Without question, sustainability is one of the biggest drivers throughout today’s business landscape. Of the world’s top companies, more than 80% track their sustainability efforts. It’s impacting companies’ product development, operations, staffing and programming. The packaging design industry is no exception. Sustainably produced products and packaging are more top of mind among consumers than ever before.
We recently spoke with Kym Wellons, vice president of HR, legal, and sustainability for Silgan Dispensing, about our company’s philosophy around sustainability and how it informs every facet of our business.
Could you tell me about your role leading sustainability and how you help steer the company’s efforts in that area?
When I think about sustainability and my role in this space, I’m really more of a facilitator, a vision setter, and an aggregator of great ideas. A key focus has been broadening our perspective and programming on sustainability to cover our products, operations, and environmental impact, as well as our impact on our people and our communities. We set goals in each of these categories in a plan we call ‘Mission 2025’ so that we can focus on key initiatives and measure our progress.
What does sustainability mean for Silgan Dispensing?
That’s a good question. When I talk about sustainability to people who work here, I talk about it as part of our value system – because it is.
For us, sustainability is woven into nearly every aspect of how we run the business. Our focus on sustainability informs the products we’re going to make, which is influenced by consumer demand, customer initiatives, and our own values – what we believe are the solutions to move our industry forward in a sustainably-minded way. But for us, it is so much more.
In our manufacturing operations, we’ve set goals to make our plants more efficient, greener, and safer by reducing our energy and water usage, reducing material waste that would otherwise go to landfills, and implementing key health, safety and environmental performance practices and metrics.
Sustainability is core to our approach to people and our communities, guiding our employment policies and practices, our efforts to maintain a diverse and inclusive work environment and our focus on community service. It is part of how we partner with other companies and the suppliers we choose to do business with.
We haven’t reached all our goals, but we’re working every day to make progress. That’s the power of One Team in action.
How does sustainability fit into the company’s long-term goals?
I don’t know how you can talk today about business without talking about sustainability because it infuses everything you do. Our long-term business plan is purposely intertwined with sustainability, which is great because it’s not an afterthought; it’s embedded in the process of creating long-term business goals.
I think most people tend to gravitate to the products when it comes to sustainability, which is understandable because as consumers, that’s what we interact with. As a business, we have goals around the products we’re going to produce, and our vision of innovation and sustainability is ingrained in every part of that process.
But the truth is a lot more went into that product before it ended up on a store shelf or in a box left at a doorstep. Our approach is really about looking at the overall product lifecycle – from selecting raw materials; to how it is manufactured, packed and shipped; and to ultimately how it is used, reused and even recycled.
We’ve done a lot of work to create global policies that we all can align around and say, “This is how we define our approach to people. This is how we define our approach to the environment. This is how we define our approach to procurement.” By being transparent with our goals and commitments, we believe we can make real progress, in the short term and in the long term, and that makes us stronger as a business.
What is the company’s biggest opportunity concerning sustainability?
As a plastics company, we understand that people can have strong opinions about plastic. But we also think many people are beginning to think about it differently – that some plastics are better than others. We are really focused on more sustainable, more recyclable forms of resin and plastic.
We are continuously educating ourselves on what’s possible and challenging our suppliers to do the same. We then take that insight and transform it into products that are more sustainable with clear value propositions for our customers and consumers.
How does Silgan Dispensing measure sustainability?
We do it in a variety of ways.
Our customers help us measure our success. Many of our customers have sustainability goals and programs and are looking to us to help achieve those targets – providing another metric by which we can determine progress. We have external agencies, such as Ecovadis, CDP and ISO, who evaluate and rate our programs, letting us know where we are making progress and where we may have gaps and opportunities.
We have our company commitments in Mission 2025, which we are recognizing through cross-functional, global teams representing all areas of sustainability – product, process, people. Sustainability isn’t just a piece of paper on a wall. It’s a concept that gets talked about at the operational level when we’re goal setting for the year. It’s a topic that gets talked about in my HR team when we think about programming to ensure our people have growth, development and training. It’s in the conversations we have with our customers about our products and our product innovation.
The real key is bringing that all together and saying, “This is what we’re doing, how far we’ve come and where we’re going.”
The company recently received a Gold rating from EcoVadis. What does that rating mean for the Silgan Dispensing?
We’re extremely proud to have the Gold rating. Much of this success comes from channeling all the energy and enthusiasm around sustainability that exists in our people, our teams, and our manufacturing facilities, and translating that to who we are as a global company. We’ve created more programming, more global goals, and more collective ways of reporting what we’re doing. And when you do that, you start to see results.
How do you see sustainability evolving at Silgan Dispensing and within the industry over the next five, 10 years?
In our industry and at SDS, we’re going to see more and more innovation and creativity around sustainability, which is going to define our product base. When I talk to our innovation teams throughout the world, and I hear what they’re doing, it’s really amazing. Sustainability is going to define what we put into the marketplace. Everybody is going to want a sustainable solution, and we are going to be a leader in bringing them to market.
At SDS, I also believe we are on a journey to create the workforce of our future – powered by people with skill, knowledge and creative energy fueled by diversity of background, thought and experience in a work environment that invites conversation and collaboration. Sustainability in our production practices and creating positive impacts on our community and our planet will be embedded in all of our decisions because it will be good for business and good for us.
What excites you most of the company’s potential in this area?
Our people have a remarkable ability to partner, to collaborate. It’s in our DNA. And that’s really how sustainability moves forward. We are really good at working with our internal global teams, our suppliers and our customers to bring sustainable products to market, whether it is the product design or the way in which it is produced – or both. I think that’s where greatness happens – through the power of One Team.