement can also help you become more sustainable.

Writing in FleetOwner, Matt Clark sums up procurement and competitive advantages nicely:

“The fundamental purpose of all sourcing and procurement activity is to utilize the external market and suppliers in an optimal manner in order to gain a competitive advantage. Every item or service being sourced should contribute, directly or indirectly, towards competitive positioning.”

Elsewhere, Mr. Clark discusses the need for strategic sourcing, which we can define as a “systematic approach to purchasing items needed for your business.” He further outlines four key objectives for sourcing in a strategic manner:

  1. Reduce overall costs
  2. Eliminate waste and wasteful processes
  3. Make your organization and yourself more efficient
  4. Provide visibility into what is going on

Accomplishing the above can go a long way towards sustainability. Reducing costs may first pop into the mind of many procurement specialists. With sustainability, however, the other three points are just as crucial.

Reducing waste and increasing efficiency improves your environmental footprint while also increasing competitiveness. Yet cutting waste is easier said than done. Writing for North Carolina State University, Rhonda Sherman, a Solid Waste Specialist, suggests:

“The most direct way to cut your disposal costs is with source reduction: that is, by reducing the amount of waste your business produces. You have less to get rid of if you purchase and discard less material. By analyzing your business’ waste stream, you will probably discover that you can eliminate much of the waste your business produces.”

Picking through your own trash to identify where you generate waste may not sound like much fun, yet it’s a great way to discover opportunities to increase efficiency.

Reducing waste helps improve efficiency, but there are other steps you can take as well. “Lean procurement” -championed by manufacturers like Toyota- can help you reduce waste, encourage efficient procurement processes, and support responsive suppliers. What might this look like? In his article “Applying Lean Thinking to Procurement” Paul A. Myerson writes:

“By applying Lean principles to procurement and purchasing processes, businesses experience multiple benefits throughout the supply chain.”

Akin to lean manufacturing, lean procurement is demand driven. In light of this, Mr. Myerson further suggests that:

“The companies in a supply chain work more closely together to sense and shape market demand by sharing information and collaborating with each other. By doing so, they achieve greater and more timely visibility into demand.”

Remembering Matt Clark’s fourth point -improving visibility- both internally and externally, helps with tracking sustainability campaigns and gleaning insights from your efforts. To increase transparency and thus visibility, Sydney Wess suggests:

“Enveloping sustainability into a formalized procurement policy will provide your company with a foundation of sustainable expectations to guide your decision-making surrounding the supply chain. This policy, once rolled out to your staff, will showcase your transparency on the topic, encouraging all members of the team to take more actionable steps toward sustainability in their roles relating to procurement.”

So far, we’ve talked mostly about how you can reform procurement processes to encourage sustainability. As we see above, however, sustainable procurement also means making environmentally friendly decisions.

Instilling a Sustainable Culture Among Your Procurement Team (and Others!)

Your procurement department is people-driven. While artificial intelligence and other technologies enable data-empowered decision making, employees are still making the key choices. And when it comes to procurement, you should never forget the human side.

To encourage sustainable choices, you must establish a strong sustainability culture. As University of Virginia management professor Tom Bateman writes in GreenBiz:

“Your sustainability culture can be strong or weak. A strong one exists if people share a belief in sustainability’s importance and behave in ways that support it — including making decisions that balance long-term considerations with short-term needs.”

Many packaging leaders take sustainability seriously. However, efforts may fall short if other employees fail to buy in. Phillip Barlag warns in “3 Hidden Killers Of Sustainability Programs”:

“Sustainability as a corporate program often finds itself isolated and not true to the core of the business. When this happens, people outside the sustainability group don’t really know what these initiatives are, why they exist, and most importantly–why they should care.”

When it comes to procurement, this could prove especially troublesome since managers and ground staff are often making key choices, not the C-Suite. Your procurement team (among others) needs to embrace the sustainability process.

So how do you build a company culture that encourages everyone to go green? Paul Polman & CB Bhattacharya argue that:

“The key to creating a vibrant and sustainable company is to find ways to get all employees—from top executives to assembly line workers—personally engaged in day-to-day corporate sustainability efforts.”

Mr. Barlag echoes these sentiments:

“Have conversations inside your company and involve as many people as you can. The more input you get, the more likely you are to get buy-in.”

Your company doesn’t have to go it alone either. Discuss sustainability with your suppliers. But also talk sustainability with your competitors! Writing in Fast Company, Phillip Barlag suggests:

“Companies can and should compete in the markets, but as it pertains to sustainability, demonstrating to your people that even your competitors have something useful to say on sustainability will set the tone for a culture of honesty and openness.” Of course, not every competitor will share their secrets. You can encourage openness by sharing sustainability insights yourself first. Sustainability requires leadership, and throughout your procurement process and in the larger market, you can lead by example.


What does sustainable procurement have to do with executive recruiting? EVERYTHING! Leaders who champion sustainability can turn procurement into a strength and ensure buy-in at every level.

Chase & Associates 
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Change Is Constant, Vibrant R&D Keeps You Ahead Of The Curve

Forty years ago, computers were still a niche technology. Now, a computer stares back at you on the desk, another one, your smartphone, buzzes in your pocket. Go to grab your morning coffee, and you may find your cup automatically brewed. Decades of research and development have turned even the humble coffee machine into a simple computer.

The packaging industry also looked quite different 40 years ago. Some of today’s most pressing problems were barely a consideration. Online shopping was all but unheard of as people flocked to malls and big box stores. Scientists discussed sustainability, but urgency was often lacking. And while packaging provided branding opportunities, it wasn’t as  vital a distinguishing factor as it is today.

Now, the biggest brands use packaging to drive home their values and brand story. Apple’s packaging carries the same clean, uncluttered feel as its iPhones and Macs, for example. Head to the company’s website, and their emphasis on sustainability, recycled materials, and cutting waste is laid bare for the whole world to see.

Ultimately, we can view packaging as a strategic asset that empowers companies in pursuit of key values, such as sustainability. Yet progress doesn’t simply occur but is instead something we must strive for. Companies must invest in research today if they’re to develop tomorrow’s advanced packaging materials.

Cut-Throat Competition Demands Enlightened Research

History tells us of the Age of Enlightenment and various other golden eras the world over. Hundreds of years from now, people may look back to today as an Age of Innovation. As Matt Jones points out in Forbes:

“We live in an age of unprecedented innovation. Many of the world’s biggest companies and most ubiquitous technologies were unimaginable a decade or two ago.”

Research and development play a crucial role in innovation, but what drives R&D? Hark back to an Econ 101 class and you might recall markets and how competition drives them. The strong survive and thrive, while the weak perish. Companies don’t invest in R&D as a feel-good exercise but instead to improve their competitiveness.

Writing for McKinsey, Tom Brennan, Philipp Ernst, Joshua Katz, and Erik Roth state:

“At the core, they [companies] hope their R&D investments yield the critical technology from which they can develop new products, services, and business models. But for R&D to deliver genuine value, its role must be woven centrally into the organization’s mission.”

In regards to packaging, many of tomorrow’s most successful packaging firms will be the companies that invest in R&D today. Companies that fail to invest, on the other hand, may stagnate. Tom Brennan, Philipp Ernst, Joshua Katz, and Erik Roth conclude that:

“As organizations mature, innovation-driven growth becomes increasingly important, as their traditional means of organic growth, such as geographic expansion and entry into untapped market segments, diminish.”

The packaging industry is mature and “traditional means of organic growth” are often hard to come by. Yet through R&D, companies can enjoy innovation-driven growth, standing out even in intensely competitive markets.

Consumers can’t be forgotten amid the churn. Indeed, R&D should aim to satisfy consumers’ wants and needs. In Jenni Spinner’s Packaging Digest article “Consumer research propels packaging innovation,” shopper research expert Caroline Capel notes:

“When it comes to packaging, our overriding message continues to be to start early with consumer research for the best chance of success.  By examining consumer perceptions from the initial stages of development, companies are better able to ensure their strategies are successful; not only meeting consumers’ needs but also ensuring they engage with products more positively and, ultimately, purchase more.”

Markets and consumers will spur R&D, but to what end? Pumping up sales numbers is no longer enough. Now, the scope must be widened to consider the needs of the Earth itself. Fortunately, R&D may help us achieve sustainable aspirations.

Make Sustainable Dreams a Reality Through Innovation

It’s impossible to say where specifically research and development will take the packaging industry. The most innovative packaging products ten years from now may be things no one’s thinking about right now.

Still, it’s a safe bet that sustainability will drive many developments. Why? Quite simply, consumers and indeed our world demand it. Writing for PackHelp, Phil Forbes puts it this way:

“Many of us were brought up with the phrase ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ in our vocabulary. Today, it’s essential to your business that you reflect these same values. Not only to help the environment, but also increase brand loyalty amongst eco-conscious consumers.”

Already, sustainable packaging is a major focus for many organizations. Back in 2019, Rose Shilling sagely noted:

“One after another, food and beverage companies have declared plans to cut waste and move toward the ultimate goal: packaging materials that are reused over and over. Packaging suppliers and designers are engineering solutions to drive this shift without compromising on processors’ other priorities for product quality, manufacturing efficiency and more.”

Take a long walk along a local stream and you may find plastic soda bottles and other packaging bits floating in the water. It’s no surprise then that food packaging companies are investing in more sustainable packaging solutions. Indeed, through the “Paper Bottle Project,” Coca Cola hopes to go plastic free by 2022, an ambitious goal. Thomas Shambler outlines the project:

The initiative aims to develop eco-friendly plastics called PEF – which is made using plant sugars. Those will be used to line compostable cardboard bottles (similar to the plastic inside your take-away coffee cup – but one that biodegrades) and replace the need for regular plastics.

Shambler further states:

Studies have shown that PEF made from plant plastic decomposes almost entirely after just one year in a composter. It would take a few years longer if it was chucked away normally (but, importantly, it will biodegrade).

Biodegradable packaging materials will likely play a major role in the future. That said, “reuse” may also play a crucial part. Right now, many researchers are working towards establishing a circular economy that will eliminate waste and ensure that resources and materials are continuously reused.

Yet the reality today is far from the dream of a circular economy. Writing for Sphera, Sophie Kieselbach notes that countries that accept trash for recycling ultimately:

“…dispose of superfluous waste in endless landfills where part of it ends up as ocean plastic, or they burn it (illegally) in the open air, releasing noxious fumes over local settlements.”

Recycling is heavily promoted, but  it’s an inefficient process that still produces a lot of waste. Reusing materials, rather than recycling them, may offer a more sustainable approach. Regarding “reuse,” Kieselbach notes:

“It [reuse] may also necessitate more robust packaging materials that need to withstand washing and sterilization. It also needs to have well-built infrastructure to collect, wash, sterilize, refill and return the packaging to consumers.”

Reduce, reuse, recycle, indeed. Yet no matter the flavor, sustainability will be a major focus of packaging R&D in the years to come. And the right research and development efforts now could go a long way towards helping us build a greener, more environmentally-friendly global society.


What does research and development have to do with executive recruiting? EVERYTHING! R&D has always been a vital part of the packaging industry. We recruit forward thinkers for our elite clientele, and we’ll do the same for your organization.

Chase & Associates 
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(13) Insights Into How AI And Automation Will Revolutionize Packaging Now And For Years To Come

Up and down the supply chains that crisscross the country, packaging heroes have put in the sweat needed to keep society humming. Despite shutdowns in global travel and massive disruptions to supply lines, grocery shelves are well stocked, frontline workers now have access to PPE, and businesses are rising to the moment.

Make no mistake, it hasn’t been business as usual; it’s been a Herculean feat on the part of workers bustling across warehouse floors and packaging executives in hectic offices. Let’s tip our hats to those efforts.

All the while, companies are becoming nimbler by leveraging automation and AI to empower workers and help maintain social distancing. Technology adoption has increased in recent months, and packaging heroes will continue to embrace change, including automation and AI, after we beat COVID-19.

Wondering what artificial intelligence and automation could mean for the packaging industry? We wondered the same. That’s why we turned to some of the world’s brightest experts. Let’s see what they have to say.

Artificial Intelligence is Making the Packaging Industry Smarter

There’s a good chance you’ve heard “artificial intelligence” (AI) tossed around before. Maybe in your favorite sci-fi flick, or at a tech conference. But what does artificial intelligence actually mean?

One of the foundational pioneers of AI, Dr. Nils J. Nilsson, sheds light:

“Artificial intelligence is that activity devoted to making machines intelligent, and intelligence is that quality that enables an entity to function appropriately and with foresight in its environment”

From: One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100)

More recently, Brian Ka Chan put it this way:

“It [AI] includes anything that can make a decision and is not a living organism! Notice that this sets a very low bar for intelligence: any decision-making that isn’t simply random will count as intelligent.”

From: What is AI

Decision making is a key takeaway. Traditional software can analyze information on command and produce outputs. But at the end of the day, there’s still a human behind the machine.

AI ultimately aims for autonomous intelligence, or the ability to make decisions without human input. For the packaging industry, this could yield major breakthroughs.

AI delivers measurable improvements by empowering rather than replacing workers. As Ray Chalmers offers:

“AI covers a number of engineering-related goals: better predictive maintenance, the concept of zero downtime, clear traceability related to standards compliance and increased worker engagement. Indeed, “smart” devices—such as motors, controllers, sensors and more imparting improved algorithms to robots, conveyors, checkweighers and entire packaging lines—promise to engage workers rather than replace them.”

From: AI Packaging Defining Terms and Assessing Impact

It’s not just about warehouse floor improvements. Packaging has a huge influence on customers. Saloni Walimbe notes:

“In the retail space, packaging is often the first interaction that customers have with the product. It’s effective not just in attracting the customer’s interest, but also in offering a tangible way to connect with the product and understand its many aspects.”

From: How Automation Will Impact the Global Packaging Landscape

Good thing artificial intelligence can help packaging companies form relationships with consumers as well. Speaking to Kristiana Lalou at Packaging Insights, Alexandre Carvalho states:

“Thanks to smart packaging technology, every package sold can now carry a unique digital identifier, creating the opportunity for direct one-to-one conversations with consumers, as well as helping drive efficiencies across the entire supply chain.”

From: AI in Packaging: How artificial intelligence is driving the packaging industry forward

Many packaging companies rely on their sales team to drum up revenues. In the past, sales often felt like shooting in the dark, but AI can pull back the curtain, as John Boitnott notes:

“Using machine learning, these platforms analyze a variety of variables like word choice, or the ratio of time spent talking versus listening. The tools help analyze performance and coach salespeople to communicate more like your most successful sellers.”

From: 4 Ways Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) Can Transform Your Small Business

AI could also help when packaging is thrown out. Many packaging products can be recycled but sorting recyclables has proven difficult. Writing in Materials, Handling, & Logistics, Derric Brown says:

“AMP, which stands for Autonomous Manipulation and Perception, creates scalable robotic systems designed to reduce the cost of recycling while enabling “smart” recycling facilities by providing information on the efficiency of equipment and flow of materials.”

From: AI Offers a Smarter Path to Sustainable Packaging

Much of AI’s potential is tied up with automation, another important technological trend that could shake up the packaging industry. Let’s take a gander.

Automation is Empowering Workers and Improving Productivity

You may be familiar with automation. It’s been disrupting packaging for years. Need a catch up? Saloni Walimbe offers a succinct summary:

“In the modern era, technology is evolving at breakneck speed. Automation refers to the creation and application of technology toward monitoring and controlling activities associated with goods and services, from production to delivery. In essence, it refers to the digitization of tasks previously performed by human workers.”

From: How Automation Will Impact the Global Packaging Landscape

Automation holds a lot of promise for the packaging industry. Nathan Dube says:

“Fully automated packaging lines have recently been implemented more frequently due to several benefits. These reasons have historically revolved around cost savings, key performance indicators, and the streamlining and optimization of production.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, automation is even more important, as Nathan Dube further elucidates:

“However, today the biggest motivation for automating your packaging line is something else entirely. Putting a bold and extreme focus on protecting the health and safety of your people.”

From: Packaging Automation: A New Weapon In The War Against COVID

As machines play a bigger role in the workplace, some worry about declining craftsmanship. There’s a reason hand-made products often command a higher price. Still, David Roberge argues:

“Production line automation allows companies to leverage ingenuity and efficiency without sacrificing craftsmanship or quality. With an automated production line, you never have to worry about employees getting sick, you can rest assured that production levels will remain high, and you can feel confident knowing that the end product will be made to a consistently high standard.”

From: Why Robotic Packaging Automation is the Future

One specific automation technology, motion control, long a mainstay in manufacturing, is now among the most promising technologies for packaging. That’s why Mark Howard states in Packaging Strategies that:

“Packaging multiple products together requires synchronizing the incoming product, collating and grouping it, before transferring the product to a cartoning machine.  All of this is expected at high throughput. The efficiency of rapid changeover is one of the key advantages of motion control.”

From: Integrating Automation for Packaging Processes

We’re just beginning to understand the full impact of AI and automation. The technologies we use today may seem primitive in twenty years. Circling back to AI, Mike Thomas quotes venture capitalist Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, who believes:

“[AI] is going to change the world more than anything in the history of mankind. More than electricity.”

From: 7 ways AI can change the world for better … or worse

We can’t say for certain what lies ahead. Still, automation and AI are already empowering our workforce, increasing productivity, and making it easier to maintain social distancing. In the future, these technologies may have even more profound impacts on how we lead our lives and do business.


What does this have to do with recruiting? EVERYTHING! AI is disrupting the packaging industry, and the future promises even more change. When applicable, we find the disruptors that your organization needs to go to the next level.

Chase & Associates 
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Finding Your ‘Best Self’ In These Troubling Times

You’re in the middle of a long week, dark bags hang under your eyes. You need to finish a big project but a new hire needs help with a complex deliverable. Then the phone rings. You’re roped into a client call, troubleshooting problems and planning future endeavors. Finished, you’re out of one oven but into another frying pan. 

Hours later, you clock out, run some errands, and head home. In the living room, the kids are wrapping up remote classes and need help with their homework. Back to work you go. The sun sets. Dinner is served. Then the little ones are tucked in. Lights out, you find yourself tossing and turning through the night.

Endless problems and things to do, yet only so many hours in the day. If only you had some time for yourself. But team and family needs come before personal needs, right? Thinking about yourself is selfish, isn’t it? Wrong!

We must go above and beyond as the COVID-19 pandemic rages and other challenges arise. Yet to put in our best effort, we have to find our best selves. And that begins with taking care of ourselves.

Mental Well-Being Starts with Prioritizing Yourself

Many leaders are quick to put their company and team first. Even thinking about yourself may seem selfish, but you’re not going to perform at your best if you don’t take care of yourself. Writing on Medium.com, Clinical Psychologist Claire Nicogossian points out:

“Self-care is taking time to nurture yourself through activities which replenish energy and help manage stress. It is different than self-pampering: getting manicures, pedicures, taking baths or having a massage are nice activities, but it is not self-care. Self-care is taking care of your physical, emotional, social, mental/cognitive and spiritual parts of yourself.”

Dr. Nicogossian also notes that “Self-care is neither optional nor selfish, it is necessary…” Executive leadership coach Lolly Daskal goes even further, arguing that you must prioritize yourself.

“Regard yourself as priority number one. When people are stressed, they let themselves go and forget how important it is to make themselves a priority. But if you don’t, it becomes progressively harder to replenish your physical and mental energy. When that happens, you lose clarity and focus—and that, in turn, further depletes your well-being. It’s an unhealthy cycle, but it’s one you can end. If you want to stop feeling exhausted, start treating yourself as your own top priority”

Breaking the cycle is easier said than done, but you can take meaningful steps to reduce stress. Meditation has become a go-to for many people looking to reduce stress and improve well-being. Mindful meditation is especially promising as it’s relatively easy and you can perform it at your desk. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Julie Corliss states:

“The practice of mindful meditation involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future.”

Elsewhere, Corliss points out that mindful meditation:

“…helps you break the train of your everyday thoughts to evoke the relaxation response, using whatever technique feels right to you.”

Physical exercise offers another excellent way to improve mental well-being. Of course, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a busy career, hitting the gym is easier said than done. In Psychology Today, Dr. Patricia Harteneck suggests:

“Your body releases stress-relieving and mood-boosting endorphins before and after you work out, which is why exercise is a powerful antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. Look for small ways to add activity to your day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going on a short walk.’

Even a quick trip to the water cooler may help you reset and recharge. Another way to improve your mental health is reducing negative thoughts. If you’re constantly putting yourself down, negativity can snowball into an avalanche. Psychotherapist Amy Morin says:

“Identify and replace overly negative thoughts with thoughts that are more productive. Productive thoughts don’t need to be extremely positive, but should be realistic. A more balanced thought may be, ‘I have some weaknesses, but I also have plenty of strengths.’ Changing your thoughts requires constant monitoring, but the process can be instrumental in helping you become your best self.”

Once you become your best self, you’ll be in a better position to lead. And when it comes to your coworkers, remember their mental well-being is important too.

Your Best Self Can Uplift Others

By taking care of your mental well-being, you’ll be better positioned to aid family, coworkers, clients, and others. A well-rested and focused leader can more easily cope with stress and is better equipped to share burdens and help employees care for themselves.

So how do you support your employees’ mental well-being? Start by sharing your own experiences and challenges. As Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol put it in the Harvard Business Review:

“One silver lining of the pandemic is that it is normalizing mental health challenges. Almost everyone has experienced some level of discomfort. But the universality of the experience will translate into a decrease in stigma only if people, especially people in power, share their experiences.”

Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol also urge employers to check in with their employees. While checking in has always been important, it’s even more so now given how many people are working remotely and maintaining social distance. They suggest that you:

“Go beyond a simple “How are you?” and ask specific questions about what supports would be helpful. Wait for the full answer. Really listen, and encourage questions and concerns. Of course, be careful not to be overbearing; that could signal a lack of trust or a desire to micromanage.”

Elsewhere, Kelly Greenwood writes with Jen Porter and Bernie Wong to suggest that employers should establish mental health employee resource groups (ERGs) where people can share their stories and experiences.

“ERGs are created to build community among people with shared identities or experiences at work. When done thoughtfully, those that focus on mental health promote diversity and inclusion and provide support for employees managing symptoms of mental health conditions.”

Just remember, as you help others, you must continuously circle back and take care of yourself. Finding your best self will make it easier for you to lead others to a mentally healthier place. As Sharmishta Sivaramakrishnan and Peter Varnum point out:

“This moment calls for a new type of leadership: one in which leaders show strength through embracing vulnerability, and exercise wisdom through creating spaces in which their teams can be psychologically safe, innovative and open about their mental health – if they so choose.”

These days, many extraordinary leaders are going to great lengths to help others and society at large. That’s awesome! But don’t lose yourself in the shuffle.


What does this have to do with recruiting? Everything! We’ve been recruiting in the packaging industry for half a century. Over the years, one thing remains true, effective recruiting is about relationships, people, real human beings with real needs.

Chase & Associates 
We Have Your Back


Becoming A Stalwart Leader Amid Upheaval

As your cup of coffee steams on the table, you eye the front page of the newspaper and are immediately bombarded by conflicting headlines.

Stock markets are up, but the Gross Domestic Product contracted by 10% last month. And while the government is working on stimulus packages,  the unemployment rate remains high. As the pandemic rages, schools are closed, hospitals are full, the economy is uncertain, and you’re trying to make sense of it all.

Even the world’s leading economists can’t say what the future holds. So what are you supposed to tell your team? That the economy is fine, conditions will improve? Or it’s time to batten down the hatches and prepare for a downturn? There’s no easy answer.

Yet  your company is going to look to you for direction, if not answers. And you’ll  help your team come hell or high water. Excellent packaging leaders adapt to emerging challenges, and while they may not have all the solutions, they can effectively lead and communicate no matter the circumstances.

Easier said than done. While effective management is often enough during normal times, organizations need leaders to step forward.

Uncertainty Demands Leadership, Not Management

Effective management does not a leader make. A manager can use checklists, processes, and more to ensure projects are on track. And good management is often enough for “business as usual.” Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has forced decision makers to toss out their plans, and managers must now rise to become leaders.

What’s the difference? On his insightful blog, leadership coach Dave Stachowiak recalls a flight rerouted due to a blizzard, forcing the pilot to quickly shift from managing the flight, to leading it. Stachowiak points out:

“Management is following all the checklists and getting the plane safely to the destination, as planned. Leadership is determining what to do and where to go in an uncertain situation.”

Mattson Newell, from Partners in Leadership, sheds more light on the differences between a manager and leader. When it comes to managing, Newell argues:

“Effective management is a means to an end: it requires optimizing processes within an organization to generate favorable business outcomes. For the most part, doing so depends on leveraging proven skills and adhering to established policies to get the job done– in other words, working within the status quo to increase operational efficiencies and thereby generate better results.”

Unfortunately, “status quo” has been thrown out the window and effective management is no longer enough. Besides making tough choices and reacting to changing circumstances, leaders must unite people and strengthen relationships. As Newell puts it:

“Creating sustained alignment among employees is a hallmark of effective leadership — in fact, the fundamental difference between management and leadership is that leadership is necessarily human-centric. While managers build systems and processes, leaders build relationships.”

Right now, teams need leaders, not managers, who can act as guiding voices and who can respond to fast changing circumstances. This may mean setting aside plans, ignoring KPIs, and otherwise improvising. Writing for McKinsey, Andrea Alexander, Aaron De Smet, and Leigh Weiss put it this way:

“Leaders with the right temperament and character are necessary during times of uncertainty. They stay curious and flexible but can still make the tough calls, even if that makes them unpopular. They gather differing perspectives and then make the decisions, with the best interests of the organization (not their careers) in mind, without needing a full consensus.”

Okay, you understand leadership is important, but how do you identify leaders on your team? Alexander,  De Smet, and Weiss suggest looking for three traits:

  • Lived through a crisis (personal or professional) and shown their mettle and personal resilience.
  • Made a tough, unpopular decision because it was the right thing to do, despite the fact that they took heat for it and potentially burned bridges or spent social capital.
  • Willingly given bad news up the chain of command to leaders who didn’t want to hear it.

You may not find employees who currently check all the boxes, but many leaders are emerging and adapting to the crises besetting the packaging industry. And the last trait, effective communication, is something every organization can leverage to cope with the times.

Honest and Timely Communication Lights the Way

Leadership during times of uncertainty isn’t “just” about strategic decisions and navigating markets. Uncertainty is emotionally draining and stressful for leaders, employees, and external partners alike. Yet clear and effective communication can settle nerves.

A great leader can be a beacon of light,  guiding team members with reliable, clear, and honest communication. And given the state of the world today, constant communication is a must. As journalist and leadership guru Rebecca Knight states:

“As the coronavirus pandemic escalates and disruptions to business-as-usual continue, managers are grappling with the unknown. You don’t know when your employees will be able to return to the office or how different things will be when they do. Regardless, you need to be in constant communication with your team.”

Right now, many of your employees are worried about the future. Could your company be hit by layoffs? Will benefits or hours be cut? Building trust and rapport is important, and that means being open and honest with your team.

You may not always bear good news, and you may not have all the answers. That’s okay, communications extraordinaire Jennifer Benz puts it this way:

“You’re allowed to tell employees what you don’t know along with what you do know. Do acknowledge issues that you know are top-of-mind for employees (like layoffs or salary increases), but don’t delay communicating until you know every last detail—that’s how rumors get started and why employees start feeling like decisions are being made without them.”

Honesty and open communication will tamp down on rumors. By opening up communication, you can take charge of the message. And you can use the moment to drive home your company’s core values. Communication Studies and Organizational Science professor Cliff Scott suggests:

“Employees pay more attention to the messages they receive from supervisors and leaders in times of crisis. They’re also more likely to remember them. In this moment of crisis, there is an opportunity to remind them of core organizational values and communicate supportiveness as we all work through the current situation.”

It’s hard to find silver linings in a hurricane of uncertainty. We don’t know what’s on the horizon. Perhaps more storms, or maybe a welcomed reprieve. Either way, with steady leadership and effective communication, you can help your team and organization navigate what lies ahead.


What does this have to do with recruiting? Everything! The global economy and the packaging industry are experiencing upheaval. We recruit the type of leaders that have a proven track record of rising to the moment.

Chase & Associates 
We Have Your Back