The finalists of Packaging Europe’s 2023 Sustainability Awards have been announced, ready for the big reveal at a special dinner at the Sustainable Packaging Summit in Amsterdam. As the Packaging Europe team is busy preparing for the event on November 14th and 15th, we caught up with brand director Tim Sykes to find out what makes the Sustainability Awards one of the most coveted accolades in the industry, and what attendees can expect at the Sustainable Packaging Summit.
There are many awards out there – what differentiates Packaging Europe’s Sustainability Awards?
The Sustainability Awards are driven by a mission to spotlight the most important innovation around the world. I’d say the most important differentiators are that the competition is open to everyone (from multinational corporates to tiny start-ups) with no entry fees creating a barrier to submission, that it has constantly evolved along with our understanding of what our sustainability goals demand of innovation, and perhaps most importantly, that we have assembled a large, international jury (now 50+ members) with an awe-inspiring diversity of expertise.
We are humbled by the dedication of our judges - very senior figures from the worlds of sustainability, packaging, R&D, etc. - and how generous they are with their time and expertise. The fact that 95% opt to continue on the jury each year feels like an endorsement of the Sustainability Awards mission and the impact we’re trying to have.
Could you talk a bit more about the judging process?
With over 50 judges representing every continent, inevitably, the judging process has to take place digitally. Judges work through assignments in their own time, but get to share comments and questions with each other.
An important criterion for judging any category is that the holistic impact of any innovation must be considered: we don’t want to celebrate products that solve one problem while creating another one. The highly rated submissions score well not just in terms of the innovativeness of a project, but also the impact. We ask for LCAs and other forms of data from our entries, and the judges are rigorous in assessing whether claims can be substantiated.
What’s different about this year’s Sustainability Awards in comparison to previous years?
The competition evolves a little bit every year in response to the feedback from our judges and wider audience. Recently we expanded the number of categories for pre-commercialized technologies as we recognized there was more and more exciting activity taking place on the innovation horizon. This year hasn’t seen any dramatic changes to the format, but (speaking as an observer, since I don’t have any involvement in the judging) I’d say the quality and variety of the best innovations this year is greater than ever before.
There are some outstanding submissions that might have won the trophy in previous years, but weren’t even shortlisted this time. And in the selection of finalists there’s a great mixture of novel materials, formats and initiatives driving sustainability at scale, which is testament to both the talent and the commitment of people across our industry.
How do the awards tie in with the Sustainable Packaging Summit?
It’s fair to say that the Sustainable Packaging Summit has grown in parallel with the Sustainability Awards: it always made sense when presenting the most important examples of innovation to put this into context by discussing the wider trends they belong to and challenges they respond to. As the competition has ballooned over the years, so we have progressed from hosting a panel discussion before an awards ceremony to organizing a large and ambitious multi-stream event that gathers together the most important thinkers and players in the field.
Again, there are lots of packaging conferences out there – what makes the Sustainable Packaging Summit special?
We’re driven by the idea of creating something a bit like the Davos Forum but serving the much narrower scope of the strategic challenges and innovation opportunities around packaging and the environment.
We see this as a ‘summit’ rather than just a ‘conference’ in that we’re focused on impact, which firstly means assembling people who are in a position to influence the direction of industry and secondly means curating a program that emphasizes not what we’ve achieved to date, but what we need to do next: where are the barriers and disconnects and how can we accelerate progress?
Therefore, we work hard to bring key stakeholders from across the packaging/FMCG value chain into the room, along with NGOs, recyclers, investors and regulators, and to bring them together to discuss the pain points and the opportunities for and strategic alignment. It’s inspiring to witness the openness and honesty, and the sense of common purpose that is manifested on this stage.
Could you give us a sneak preview of the programme and speakers?
We have an exciting line-up, from big names representing global brand owners (e.g. P&G’s chief sustainability officer Virginie Helias) to introducing disruptive start-ups to the audience. The two key pillars we’ll focus on are strategic challenges and innovation.
This will comprise high-level panels assessing our overall sustainability objectives and progress, the global and regional regulatory landscape, how we need to incorporate climate into our strategies, EPR and investment in circular economy, and a strategic look at R&D. There will also be more granular explorations of important challenges, such as how to scale up reuse and refill, what’s going on in the world of renewable materials, and the role of chemical recycling. We’ll be hearing from all of the key European materials platforms and projects, including CEFLEX, 4evergreen, HolyGrail2.0 and Permanent Materials. And there will be opportunities for start-ups working in areas such novel feedstocks, reuse and driving circularity to pitch their solutions.
What else is going on at the event?
Part of our ‘Davos’ ambition for the event is creating a must-attend space for everyone with a passion for sustainability and innovation to learn and contribute, and where we are not necessarily in control of everything that takes place. So we’re glad to add more and more dimensions to the gathering. I already mentioned the Sustainability Awards, which in addition to showcasing innovation acts as an informal dinner setting for networking among all the attendees.
We’re also co-located with the AIPIA World Congress, which is the world’s essential annual conference for smart, active and intelligent packaging technology. This has great synergy with the Summit, as it represents the absolute cutting-edge of innovation, with huge potential in sustainability applications: from supply chain efficiencies to supporting accurate sorting at end of life to promoting transparency of provenance to cutting food waste.
We’re also open to hosting member meetings for associations and platforms with a mission aligned to that of the Sustainable Packaging Summit. For instance, HolyGrail2.0 will be holding a stakeholder meeting in the same venue this year. Together, we believe these different events have a lot of synergies, enabling attendees to accomplish far more than usual from a single trip, and generating a critical mass of professionals who can make a difference to our industry.
In summary, why should people attend the Sustainable Packaging Summit?
Our mission is to mobilize a community to bring about a sustainable future for packaging in a changing world. If that chimes with your role and your ambitions, we’d love for you to be part of it.