Detroit — New Society of Plastics Engineers President Brian Landes said the organization ties together major groups of people to face the environmental and public perception of plastics.
In a speech kicking off Antec, Landes called on SPE members to get active in the debate over the environment and sustainability.
"There's a lot of opportunities there. Consumers are asking for leadership in this area. Companies are stepping up. Academia's stepping up. Industry is stepping up. Where we have an opportunity as a society is we are a connector of all of those," he said. "SPE is those things. It's industry. It's academia. Right? It is a converter. It is a producer. It's the basic research. It connects all those things."
And he said the Bethel, Conn.-based SPE has an important role around the world. SPE leaders discussed what SPE is all about at last year's board meeting, and Landes said, "What really came out of these conversations was reinforcing the fact that, yes, we are a global society with global reach, global impact, and a global responsibility."
Landes is a 35-year veteran of Dow Chemical Co., now Dow Inc. His current position is technology leader. Landes, who holds a doctorate in polymer science, was in his element at Antec, which ran March 18-21 in Detroit.
Landes has been an SPE member since he was a graduate student.
A.N. Sreeram, senior vice president of research and development at Dow, as well as the chief technology officer, said company leaders are "tremendously proud" of Landes' activism with SPE.
"We know Brian will continue to lead this critical industry board with great insights and professionalism, and we are grateful for his leadership," Sreeram said.
Landes loves to talk molecules, but his job now entails advising the government how to improve education and U.S. manufacturing.
"Probably in the last 10-15 years, I've been very active in public policy. And mostly in two areas: One, how do we make U.S. industry more competitive? How do we invest in sciences as a country, to make U.S. industry more competitive? And then No. 2, how do we invest in education to develop more students into STEM?" Landes said.
He travels a lot to Washington.
Landes recently gave a presentation to government officials on the importance of increasing the country's skills in data sciences.
"How important it is for engineers, and just everyone, to have more formal training in that area," he said.
He said the needed skillset continues to change. The world of work is at once more complicated and more collaborative.
"Today, more so than 20 years ago, it's much more important for people to be well-versed in computational sciences and data sciences. Today it might be more important for people to be more interdisciplinary, where they know how to work with somebody in the social sciences field, because now we have to consider the effect of what we're doing on the environment," Landes said. "There's more to it now. It's a broader, more diverse community of people that are getting together to make decisions on policy and in an organization and a company."
When Landes speaks to government officials, he's not representing Dow — a big, multinational company — but rather all of U.S. industry, including much smaller manufacturers. "And the questions are generally based around things like yes, we invest in sciences. How can be better invest in sciences so our industries are more competitive around the world?" he said.
Washington, D.C., is not like a chemical laboratory. Or an Antec conference, in all its polymeric glory. The message is more basic, but very important, Landes said.
"What you have to do is, you have to give them something real that they can relate to, that they can understand, that their constituency can understand, so when they go home, they have something that they can communicate with," he said.