A global packaging company asserts that sustainability is good business.
Michael Rubenstein, president of Alcan Global Pharmaceutical Packaing
Michael Rubenstein, president of Alcan Global Pharmaceutical Packaging, believes that the packaging industry can improve its environmental performance significantly in many areas. In this interview, Rubenstein conveys Alcanï¿½s sustainability message: By improving environmental performance, we also improve the well-being of everyone.
Can you give us an idea of the scope of sustainability at Alcan?
Sustainability has been a key issue for Alcan for many years. Sustainability is based on maximizing value for the benefit of all our stakeholders. To do so, we focus on the Alcan 8 -- a tool that conisders energy, climate change, natural resources stewardship, community development, well-being, environmental releases, innovations and industry shifts, and product stewardship.
The priorities of Alcan's Packaging Group in regards to sustainability are customer-oriented and more specifically focused on three parts: eliminate harmful chemical components or additives during the manufacturing process and minimize the environmental impact of packaging after use; deliver the highestquality products and services in a customer- driven culture with an emphasis on reducing packaging material concept and weight; and design products that respond to society's evolving needs that remain easy to use but prevent product counterfeiting and offer innovations for consumer safety in areas such as childresistant and tamper-evident products. Our current practices are constantly aligned with sustainability criteria, and they have now become an integral part of our decision-making processes.
What is Alcan Packaging's approach to life cycle assessment?
The Product Stewardship approach of Alcan Packaging reviews environmental, social, and economic factors associated with products at every stage of their life cycle, right through to the end-of-life.
Within the individual business units, we examine the life cycle impacts and benefits early. We use a few product samples while they are still being defined, designed, and developed, rather than later during manufacturing, when opportunities for influence are more limited and often more costly. We also reduce resource consumption during production and frequently encourage product recycling.
We have developed the Alcan Sustainability Stewardship Evaluation Tool (ASSET) to measure the sustainability of particular products and to support our Product Stewardship concept. It takes into consideration project life cycles and support businesses, helping us integrate sustainability into our business and our supply chain to partner with customers, suppliers, and consumers. The tool compares products that perform equivalent functions, will select certain products as baselines, and will assess different products based on quantitative and qualitative criteria. It will also help us summarize performance in a sustainability matrix that considers the three pillars of sustainability (environmenta1, social, economic). Our approach towards product stewardship considers the six life cycle steps: raw materials, Alcan production, distribution, use by Alcan's customer, final use (consumer), and the end of life (disposal).
Life cycle thinking will also help Alcan focus on actions that provide increased overall benefits for its products, for its long-term profitability, the natural environment, and society in general. The continued integration of product stewardship will also help the company focus its attention on maximizing value for all its stakeholders.
Do you think that sustainability is a short-term issue, or is it here to stay?
Without question, sustainability is here to stay. Our organization has developed many initiatives in past years. For example, it has put into place a community investment program and the Alcan Prize for Sustainability. It has been involved in the climate change issue, including the TARGET program, a key component of the company's overall environmental commitment as reflected in the Environment, Health, Safety First program and the development of an indigenous peoples policy, etc. Also, as a member of the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), Alcan works with a group of businesses and leading environmental organizations to call on the U.S. government to enact strong national legislation to require significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, it is an active participant with groups such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and is engaged in global policy discussions.
Are emerging-market countries like India, Indonesia, and China going to be held to the same standards as Europe and North America?
Whenever Alcan Packaging is located throughout the world, our organization applies the same standards in its operations. Globalization is also reshaping the packaging industry and, as a packaging manufacturer, we follow our customers in emerging markets as well, investing in new facilities to meet their needs.
How does sustainability add value?
We see the sustainability approach as an important opportunity to create value in everything we do. Energy is a good example of the need to manage opportunities alongside challenges. Our sustainability commitment and engagement efforts are deployed on a worldwide basis and have strengthened Alcan's relationships with governments, a range of nongovernmental organizations, local communities and indigenous peoples, and academic and research institutions.
At Alcan Global Pharmaceutical Packaging, [these are] four tangible examples of actions that were undertaken in that regard:
|See Sidebar: Alcan's Sustainability Milestones|
Water and air quality. Our Medical Flexibles plant in California (Alcan Packaging Commerce) developed key actions to reduce its environmental footprint in 2005. Another Medical Flexibles plant in North Carolina (Alcan Packaging Asheville) settled the cylinder cleaning improvement project that has resulted notably in the reduction of hazardous waste and improved the well-being of our employees.
Recycling. Our specialty cartons plant in Quebec developed a program to reduce the waste of paperboard.
Investment for more security and quality. Alcan Packaging Saint Maur, located close to Paris, has invested 4 million euros and unveiled to its customers a new site last March. The Saint Maur facility has been renovated and reorganized to fully comply with environmental, health, and safety standards.