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Big Impact, Little Footprint: Packaging Industry Sustainability Careers

Big Impact, Little Footprint: Packaging Industry Sustainability Careers

Michael Okoroafor, Chief Sustainability Officer, McCormick & Company

Big Impact, Little Footprint: Packaging Industry Sustainability Careers

Michael Okoroafor, Chief Sustainability Officer, McCormick & Company

Michael OkoroaforCan you describe your role and how you feel it links to issues around sustainable packaging?

I’m McCormick & Company’s Chief Sustainability Officer and my role is to work throughout the enterprise to develop and execute the Company’s sustainability strategy internally and externally. Within our Purpose-led Performance strategy, we’re doing what’s right for people, communities, and the planet, and our goals include several around reducing our packaging carbon footprint through the life cycle.

What does a typical day look like for you?

There’s not a typical day in my role, but on any given day, I’m working with McCormick’s internal and external stakeholders to help drive our Purpose-led Performance agenda. Internally, that could be meeting with those who own the progress toward our goals, or externally, that could be working with one of the many international sustainability organizations or NGOs that help us reach communities around the world. If I’m not in the office, there’s a good chance that I’m sharing our sustainability journey through attendance at conferences, visiting customers or international speaking engagements.

Can you share with a little about your career trajectory and what led you towards this role and an interest in sustainability?

When I was growing up, my mom was a subsistence farmer, and I saw how hard she worked and what it took for her to make enough money to support her four children after my dad passed away. So, the formative years of my life had an impact on how I approach things and how I view sustainability. Sustainability has been a journey for me. I have a background in polymer chemistry and I have worked a lot in plastics. But all along, one aspect that has been interesting to me is this concept of sustainability and doing things in the most viable way that endures.

What skills do you think are most important for a role in sustainable packaging issues?

For sustainability in general, we must be adaptable and open to change – the industry is changing so quickly that we have to be able to pivot quickly to keep up. It’s also important that we stay up to date with current trends so that when new materials or technologies come to the forefront, we’re able to quickly understand how to use them to benefit our business. In addition to maintaining technical packaging knowledge, you must be able to understand your business, your customers, and your consumers – if you can’t apply new sustainable packaging techniques in a way that’s functional and appealing to consumers, then it won’t work.

As an industry, where do you thinking packaging is making strides on sustainability and where do we still struggle? What do you think is the biggest challenge facing packaging sustainability right now.

Overall, the industry has made significant progress toward creating recyclable packaging and using recycled content within packaging. The real challenge is with flexible packaging and how to deal with it – innovation will be required to come up with new viable solutions.

If you had one piece of advice for young professionals interested in sustainability, why should they consider the packaging industry? Your specific role?

Packaging has become a ubiquitous need for many industries. From medical devices to food, beverage, consumer product staples, electronic devices and space shuttle, packaging in central to safeguarding the products. As a result, job opportunities abound in multiple industrial sectors for packaging professionals.

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