Jonathan Quinn from Accredo Packaging is on the show this week talking with us about packaging, sustainable packaging. We peel back the layers, as Carman says, on some of the challenges around being sustainable in an industry that is so front and center in the conversation around sustainable practices. Jonathan is a super knowledgeable guy who has been around packaging for, quite literally, his whole life. He has talked to lawmakers and focussed on what consumers truly hold dear. This episode is jam packed with information.
The Cost of Sustainability: From Consumer to Legislator Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White. Joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I’m doing well. How you doing?
Jeff White: I’m doing great. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Nice.
Jeff White: Friday, you know, when we’re recording this, and you know, not so bad.
Carman Pirie: You could be listening to it at any day of the week, but we will put you in a Friday state of mind.
Jeff White: Wait. Are we going to the pub after this? What’s going on?
Carman Pirie: We were at the pub before this, Jeff. Let’s be honest with our-
Jeff White: That’s a good point. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Let’s be honest with our listeners. It’s like, you know, can they still be coherent after a couple of beers at lunch? Stay tuned.
Jeff White: Generally, the answer has been yes.
Carman Pirie: Or they can’t tell the difference.
Jeff White: It’s true. It’s true. This is-
Carman Pirie: Doesn’t mean that there’s coherence on either side of the lunch.
Jeff White: This is what you get if you run an agency.
Carman Pirie: Exactly right.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. You choose this lifestyle. So, joining us today is Jonathan Quinn. Jonathan is the VP of Marketing and Sustainability at Accredo Packaging. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Jonathan.
Jonathan Quinn: Thank you so much, guys. I’m excited to be here.
Carman Pirie: It’s awesome to have you on the show. And I gotta say, we’ve gotta be… I think in a survey that I’m planning on conducting, we’ve been voted the number one champions of the packaging industry. I mean, I don’t know how many folks in the packaging industry we’ve had on the show. We have a number of clients in the packaging space. It’s just something I find kind of… It’s a really kind of interesting little niche category. I’m really excited to have you on the show. Can you maybe tell our listeners a bit about Accredo, and yourself, and kind of get us underway?
Jonathan Quinn: Yeah. Well, the packaging, speaking from the packaging industry, we appreciate the support and appreciate the visibility that you provide us. But yeah, so my story around packaging really started as a little kid. I grew up around the industry. I was in the lab doing testing before I pretty much could even tie my shoes. But the flexible packaging industry is something that’s provided me a tremendous amount of value and I’ve been able to, throughout my career, I studied packaging, went to school to Clemson and studied packaging and business, and then have been in the packaging industry ever since then.
Really grew up around the industry, so wanted to be exposed to the… call it the commercial end. And so, started in sales, and sales management roles, and then transitioned into marketing, and that’s where I’ve been in addition to adding into the sustainability realm over the past call it seven years, and really focused in on how we can enable and showcase to the consumers the value that flexible packaging provides, and really how sustainability is critical to the industry, and we enable sustainability for the consumer.
Jeff White: I think you had mentioned when we spoke before that there’s a photo of you at like three years old in a vat of resin? Not a vat.
Carman Pirie: Not actually in the vat. Not drowning.
Jonathan Quinn: In a box. In a box of resin. Yeah.
Jeff White: A box of resin. Yeah. So, you’re right, the packaging runs deep.
Carman Pirie: I like that the packaging industry… I didn’t choose the packaging industry. The packaging industry chose me kind of thing.
Jonathan Quinn: Yep. Exactly. Exactly.
Carman Pirie: And look, you hinged on that sustainability side of this conversation, and that’s… You’ve been pretty active even in bringing the industry’s message forward to politicians in Washington, et cetera, to really kind of advocate on that sustainability side. Do I have that right?
Jonathan Quinn: Yeah. No, it’s critical. I mean, at the end of the day politicians are… What? Basically, consumers are politicians in training, because all politicians were, before they became politicians, consumers. And that’s where that consumer education comes into play. But now we have to educate the legislators on the value of materials, on why material selection is so important, and there’s a science in factual based reasoning behind it and giving them an outlet and a source for insight, and for knowledge, and awareness, so that when these policies and various legislation comes up, that they understand why and what sort of decisions, and are able to eliminate emotion from the conversation.
So oftentimes, people are making decisions based on emotion rather than fact, and that’s one of the biggest challenges that we’re faced with as an industry.
Jeff White: How are you choosing to communicate that? Because you know, coming from a science-based, fact-based place, and bringing that message both to Accredo’s customers, as well as politicians, and policymakers, and people like that, how do you frame up that, and I don’t use the word in a derogatory way, but how do you frame up that story?
Jonathan Quinn: Yeah. So, I will use I think probably a good example of this was last year there was a proposed legislation in the state of California that was banning all plastic eCommerce packaging. And it wasn’t just banning plastic eCommerce packaging coming out of the state. It was also banning plastic eCommerce packaging going into the state. And why is this… I mean, that’s really a big deal because in essence it would create a nationwide ban on plastic eCommerce packaging. So, we could dive into all the science and fact-based reasons about why that’s wrong, but for the legislative perspective, what I talked them through is by making those emotional decisions, and not trusting the science and fact in material selection, in essence what they are doing, because they’re in a state that has two state-funded packaging engineering programs in the state. And they hadn’t talked with them. They hadn’t discussed anything associated with this proposed ban.
So, in essence they were banning heart medication without talking to a cardiologist. And really, that brought to light that you have to have these critical conversations. You have to understand that there will be unintended financial, and economic, but also environmental consequences, because by eliminating plastic, you’re eliminating, not just call it the mailers, or air pillows, or bubble wrap. I mean, there’s so many other things that are eliminated from that conversation. The reason behind those materials being selected was because they perform the best, and they deliver, and they protect the products that they were meant to protect. And by eliminating those materials, you will have that breakage, that damage returned, and a number of things that all will impact the environment. And then you’re increasing the overall weight, which is again gonna have an impact on the environment, so you have to talk through those conversations and make it more tangible and more real.
Carman Pirie: It’s an interesting hinge in this around what’s happening in Europe. Primarily, I think, the European country that’s leading the way here I think is France. When we say leading the way, I mean we may not be going in the way that we want other people to follow, so leading the way makes it sound virtuous, and I think it’s debatable whether or not it is, but they’re the country that kind of seems to be the most aggressive, I guess, in bringing forward plastic bag bans and things of that sort. So, when you talk to a politician in a place like California, I guess do you get any kind of the reaction that says, “Well, look. These other people are figuring it out. We’ll figure it out too?”
Jonathan Quinn: When you say figuring it out, I think the bans on plastic, particularly with regard to the produce aisle… has had tremendous negative impact when you look at what shrink wrapping of cucumbers, for example, does. Takes the shelf life from three days to 21 days. And understanding that it’s not just associated with cucumbers, it’s across the board. And that showcases what? The reduction of food waste. And that is a global, global issue that we’re dealing with in a monumental sense. The biggest thing when we look at food waste and what exactly does that mean, it’s the fact of the matter is that food waste is the single greatest issue that we have. The single greatest harm from a greenhouse gas emission state is food waste. And that’s what we have to be concerned about.
And what consumers really have to understand is that plastic is not evil. That’s not the problem. Is there ways that we can enable plastic to be more recyclable? Is there ways that we can enable plastic to be collected? Is there ways that we can improve all that? Yes. But we’ve got to focus on the fact that food waste is gonna be the biggest, and will continue to be the biggest, challenge that we have as a global society.
Carman Pirie: Do you find that resonates? When you redirect that conversation and make it about food waste, do you get the ahas? Or do you think people are maybe thinking you’re trying to pull a fast one, a little sleight of hand?
Jonathan Quinn: I think… Well, I’ve done a lot of consumer-based research looking at the mind of the consumers, and not just the mind, but the heart and the mind of the consumer as it pertains to plastic and plastic packaging. When you educate them on the value of those materials, when you educate them in a way that they can understand and we don’t talk to them like we’re talking to industry professionals, they can see the light. They can see the value of those materials. It does take time, but those are factual based things where it doesn’t take much to, like I just gave that cucumber example, it’s a perfect example that’s very tangible, very real, and when you look at the space which that wrap takes up in the landfill as compared to all the cucumbers, for example… I mean, that would end up being wasted, and what that does to the environment, it’s really tangible and really real.
Jeff White: Well, it is a total cost of ownership discussion, really, because what you’re talking about there is, “Well, if they only last three days, we need to ship out a truck every four days, and rather than doing that, we can do that twice a month,” kind of thing.
Jonathan Quinn: Yeah. And I mean if you think about it another way, say everybody thinks that everything should come in a glass jug. Okay, that’s fine, so you’re gonna get everything… You’re gonna get your granola in a glass jug just for example purpose versus getting it in a standup flexible pouch. Well, just to get the product to the company that’s making granola, it’s gonna take 36 times more trucks to get you the equivalent of what you can get on one truck worth of flexible packaging. That’s 36 trucks on the road. That’s all their emissions. That’s all the additional harm that that will cause. And that’s before you even filled them. That’s before you’ve gone through that whole process and then it’s gonna take equivalent number of trucks to ship out as compared to probably… I don’t know the exact next level math on that, but it’s probably about four to one, I would say.
So, there’s significant impact there, and the people don’t realize that stuff, and we’ve gotta do a better job of educating the consumer. And when you reflect back about where were there pivotal times, call it in recent history, where the consumer should have seen the value of plastic and plastic packaging, it was during the pandemic. It was during a time where we were all relying on safe, and protection, and any number of things where plastic was enabling that. And that was really in my mind from a marketer’s perspective was a lost opportunity by a number of brands to come out and showcase, and say, and talk to the value of flexible plastic material, and flexible packaging, and packaging more broadly.
Because there’s people that just feel that your product should just be wrapped in seaweed and that should be good enough. Or it should be edible. I don’t know if you’ve seen… I mean, I’ve seen how my kids walk down the aisles of a grocery store, and I know the weird places that they put their hands, and I don’t want to be eating packaging that’s been handled by my four-year-old.
Jeff White: This seaweed tastes weird.
Jonathan Quinn: But I think those are some of those realities that I think consumers often miss.
Carman Pirie: There’s a fascinating kind of juxtaposition between those two points. I just want to kind of play them back to you a little bit. Because of course, when you talk about the safety side of it with COVID, I think that’s… In some ways, it’s an easy message, right? You’re like-
Jonathan Quinn: Oh, yeah.
Carman Pirie: Single use packaging, why you don’t want it to be touched multiple times by multiple people in a pandemic, you don’t have to connect a whole lot of dots there. People can get it pretty quickly and it’s a simple message. And I agree with you. It may have been a missed opportunity in the space to tell that story better. I’m contrasting that to a total cost of ownership or a total environmental impact argument, which is kind of the opposite side of the coin, and it always feels to me like the thing I wish I could… the answer I wish I had was to tell somebody that’s in the flexible packaging space, that’s trying to market a sustainability message, I wish I had a way for them to do that that wasn’t about trying to tell the total environmental impact story, or that… Because it’s a harder story, right? You can’t grab ahold of it as easily.
But the safety in COVID, boom, I get it. Okay, great. Do you feel that frustration, I guess, as a marketer in this space? It’s like I’m always trying to tell the most complex of stories here?
Jonathan Quinn: Yeah. I mean, I think I oftentimes… We talked about the legislative side of things. And we talk about as an industry collectively we act like we’re some form of rocket scientists or something. We’re just making packaging. It is complex and there’s a lot of complexities that do make up the industry, but you have to make it simple, and you have to make it easy to understand, and I think that’s why right now in my life, because I have young kids, if my kids can understand what sustainable packaging means, I think a 30-year-old, or 40-year-old, or 50-year-old, or 60-year-old man or woman should be able to understand it, and making sure and testing those messages with kids.
And that’s one of the key things that I’ve been focusing on is that we’ve gotta get the message out to kids, and we’ve gotta talk to kids, because what do kids do? They take that message and they spread it. Just like if you think… If I reflect back to when I was in school, it was smoking is bad. Everything was about smoking is bad. And what do we take and do with that message? We take, and we spread it, and we tell our parents, and we tell our friends, and we tell our teacher, other teachers, or we tell our sports coach, or whatever that smoke-
Carman Pirie: Like, “Mommy, why do you smoke? We heard that was bad today.”
Jonathan Quinn: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. And so, I think to your question, trying to disarm those frustrations and to disarm a certain level of superiority that we may think, and maybe superiority is the wrong word, but complexity is probably a better word for it. And make it simple.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I mean, I always just find that it’s like this, “Oh, there’s more to it than that and let me explain it to you.” It’s like… It’s a hard starting point, right?
Jonathan Quinn: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: It may well be true but it’s just a hard starting point.
Jeff White: I think, though, especially when you’re talking about this in a business-to-business context, and your industry is in a really interesting and pivotal moment as we begin to move towards recyclable packaging in the plastic space especially being absolutely required in order to sell into some of these bigger accounts. You know, if you’re a food manufacturer and you’re selling to Walmart in two years, your packaging needs to be recyclable by law, and we’re moving into that point. How are you working with your customers at Accredo to tell the story of sustainability writ large? Because you’re… You know, almost shifting gears a little bit here and talking a bit more about Accredo, because it’s a really interesting company that has a very interesting ethos and kind of way of explaining that. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Jonathan Quinn: Yeah. No, I love to talk about that, and from a marketer perspective I’m really lucky to be able to tell the story that I have to tell, and that’s the story of how this business came to be. And it really aligns and links with sustainability. But the company I worked for was started by… It’s a family built business that was started and really was started by Vietnamese refugees that escaped the fall of Saigon, came to the U.S., came through Florida, and then moved and found their way up to New Orleans, and started doing what they were doing in Vietnam, and that was shrimp boat fishing. They kind of realized that they didn’t want to be on the water anymore and they said, “Well, let’s supply into the fishing and shrimping industry,” and started an extrusion operation, and started making shrimp bags, and grew that business significantly, and that’s our advanced poly bag business.
And then decided they were gonna take a little bit of a right turn and go down the pathway of further in the flexible packaging realm of things and built and created a company that is a vertically integrated converter so that we make the plastic that we then print, and laminate, and convert. And they didn’t just do that. They did it in a different way. In the manufacturing facility and manufacturing campus that we have outside of Houston, in Sugar Land, Texas, is a LEED Silver certified manufacturing facility. There’s nobody that has that. So, that’s doing that in the 2008, 2009 timeframe before sustainability was where it is today.
In addition to that, we’re 100% wind powered. There’s nobody that has that. And then what did we do after we further diversified? Then we built another basically sister facility in Vietnam to do the same thing that we’re doing in Sugar Land. That facility being solar powered.
So, we’ve done, and this company has built on the American dream, and it’s built on sustainability, and it’s really, really cool to be able to be a part of that. And as those major brand owners that you’re talking about, as they begin to focus on GHG, Scope 1, Scope 2, Scope 3 Emissions, our story continues to get more compelling, and the value that we’re able to deliver continues to increase. But I, just as a person, am incredibly I think proud of what this family has been able to do, and what they escaped, and what they’ve been able to deliver, and I think I’m really excited as we enter into the second generation of the family taking over in the coming years, and this next chapter that we have in front of us. It’s really, really exciting, and it’s not something that everybody can say that they’re a part of, and I’m really looking forward to what we’re able to deliver.
Carman Pirie: There’s a powerful story there, and I’m certain that you’re able to extend it into the fact that doing business with Accredo helps an organization meet their sustainability objectives because of the more sensitive, shall we say, environmental footprint that you have as an organization. Has that lessened any price competitive pressures? Or is it still a situation like, “No, no, no. We still need to meet the cost side of things, and this is a nice to have.” Or alternatively, is it shifting to where people are willing to pay maybe even more of a premium in order to be associated with a company that’s delivering that kind of environmental benefit that they can then attach themselves to?
Jonathan Quinn: Yeah. So, the price conversation is one that is very real. And it’s one that I think that as consumers we’re all seeing. It costs more to go to the grocery store today than it did three years ago, and I’ll tell you, that’s not because people are switching to sustainable packaging. But the overall price pressure is still there. But I think people have made their commitments to enabling, as far as they’ve made their commitments to be a more sustainable company. They’ve made their commitments to be more sustainable from their packaging sense. We have the sustainable offerings. We have the solutions. Is there a silver bullet when it comes to sustainable packaging? No, there isn’t. There’s multiple levers that you have to pull, that we have to pull as an industry to be able to support it, but the other side of that reality is that consumers aren’t gonna pay more for sustainable packaging. Consumers can say that they will but when rubber meets the road, consumers aren’t gonna pay more. We’ve done the research. It doesn’t… Consumers aren’t going to. They may feel good by saying they will but at the end of the day they’re not going to. So, that’s where partnership, and collaboration, and enabling sustainable packaging is very much in process.
I would tell you that I, five years ago, probably would have expected more products to be recyclable than they are today. And that’s really tied to a number of things, but mainly is that materials, again, going back to that material selection conversation, materials were designed to run really fast. And those materials that run really fast predominantly are mixed material, which are not recyclable. So, when you look at the output associated of a non-recyclable versus a recyclable, it impacts in a number of different ways. And so, then on top of that you have materials that as they stand today cost more just without even worrying about the operational challenges that you’re faced with.
So, there’s a number of things that are at play, but I think ultimately it circles back to making sure that we’re doing the right thing for the environment and we’re enabling the environment and overall sustainability to be real and to actually happen.
Jeff White: It’s so complex. I know we’re not going to Mars or anything like that here, but at the same time, if you can run fewer linear feet per hour through the machine, then there’s more time on the machine, there’s more greenhouse gas emissions there. Holy cow. You just cannot escape all of these different things that need to be worked out, and you need people to understand that all of those factors come into play here. It’s a really difficult story to communicate easily.
Jonathan Quinn: Yeah. And I will tell you there is a major brand, a major brand that we all know, but there’s multiple major brands, but in specific I’ll talk about one specific. And they are compensated… They changed their executive compensation to basically support and enable going more towards sustainable packaging. But they’re also compensated by their operational efficiencies. They’re also compensated by their sales and by their output. And so, there’s multiple buckets, and they have made almost a decision that we’re gonna sacrifice one bucket in order to basically be able to increase or improve the other buckets.
Now, they’re not totally ignoring sustainable packaging, but if they’re gonna make a sacrifice, that’s what they’re gonna make until they feel that it’s another drop in the bucket.
Jeff White: Yeah. It’s funny, the first place I ever saw the poster about you can have it two ways of the three: good, fast, or cheap, was in a printing facility as a young graphic designer. But it’s almost like now you can have it two ways of four. Good, fast, cheap, or sustainable, you know? So, pick two. There’s no way you can have all four.
Jonathan Quinn: You have no idea how much I love that you just brought that up because when I was a kid, that was what my dad taught me. My dad was the CEO of a packaging company, and it was either good, fast, or cheap. You gotta pick two. And I remember that conversation so clear… I mean, I think I was in middle school or early in high school, and now I love the add of the sustainable. It’s so real and so true.
Carman Pirie: And you still only get to pick two. It’s not like you can pick three now.
Jonathan Quinn: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.
Carman Pirie: That’s frustrating. Well, Jonathan, it’s been… I don’t think we’ve solved all the problems today, but we’ve at least peeled back some of the edges of them and I think it’s been just a fascinating conversation. I’ve enjoyed exploring this with you today. Thank you so much.
Jonathan Quinn: No, thank you both. I really appreciate it. And thank you both for all that you do because the world’s a better place because of people like you, and because of your ability to help us all see what makes this world go around.
Carman Pirie: Appreciate that.
Jeff White: Thanks a lot.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring, with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-Apartners.com/thekularing.
Jonathan QuinnVice President of Marketing and Sustainability
Jonathan Quinn is the Vice President of Marketing and Sustainability for
the API Group of Companies, where provides corporate leadership
globally for Accredo Packaging and the Advanced Poly Bag businesses. He
is focused on delivering marketing strategy and execution along with all
facets of sustainability. Jonathan is recognized as an expert in the areas of
Flexible Packaging Sustainability, consumer insight and voice of consumer
associated with packaging. He has conducted extensive consumer
research on the consumer-packaged goods segment. Prior to joining API
Group, Jonathan most recently was the Director of Market Development
and Sustainability at Pregis prior to that he held Marketing leadership
roles at NOVA Chemicals. Additionally, he has held sales leadership and
business development roles at Illinois Tool Works Zip-Pak division, the
COESIA Group, and Multisorb Technologies.
Quinn holds a Bachelor of Science in Packaging Science and Business
Management from Clemson University. Currently, Jonathan is the founder
and Co-Chair of the Emerging Leadership Council at the Flexible Packaging
Association (FPA) along with the Chairman’s Advisory Council, and is on
the Global Board of Directors of the International Safe Transit Association
(ISTA). In June of 2021, Jonathan was appointed to the Society of Plastics
Engineers (SPE) Advisory Board for Diversity and Inclusion. Most recently
Jonathan was appointed in July 2022 to Advisory Board for the Schools of
Food, Nutrition and Packaging Sciences at Clemson University. Jonathan
was designated a “Rising Star under 35” by Plastics News in 2018 and the
Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) Young Leader of the Year in
2019. In February of 2021 Jonathan was recognized by Plastics News as a
top Social Media influencer in Plastics and Packaging. In January of 2022
Jonathan received the designation of 40 under 40 by Waste360 for his
contributions to waste, recycling, and sustainability. He can be found on
all social media channels under the handle @JQUINNPACKAGED.