Rob Flores has some pretty lofty expectations for Berry Global Group Inc.'s new outreach program designed to explain the importance of plastics and where the material fits in society.
As vice president of sustainability for the Evansville, Ind.-based company, Flores helped design the company's new Certified Plastics Ambassadors program, recently conducted at the University of Michigan.
The program is a specially designed curriculum at the school's Erb Institute, which is a partnership between the university's schools of business and environment and sustainability.
An initial class of about 25 Berry employees took part in the weeklong training effort designed to help them explain the importance of plastics and how they fit into today's sustainability movement, Flores said.
The expectations, he said, are high.
"Today, sustainability is more important than ever. And just because it's important doesn't mean everybody understands what that means," he said. "We get a lot of questions of what is sustainability, what's Berry doing about sustainability?"
So the ambassadors program sets out to explain just that, he said, and give participants the tools to engage others in the subject, both at work and in the communities where they live.
"Educate and empower about the broader aspects of sustainability, so once they have that information, they would be empowered to act upon it," Flores said.
Certified Plastics Ambassadors brought together an initial class of participants from throughout the company. There were folks from a variety of positions, including operations, sales, communications and product development.
"We wanted to bring in those roles to educate them and empower them to drive sustainability within the company. And then as part of that, since it is a Certified Plastics Ambassadors program, we wanted those people to have the confidence they need to talk to others, both within Berry and external, within the community, about what we are doing for sustainability," Flores said.
"All of us, every day, we're not just strictly Berry employees, right? We're all members of the communities in which we live. We all have countless opportunities to interact with people within the community as well as our networks to get the message out," he said.
Sustainability is a wide-ranging topic that covers a variety of impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, waste reduction and recycling.
"Through the course, as a whole, I wanted people to come out educated on sustainability. When I think about sustainability, I think it's multifaceted," Flores said.
"We want people to have a broad, in-depth understanding of sustainability. Not just one individual aspect, not just plastics have lower greenhouse gas emissions than alternatives," he said.
There's a business concept called the triple bottom line, which seeks to address the social, environmental and financial impacts of a company. Think people, planet, profits. And that's a lens the company wants to view its ambassadors program through.
"We want to give everybody a big-picture understanding of sustainability and the full life cycle of a product," he said.
While only Berry employees took part in the initial classes in Michigan, the company is exploring ways to share the program, in some form, with other plastics companies.
Company spokeswoman Amy Waterman said the recent formation of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste is creating a link between its 40 or so member companies. Both Waterman and Flores are heavily involved in the alliance as Berry employees.
"Something that we've been noticing at our alliance meetings, there's really a sense of, 'We're in this together. We're not going to solve this by ourselves and we need to band together,'" Waterman said.
"The problem of plastic waste, the perceptions of sustainability with plastics, they didn't happen overnight and they didn't happen from one company or one product," she said. "So we really see that we're all in this together and we all have to come together to make a change."
Creation of the ambassadors program comes from the top, Flores said, as the initiative is being driven by Berry CEO Tom Salmon.
"He challenged each of us," Flores said. "There is a lot of negative in the news, we all hear that. He challenged us to educate ourselves and be prepared to be ambassadors and tell the benefits of plastics, not just roll over when we hear those things and stay quiet.
"There has been a lot of negativity about plastics in the news, especially focused around marine debris. If you have that negative sentiment, if we don't speak up, who will?" Flores said.