What about people? Sustainable work, sustainable life, sustainable packaging

In this monthly series, Marion Richter, founder of Lytz, will take us on a journey towards a more sustainable packaging industry – with a focus on people. Besides technology and innovation, we need people to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable industry. Beyond sustainable packaging, how do we create a sustainable working and living environment for our employees to excel in?

Lytz' holy grail

Responsibility to do better

On a shelf in my office – and admittedly, on my office floor as well – are over a hundred small glass bottles. They are all different shapes and sizes, and come from all over the world. When I see a bottle shaped in a way I haven’t seen before, my excitement spikes. Every single time. Looking at this collection, I am amazed at how our industry is able to keep innovating and reinventing itself.

My name is Marion and, perhaps, like you, I’m a packaging addict. I don’t have to explain to you the many ways packaging affects our lives. Not only as industry experts, but because we are consumers too. Packaging makes the world go round.

Nor do I have to explain why we, as an industry, have a responsibility to do better. You, as a reader of Packaging Europe and as an essential part of the industry, already know that sustainability is needed. We need more sustainable products, created with more sustainable technologies. Fortunately, we’re doing good work already, but there is a long way to go.

After twenty years of being a part of our industry, of which I’ve spent the last fifteen years helping companies to find the right people, I’ve seen the progress we’ve made so far. And in those years, I’ve spoken to thousands of people. Where focus nowadays mostly lies on product, process and technology, at Lytz we believe there’s more to the equation. I have no doubt that tools, technology and innovation will keep helping us improve the situation, but there’s an element missing here. Sustainability and a sustainable packaging industry start with people.

What about people?

Shareholders, leadership and the workforce – especially the workforce – are the ones who make a better, more sustainable packaging industry a reality. They are the ones who have the power to accelerate this transition. A company is just an idea. A product is just an object.

Prioritizing sustainability in every business in the packaging industry is where people become important. Hence the title of this new series reads ‘What about people?’, because: what about them? How do you find those that can be an asset to our common journey to sustainability? Perhaps more importantly, how do you make sure they can excel in what you’ve hired them to do?

In this monthly series, we will explore the international labour market as the most viable aspect of the transition to a more sustainable packaging industry. Over the past twenty years, I’ve collected many inspirational stories from people in the industry all over our planet. In ‘What about people’, I’m sharing them with you to help us build an even more sustainable future.

Sustainable work, sustainable life, sustainable packaging

Let’s be honest, every company in our industry wants employees that are motivated. We want the people who work for us to be engaged and involved as well as representing the companies’ purpose. Equally important, we want employees who want a sustainable, long term relationship. We want people to stay.

At Lytz, we firmly believe in the triangle of sustainable work, sustainable life, sustainable packaging. As the packaging industry, how do we create a sustainable working and living environment for our employees? For me, it goes without saying that someone ends up in a place that fits. Not only in terms of function, but also in terms of circumstances, culture and conditions. After all, ‘work time’ is a large part of ‘life time’.

Needless to say, people who are not being taken care of, are not able to focus on sustainability and the environment.

Let your people excel

Taking care of people should be about how to let your people excel. It should not come from an intention of getting ‘the most’ out of someone. People should not go home at the end of the day completely broken and drained. We’re human beings, not human doings, and certainly not resources.

Taking care of your people, by the way, also doesn’t mean that you must deliver on everything an employee demands. An exorbitant salary that isn’t in line with market conditions, a Ferrari and never setting foot in an office are not necessarily reasonable employee benefits. That’s the other extreme.

Creating a sustainable work and life environment might require a 180 degree shift in mindset. What do we need to give our people to excel? How do we enable our people to be brilliant? This can be as small as flexible hours, so parents can enjoy the act of bringing their kids to school. It could also be as big as not having to worry about office politics. If they’re focussed on learning office politics, they’re not creating a more sustainable packaging industry. Why wouldn’t we support everyone to succeed? We need to consider resources for humans, instead of humans as resources.

Together, we build the better future

I hope that the stories I’ll be sharing in this monthly series will inspire you to help your people to excel and that you will share these, and your stories, in other places as well. With your colleagues as well as your competition, because of the common responsibility we have as an industry: to do better.

There is an emphasis on common. As an industry, we should not compete on sustainability. It is not a zero sum game – if we are to succeed, everybody needs to win. Imagine if Nils Bohlin, an engineer at Volvo, hadn’t invented the three-point seatbelt in 1959. Most importantly, imagine if his company hadn’t opened up the patent to all, because they felt the innovation was too important to keep to themselves. How many lives has this saved up until today? All because it was a human being who said: ‘let’s share’.

By sharing and working together we – people – will accelerate the transition to a sustainable packaging industry. Doing good as a business will become the sustaining factor for your business.

Join me on my journey and let’s build a better future together.
Marion Richter

Do you have a suggestion for this column, a question, or would you like to know more about sustainable life, sustainable work, sustainable packaging? Send an email to marion@lytz.nl.