The hard lesson that ConAgra’s Gail Tavill learned in messaging related to sustainability.


Lessons learned can be profoundly helpful, but they can sometimes hit like a ton of bricks. That was how ConAgra Foods’ Gail Tavill, VP, Sustainable Development, described a particular lesson learned during a recent interview that also hit me the same way. A 20+ year packaging professional, Tavill lives and breathes sustainability across a full spectrum of “green” for the company including for packaging. She is also the new president forAMERIPEN, the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment.

“One of the things that we’re thinking about at AMERIPEN and that others should think about is…how to develop better ways to communicate what companies are doing around sustainable packaging and clear up some of those confusion points,” Tavill said.

For one thing, she has a big problem with messaging related to the first of the original three Rs of sustainable packaging: Reduce.

 “Every time we make a claim that says we reduced packaging, we imply that packaging is bad because if it wasn’t, why would you reduce it?” she asks. “It’s sort of how we’ve settled in as an industry: We’ve accepted the fact that we need to reduce our way into sustainability, but I fundamentally believe that’s the wrong strategy.”

That proverbial ton of bricks was above me and on its way down. “Looking back at some of the claims that we have made and how we’ve made them, I probably would restate some of them and do more to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative. You’ll see more of that coming out of AMERIPEN member companies.

“What we need to talk about is the value that packaging brings to our industry. I think even packaging engineers undervalue its worth.”

Tavill distilled things down to this: What is needed is to have packaging do the best job it can to serve the purpose it was intended for in the first place.

 “If we do that, packaging will truly be sustainable because it will sustain the rest of the investment and the products and goods that we need,” she added. To hear more from Tavill and other voices in packaging sustainability, you can read our cover feature (Sustainability in 2012: Putting the 6Rs into Thought and Action).  

And for insightful voices elsewhere, check our other articles found in ouronline digital edition. While we may not have all the answers to your packaging challenges, we solicit the input of packaging experts who have some of them. And then maybe that ton of bricks will feel more like a ton of feathers the next time.