Wednesday, March 07, 2012


Sadly, I missed this year's ECOpack.

More specifically, I am sad to have missed a few of the seminars, as frankly it was getting a bit wearing tramping endless corridors year on year past booths screaming 'Green' when what was on the shelves didn't really seem that way and, worse, 'innovative' when I'd seen it all before.

However, family flu and fatherhood duties prevailed.

So the best I could manage was this video:

All things considered, not bad. Certainly I'm up 120miles' worth of LPG, £8 parking, most of a day and a few overpriced coffees.

The (roughly 1 hr) debate is carved up into 5 chunks.

And the basic theme, I'd guess (though halfway though a spanner is thrown) is the elusive icon that is 'Sustainability' in, given the event, packaging.

Though a few areas of environmental philosophy did get dragged along for the ride too.

The panellists were spread across a broad swathe of relevant industry bases:

Kevin Vyse - Chairman, and a fair one, with a broad knowledge base

Dominic Box - Research, and voice of the public (ish)

Tom Heap - Journalist

Prof Rob Holdaway - Design guru but also 'eco' advocate

Stuart Ledrum - Sainsbury's, voice of retail and hence the spotlighted packaging 'baddie'

Dr. John Willaims - NNFCC - Scientist and voice of the state(ish)

I don't propose to here go into a blow by blow. Watch yourself if you have that spare 60 mins. A high-ish powered group and so of potential value.

I just have a few observations.

Top of the tree was how little they seemed to really be sure of, and hence have to offer by the end.

It was interesting, if inevitable, how quickly where each made their money from guided their answers.

But I was truly struck by disconnects. The major one being that between industry, media and the consumer, in what is desired, offered and appreciated.

But also pure pragmatism. For all the fine words, few seemed able to square the circle between growing economies, making profits... and reducing impacts, especially with consumer waste. Which is, after all, what packaging ultimately ends up as. Eco-monics seldom results in improved eco-logy. Seldom, but not impossible.

So, again, I was disappointed to see a lot of talking being talked, but less walking going on, or even looking likely.

It was interesting that Dr. Williams mentioned (I think in that last panel) all the mixed messages there are, but he also was the one to acknowledge how much is still heaped on the hapless consumer.

Dominic Box was perhaps more often the one to try and raise the consumer's real motivations, but it was a shame not to hear end-benefit mentioned. Also Kevin Vyse did raise poor old Joe Public really not being too connected with inter-industry obsessions.

In fact all mitigation was pretty much focused on one re: recycling. I don't think reuse got a single look in.

Tom Heap seemed to rather revel in playing the cynic, and stirring the others up. His vocal trashing of the word 'sustainability' as having any value at all was a treat for any student of body language.

There was also a fair bit on labelling, and what it can or can't do, or indeed what the public makes of it.

I have to say some seemed rather wedded to the notion, perhaps with contracts in place to measure such stuff, but I was more with those who thought the consumer really could give a fig, even if they were comprehensive, accurate or placed in large enough type. Rather a hefty wadge of quango obsession and media PR-to-news down the pan there, I'd hazard.

Bio-plastics were touched on, but really not in more detail than most arguments any interested will be aware of. Not that it doesn't need talking about, as too often I feel these are trotted out as the saviours of packaging by those seeking icons, when in fact the cradle to grave aspects are far more complex and worthy of challenge.

So... I found it a useful hour of my time. However, mainly to have confirmed that there are a lot of folk making a lot of money talking, and possibly about all the wrong things.

Or with the wrong people too often.

And I have some research to prove it.

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