Innovation isn’t just limited to the products that Whirlpool Corporation designs and sells. It’s part of every process, from manufacturing on the line all the way to when the finished product is sent out of the factory. One of the most recent areas in which the company is looking to innovate is by using more sustainable packaging. Whirlpool’s corporate sustainability strategy is centered around one simple purpose: Improve the way people live, for today and for future generations.
“Over the past few years we have spent a lot of time looking at all angles of the business and really pulling back the layers to help our design teams and manufacturing teams make more informed decisions,” said Senior Sustainability Engineer Lisa VanBladeren. “Packaging is an opportunity space, one of the opportunity spaces we know we can do better in terms of sustainability,”
The packaging teams were fully on board. “First and foremost, we welcome the opportunity to have a positive impact on the environment and to support Whirlpool strategic objectives in the sustainability space,” said Mike Meeth, global packaging sourcing manager.
A New Event to Find Sustainable Solutions
The first ever sustainable packaging innovation event was recently launched as a collaboration between Whirlpool Corp’s sustainability team, procurement team and the global packaging team. The purpose of the event is to really challenge both incumbent and new suppliers of packaging solutions, raw materials or technologies to bring forth new ideas.
“It has been a great opportunity to utilize the newly introduced Advanced Supplier Innovation process,” said Innovation Senior Sourcing Manager, Kristina Soule. “Development and collaboration on long-term innovation and development in these critical environmental areas will provide transparency and continue to drive long-term partnership and collaboration with our suppliers.”
The team really tried to limit the constraints presented at the event to encourage and enable new ideas, opening the door to near-term design opportunities and engaging the chemical industry on the long-term challenge of new material solutions and technologies.
Packaging plays such a vital role in delivering products to consumers, according to VanBladeren. “We aren’t willing to sacrifice in terms of quality and performance, and that can present some challenges if you look at what is available on the market today with respect to materials, technologies, and end-of-life options. We may be defining the sustainability goals, but we need to work well with our vendors to succeed. It’s really encouraging to see the engagement across the organization, and now, growing and adding external collaborators too.”
Multiple Teams Working Together
The cross-functional team brought together global suppliers that were sent RFP (Request for Proposal) packages, walked through Whirlpool Corporation’s sustainability goals, and then posed the question: What are some ways the company can utilize more sustainable packaging?
“We are looking for true innovation,” said Randy Kerr, global packaging lead. “We want our suppliers to challenge the status quo. The team really tried to limit the constraints presented at the event to encourage and enable new ideas, opening the door to near-term design opportunities and engaging the chemical industry on the long-term challenge of new material solutions and technologies.”
“Internally we have developed a scoring mechanism to holistically evaluate the various parameters of sustainable packaging including circularity, EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) schemes, and regulatory road-maps. We look forward to applying this to the solutions brought to us through the event,” explained VanBladeren.
Collaborating with Vendors is Key
The next step is a series of presentations from vendors. It’s an opportunity to investigate and explore all the new sustainability options that are out there in the area of packaging, and is part of Whirlpool Corp’s pledge to continuously improve all of the company’s products and processes.
“We can’t wait to see what our participants have to share. This space is evolving by the minute, and events like this one help us learn and define our journey forward, “ said VanBladeren.