What does your company do to make the world a better place?
I feel a little silly writing that because, after all, the purpose of a plastics business isn't to improve the world, right? You're trying to stay in business, make a profit and provide jobs. That's a lot. And in many ways, it's enough. Let's call it doing enough to survive.
But this is the time of year that we're starting to judge our Processor of the Year candidates. I'm not going to give away any names yet, but let me put it this way: There are companies in the North American plastics industry that are doing a lot more than surviving.
All of these companies make excellent products and have lots of happy customers. They also invest in advanced technology and worker training. They offer solid benefits and often profit-sharing. And many have a great sustainability message, whether its saving energy or materials, or using recycled content.
And something that all these best-of-the-best companies have in common is that they find time to give back, both to the community and the industry.
We'll go into more detail about this in a few weeks, but you can find plenty of examples of what winning companies do in our previous Processor of the Year coverage.
Over the years, our experience with Processor of the Year has given us an opportunity to learn about what other companies do in their communities. In a lot of ways, it's helped to inspire us at Plastics News to get involved in our communities, too. We've volunteered in reading programs at elementary schools (a project that was spearheaded by senior reporter Bill Bregar), and we've had fun bagging thousands and thousands of apples at a Detroit food pantry.
For the past few years, our parent company, Crain Communications Inc., has sponsored a program that's close to my heart. Our Detroit-based journalists serve as ambassadors to city high schools (public, private and charter schools), helping young reporters and editors put out a newspaper called the Detroit Dialogue. Lately I've spent nearly every Thursday morning with the bright students at Cass Technical High School.
Cass Tech is an outstanding school, a magnet for a lot of the brightest young people in the city. The journalism program attracts some of the school's top students. If you want to feel re-energized about your career, try spending some time with smart young people. I come away every week excited about newspaper reporting.
If you've been in the plastics industry for more than a few years, you know how things like globalization have forced companies to make radical changes to how they operate. Well, the newspaper industry has changed just as much. I could argue more. But the experience of giving back to journalism, and to the city of Detroit, is my small contribution that makes me feel like I'm doing something important.
Most of the students won't become journalists — but a few definitely will. But I think that even the future non-journalists are learning some important lessons about how the media works, which is just as important in the long run to my profession. When a dishonest politician — there are some on both sides of the aisle — points a finger and blames the media for reporting on something that he or she would prefer to keep secret, these students will know something about how newspapers work and the difference between news, opinion and lies. They'll be better citizens as a result.
Plastics companies that reach out into their communities feel the same way. There's a tangible benefit: The community has a good impression of the business, and it may help recruit good new employees.
But don't forget the intangibles, too. Your employees will feel better about where they work and take pride in what they achieve.
Finally, as we approach the end of 2017 and the beginning of a promising new year, I'm thankful for the readers of Plastics News. I know many of you have been with us for years, even decades. The plastics industry has changed, journalism has changed, but our commitment to serve you, the reader, first and foremost, never waivers.
We're also doing something we love. I hope you're doing the same.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of "The Plastics Blog." Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.