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ECMA Pro Carton – Points of Discussion

We recently had the pleasure of attending the European Carton Manufacturers Association (ECMA) annual conference in Malta. As the packaging industry comes under increasing pressure from legislative, environmental, social and political changes, it’s a key belief of The Packaging Collective team that events that bring the supply chain together are a considerable force for good across the industry. The congress had an overall theme of 'Driving the Change - Cartons Make the Difference!’ and it was great to find out more about how the cartonboard industry is moving forward.

As the sector enjoys continued growth from the expansion of new markets, exciting new substrates and a change in ownership dynamics, the rising challenges on a number of fronts is being met with innovation and collaboration. This points to a number of disruptive changes, but also a great deal of opportunity for the market.

The discourse and key speakers at the congress opened up a lot of fantastic dialogue with the aim of moving the cartonboard industry forward. Following the event, we want to outline the challenges discussed and where the cartonboard market may be heading next.

Gender equality gap

Like a number of modern manufacturing industries, print and packaging still has a diversity issue. This was first addressed at the congress by ECMA President Jean Francois Roche and later elaborated on by Sylvie Casenave-Péré, Managing Director of Posson Packaging. Sylvie highlighted a 2016 Peterson Institute report that indicates a 20% increase in females as part of a leadership team represented an average associated increase of 25% in profitability, which shows the bottom line value of hiring policies with strong diversity mind.

Sylvie also highlighted the tension dynamic - currently the training and development options within the industry are not equally accessible to both men and women across the board. This limitation in upward mobility harms the confidence of female employees, who may then become more hesistant to take on leadership roles, which in turn perpetuates the cycle of underrepresentation in management.

A number of key initiatives such as Women In Packaging UK are working to build the profile of female employees in the packaging industry and encourage more women to see the industry as a welcoming and accessable career path, but progress across the board has still been slow.

This certainly isn't unique to our industry, but it's a challenge that needs to be addressed. Until we can balance the gender scales at each level of the supply chain, we're collectively missing out on a lot of the value that women bring to the industry and the key consumer insights they bring. The feeling at ECMA very much reflected this, we noticed a profound understanding of the challenge, but differing opinions on how best to achieve parity.

Brexit uncertainty

With deadline day looming, the unknown quantity that is Brexit was another hot topic during the conference, inviting a lot of discussion. The big question on the table is how the packaging industry will sit once the dust settles. Whether leaving with or without a deal, Brexit is set to impact a wide spectrum of processes across the supply chain, such as labour costs, the ease of international trade and export tariffs.

During the ECMA congress, the subject of Brexit came up a number of times. Legal and regulatory changes in particular are set to have a significant impact on the packaging industry. The question that every packaging converter wants to know is 'what can we expect from Brexit?', but the problem is that it's unprecedented, so while we can make predictions and projections, until it happens we're all largely in the dark. Some believe it may be a much subtler impact than anticipated, similar to the millenium bug, while other businesses are stockpiling resources as a precaution.

The changing face of sustainability

Plastic packaging has had a rough time in the media lately. In the wake of the 'Blue Planet effect', the substrate has been vilified with coverage that only tells half the story, often oversimplifying the issues at play and neglecting to discuss the sustainable value that plastic packaging brings. During the congress, Dr Ernst Krottendorefer, Managing Director of Packforce Austria highlighted the changing industry dynamic that sees retailers driving the sustainability agenda with brands responding.

At ECMA, the cartonboard industry came together to reiterate that the industry collectively wouldn't add to the spread of misinformation around plastics due to the closely intertwined nature of the sectors. The crux of the discussion was that cartonboard and plastics both bring significant, albeit very different, environmental benefits to the market. While the fibre industry itself faces a number of headwinds surrounding deforestation and biodiversity, both industries need to clearly communicate the strong sustainability benefits that the substrates bring to the table.

New labour shortage

Another challenge discussed during the ECMA congress was that in recent years, packaging converters have noted a marked decline in the number of press operators entering the industry. This is becoming a growing concern, particularly in combination with a workforce moving towards retirement - exiting the cartonboard industry and taking their experience with them in what has been termed ‘the silver tsunami’.

Koos Wurzer, Global Employer Branding and Candidate Experience Manager at Danone led a deep insight into the hiring and retention process at Danone. Receiving in excess of 500,000 CVs per year, Danone understands the human, economic and reputational impacts of getting the hiring and employee experience processes wrong.

ECMA attendees noted that the cartonboard industry, much like packaging as a whole, does an inconsistent job of marketing itself to younger people as an attractive career route. The image of print and packaging has not undergone the same transformation that the technology, routines and capabilities of the industry have, which means that to ensure continued progress in the industry, fibrous packaging must be presented as creative and engaging, and full of long-term career opportunities.

The shortage in qualified operators is not a new phenomenon, in fact as early as 1989 print professionals have cited deficits in trained personnel as a key challenge facing packaging converters. Although the print technology landscape has changed dramatically as press technology advances, the problem of finding, training and retaining operators that can keep pace with the demands of contemporary print still exists today.

The labour pool continues to age and many businesses are looking to how they can win over the next generation of operators to enter the industry and fill these roles, but to take full advantage and futureproof businesses, the overall message found at ECMA was that the industry as a whole needs to facilitate training more effectively

At The Packaging Collective, our goal is to facilitate greater collaboration. As ECMA shows, bringing businesses together to share experience, thoughts and ideas has real-time value and benefits the sector. We aim to connect the wider subdivisions of packaging in order to move the entire platform forward.

The Packaging Collective is set to re-envision and re-engineer the industry’s conference and networking events; inspiring, informing and motivating the packaging sector like never before. Our initiative exists to facilitate real industry progress through a united agenda, with a number of core goals:

· Enable businesses throughout the supply chain to contribute to the long-term direction of the industry

· Meet the challenges of sustainability, including how best to promote the packaging industry’s strengths on the world’s stage

· Share experience and best practice to allow every business in the sector to future-proof their processes

· Direct the future of the packaging industry and drive the industry forward

To find out more about The Packaging Collective and the benefits of membership, visit

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