Amcor Ltd. is pledging more than $10 million to the School of Packaging at Michigan State University.
About half of the cash will modernize facilities and the other half will fund creation of a permanent packaging sustainability professorship at the school.
"Michigan State University is one of the leading packaging schools and Amcor is a global leader in packaging. We just saw a great opportunity to build on the strengths that each of us have," said David Clark, vice president of sustainability for plastics packaging maker Amcor.
"Today, we have over 100 MSU graduates working at Amcor already. And we see this as an opportunity to make a long-term commitment toward developing a stream of talent, not just for our company but also the industry," he said.
Creating an endowed chair for sustainable packaging is not cheap. Enough money needs to be invested to allow for the position to be completely funded from investment profits each year. That's why about half of the Amcor gift is going to create that position.
"This is a huge gift. In many ways it's transformational. We've been talking about upgrading our facilities and creating an endowed chair position for a long time. This is going to make it happen," said Matt Daum, director of the School of Packaging.
"It's the kind of gift that is really going to show a tremendous support for the school and what we are doing and the direction we are trying to go in," he said.
About half of the donation will go to upgrade the school's existing building on the MSU campus, which was built in the 1960s and last renovated in 1987, Daum said.
Teaching methods and classroom technologies have greatly changed since the days of chalkboards. A portion of the money will go to renovate the building's main classroom that seats more than 100 and features an auditorium-and-stage configuration, Daum explained.
This design — think Good Will Hunting or really any movie set at a college campus where a professor dramatically walks into a large classroom — is outdated for the packaging school's needs.
The classroom space will transform into a flexible learning area with a level floor, movable furniture and the ability to use technologies such as laptops, smartphones and smartboards, he said. "The way teaching was done is different than it is today. So our facilities, they don't really match the current needs," Daum said.
The School of Packaging building was created during a time when MSU anticipated having about 150 students studying the topic. The program has grown over the years to now include more than 600 students.
The construction will focus on building renovations as well as a small expansion to provide more office space.
Daum has longer-term hopes of a second construction phase that would further expand the building to include more laboratory and classroom space.
The school's goal is to ultimately create a hub for industry, academia, nonprofits and government to come together to focus on packaging.
"Michigan State University is already a leading school in packaging. They are really attracting good students and doing good work. We see this as helping them achieve the next level in terms of having better facilities to help train students and having expanded faculty with this new chair to bring some new thought leadership," Clark said.
Daum hopes construction will begin early next year and take about 18 months to complete.
Amcor's proximity to MSU's campus in East Lansing certainly played a part in the company's decision to donate millions to the packaging program. Amcor Rigid Packaging is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Amcor Flexibles North America is based near Chicago. The company also has other facilities, both manufacturing and research and development, in the region.
And while Amcor certainly sees a benefit in partnering with the school with the donation, the firm also hopes the donation will spur other packaging firms to also contribute and join in on sustainability efforts that develop over time.
"The ability to have somebody close by who is advancing the thinking about more sustainable packaging and more sustainable packaging systems is something we're really excited about," Clark said.
While the company is ponying up the cash to create the endowed chair, Amcor will have no say in who is hired or what areas the new professor will research and teach.
"We have a strategy around open innovation," Clark said. "We know we are not going to be able to develop everything ourselves."
Cooperation and collaboration, he said, is particularly needed to create solutions that effectively manage used plastics.
"We hope it inspires other companies to make similar contributions to both academics and other collaborations that are going to help our industry move forward with solutions," Clark said.
Daum also hopes packaging school alumni learn of the upgrades and be inspired to contribute to the future of the program. There are about 10,000 MSU packaging school alumni around the world.
MSU is a powerhouse in packaging education with nearly 700 students, both undergraduate and graduate. The packaging school, part of MSU's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, is the largest in the nation.
"The building, itself, we want it to be inspirational, to be a hub where this becomes the place to draw the best minds for packaging and business leadership to come and think through and innovate in the packaging sustainability area," Daum said.