Grand Rapids, Mich. — Sustainability, Cristian Barcan believes, needs to look forward to be successful.
Acknowledge and report past accomplishments, the vice president of sustainability and industry affairs of the Vinyl Institute trade group said.
But look ahead in a continuous improvement approach that allows for a journey that never ends.
Long gone are the days of preparing sustainability reports or life-cycle analyses, publishing that information and then being satisfied, he said.
"The main message should be, 'I am still working on stuff and this is how it's going to happen,'" he said. "In today's day and age, talking about 'I'm already sustainable' feels like greenwashing. So you've got to avoid that," he said.
Barcan shared his views at a recent workshop held in Grand Rapids as part of the Re|focus Sustainability & Recycling Summit organized by the Plastics Industry Association.
Companies must stand out from the crowd with their sustainability messaging to connect with their audiences, he said.
"It's differentiation. That's the main thing. The other thing we have to keep in mind is how do we connect our stakeholders together," he said.
And that's the idea behind a new industry effort, called +Vantage Vinyl. This program is organized by the Vinyl Sustainability Council, which is part of the Vinyl Institute. The sustainability council promotes best practices and innovation within the industry.
Barcan also serves as executive director of the sustainability council, a voluntary program that aims to promote sustainable development, reduce environmental footprints and do more with less.
An effective sustainability approach includes outlining "the challenges or the hot spots for the next few years" and creating a timeline for each of those, Barcan said. "Here's the goal."
Sustainability also requires collaboration to achieve success, he said.
"In certain things like sustainability, you've got to learn to work together. If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together," he said.
He had some simple advice for those in the Grand Rapids audience: Do good and differentiate.