Tom Salmon, coming off a six-year stint as CEO of Berry Global Group Inc., has seen firsthand the importance of increasing sustainability.
And Salmon, who just stepped down as both chairman and CEO at one of the largest plastics processors in the world, also knows that sustainability and recycling decisions do not happen in a vacuum.
"To make this all work, the plastics industry must offer a true value proposition around recycling and packaging. I continue to call for further action with Berry's resin suppliers to collaborate and invest in the innovation necessary for the future needs of our customers' sustainability commitments," Salmon said.
"My call to action, and our industry goal, is one that benefits all stakeholders and the world economy. The more we can show innovation, profitable raw material reuse scenarios, success in renewable sourcing, and the leadership and drive toward more circularity, the growth of our sector can and will become undeniable," he said.
Berry uses billions of pounds of resin each year to create new products for its customers, so the company is in a position to move the needle with its sustainability choices.
"Under my leadership, Berry Global set bold goals to achieve 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable fast-moving consumer packaging by 2025 and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050," Salmon said. "Through a number of initiatives, including an industry-leading Berry Plastic Ambassadors Academy focused on innovation and actions in sustainability and key customer collaborations, I elevated Berry Global as a sustainability leader with its size, scale and influence across the value chain in creating a more circular, low-carbon economy."
That work included Berry becoming a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, an industry-funded project to cut plastic pollution. Salmon was an officer in that group in 2021 and then joined American Chemistry Council's plastics division's operating committee leadership team in 2022 as the Value Chain Committee chair.
Salmon, who has a bachelor's degree in business administration from St. Bonaventure University, started at Berry in 2007 as president of the company's engineered materials division. He later became president of Berry's Consumer Packaging and Rigid Closed Top units before being named chief operating officer and then CEO of the entire company.
Salmon, prior to joining Berry, began in the plastics manufacturing business with Honeywell International, where he worked in regional, national and global sales management positions. He later served as president of Tyco International Ltd.'s adhesives business and president of Covalence Specialty Adhesives LLC. Berry acquired Covalence in 2017, bringing Salmon to the company in the process.
While Salmon ultimately became the leader of a multibillion-dollar company, he said his roots helped inform him as he rose up the business ranks.
"Growing up, I used to spend summers working with my father at an electroplating facility in our hometown of Fairport, N.Y. Those experiences had a big impact on my life and lessons learned still guide me as a leader today. I learned a lot about how important it is to treat one another with respect, in and out of the workplace. I also witnessed how stressful and difficult these types of jobs can be on manufacturing workers and their families," he said.
"I have represented and led many first initiatives for the industry that captured the strength in Berry's diversity and industry-leading talent of 40,000 global employees across more than 250 locations and partnering with others across the value chain. The result established Berry Global as a sustainability leader and key partner for customers and value chain partner for circularity," he said.
"As a leader in the plastics and packaging sector, I recognize the global plastic waste problem and the role our industry plays in eliminating it. I have challenged the industry as a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and partner to the American Chemistry Council to evaluate comprehensively the potential of plastic in a net-zero world and the economic viability of plastic waste," he said.
"There are endless opportunities for value-chain collaboration, recyclable design and circularity innovations that build an attractive portfolio for businesses, while driving growth, jobs and stability. I am passionate about giving our natural resources multiple lives by reusing materials and increasing the use of recycled and renewable plastics to accelerate the transition to a net-zero economy," he said.
Salmon said Berry established what he called "ambitious sustainability goals" during his tenure as CEO, including science-based greenhouse gas emissions targets. The company, during his time, also set a target to have 100 percent of its fast-moving consumer packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Another goal created in his tenure is to use 30 percent circular plastics in fast-moving consumer goods packaging by 2030.
In leading the organization over time, Salmon said his approach to accomplishments has changed and has become more focused.
"My biggest failure is trying to balance so many balls and check boxes as a task completed vs. really prioritizing the tasks and getting better outcomes as a result. I now focus on quality over quantity. And when I do something, I try to be present and in the moment," he said.
Although Salmon, who continues to serve on Berry's board of directors, is retired, the former CEO said he also is "evaluating opportunities where my expertise and experience is most valued."