Q&A: Michelle Zeller Discusses AWT Labels & Packaging's Sustainability Success
The environmental impact of products and packaging has been a top-of-mind concern for consumers and brand owners for many years. With a heightened eye on sustainability, label and package printers are seeking to be part of the solution, creating and maintaining clearly defined sustainability programs. AWT Labels & Packaging, a Minneapolis-based producer of labels and flexible packaging, was recognized in 2020 by TLMI for its sustainability initiatives. Packaging Impressions recently connected with company President Michelle Zeller, who provided the following written insights into AWT's sustainability initiatives.
Packaging Impressions: AWT recently received the Trailhead Award from TLMI. What does the Trailhead Award signify?
Michelle Zeller: The Trailhead Award is a category of the Calvin Frost Sustainable Leadership Awards, and it is awarded to companies whose sustainability programs are relatively young. AWT has always operated in an environmentally responsible manner, and we have always considered sustainability important. In 2020, we underlined these efforts with the formation of a sustainability committee, and formalized policies and practices for continuous improvement in sustainable operations. TLMI’s award committee was impressed with the scope of our program.
PKI: What were the aspects of AWT’s sustainability program that stood out to the judging committee?
MZ: In our entry, we detailed continued efforts to solidify our commitment to sustainability in our operations and product offering. We have worked with our raw material vendors to develop packaging and label constructions that are sustainable. We have provided additional education to our sales team about how to provide customers guidance on sustainable product practices. And the sustainable pros and cons of different scenarios. We have updated a corporate policy for sustainable operations. And we have continued to improve systems in our plants to save energy and water, to eliminate harmful emissions, and to reduce the amount of waste in our processes. The TLMI committee mentioned all of these as factors in their decision to name us as the Trailhead Award winner.
PKI: What are some of the biggest sustainability challenges for the label and flexible packaging industries?
MZ: A big challenge has been the price point of sustainable flexible packaging and labeling constructions. Until recently, customers have been understandably hesitant to implement sustainable packaging due to the extra cost involved. Fortunately, material technology is beginning to drive down costs of recyclable and other sustainable flexible packaging and labeling options. Another challenge is educating the customer. In many instances, they want a sustainable option, but they do not necessarily know what that means, or what is involved. Or they assume something ‘recyclable’ is what they need, but they are not considering the package the recyclable label will be applied to, and how that will impact the recyclability of the entire unit. Customer education regarding sustainable constructions is and will continue to be a big part of our product offering.
PKI: What advice do you have for companies embarking on their own sustainability journeys?
MZ: Keep momentum behind it. It takes commitment and some change in culture, but it is worth the effort. Even if it is just starting with recycling within your physical plant facilities, get the program going. You’ll find as we have, that this is becoming much more important to customers and they’ll want to know if you have a program and what it involves. Form an internal committee, set goals, hold regular update meetings, and develop a roadmap. Empower your employees and involve everyone in the effort to some degree. Find a passionate leader for the project.