Since its inception in 1999 as the Reusable Pallet and Container Coalition (RPCC), the Reusable Packaging Association (RPA) has steadily expanded its membership, resources and expertise, strengthening its position as the industry’s recognized leading source and voice for the adoption of reusable packaging systems across all industries. The RPA is a collaborative effort between manufacturers, poolers, distributors, retailers, end users, educators and policy makers to promote the environmental, safety, and economic benefits of reusable packaging.
Membership has steadily increased year-over-year as companies continue to recognize the benefits of being part of the association, including new business development and networking opportunities, access to resources to promote and quantify the value of reusables, and the opportunity to further advance the adoption of reusable transport packaging systems throughout the supply chain. Recently, the RPA has had an increasing number of end-user companies join the Association.
The Kroger Company, an RPA end-user member for several years, quickly recognized the value of reusables in the supply chain. “The interaction and cross communication we have with the reusable supplier companies in the RPA has been very valuable in developing a better understanding of how reusables can in fact increase efficiencies in the supply chain and have a lasting benefit to the environment,” says Phil Davis, Senior Fresh Supply Chain Manager, The Kroger Company, and member of the 2011 RPA Board of Directors.
Educating the market and creating business opportunities
The RPA helps create business opportunities for its members through educational outreach, marketing initiatives, and strategic relationships with other associations. Additionally, the RPA leverages the collective experience of its members to develop information and tools that clearly demonstrate the supply chain efficiencies, environmental benefits, ergonomic improvements and cost advantages of reusables, and in turn provides these comprehensive resources exclusively to its members for reference.
RPA members span the entire supply chain and provide reusables developed from a variety of materials including wood, plastic and steel as well as providing a range of associated services to the reusables industry. As a result, the RPA’s educational materials are designed to promote the expansion of reusables as the preferred packaging solution across supply chains in all industries.
“The term ‘resuable’ has joined buzzwords such as the ‘green movement’, ‘social responsibility’, ‘sustainability’, ‘recycling’ and the like,” says Robert Engle, President, Schoeller Arca Systems Inc., and RPA 2012 Vice Chairman. “However, when you discuss the concept in detail with an end user, it is still somewhat mysterious. An organization like the RPA has the ability to educate end users by providing details around the various reusable options available. As the RPA continues to grow, I envision it becoming the leading authority for reliable, comprehensive information regarding reusable packaging, and a resource to connect end users with suppliers.”
One current RPA educational initiative under way is a four-part curriculum addressing key questions and challenges involved in the adoption of reusables. Topics include determining whether reusables are a good fit in the supply chain, factors to weigh when deciding whether to buy or rent, and how to prepare the supply chain for a successful implementation.
Connecting the supply chain
“I would recommend becoming an RPA member to any company currently utilizing various forms of packaging,” says Engle. “Manufacturers of reusable packaging are also great member candidates. With such a large group represented, we need an organization such as the RPA to provide a one-stop-shop consisting of contacts, case studies, educational venues, and a clear path for anyone interested in substituting one-way packaging with reusable packaging.”
“The RPA helps address our biggest obstacle, which is educating customers about reusables,” adds Fraser League, President, Quick-Crate. “The collective voice of the RPA is stronger than ours alone, plus the RPA does a lot of the legwork and research to promote reusables. They provide materials that detail the benefits of reusables not just to the environment, but to our customer’s financial bottom line.”
Other tools available from the RPA include ROI calculators to measure and justify the implementation of reusables and application case studies. The RPA website features a broad array of industry information and resources related to reusable packaging as well as interactive tools to facilitate discussions and interaction with industry experts, RPA members and other visitors.
In addition, the RPA has taken the lead on commissioning numerous research projects, con-ducting studies and publishing guidelines on topics that impact and help advance the use of reusables throughout the sup¬ply chain. Studies include an RFID Field Trial, Franklin Life Cycle Analysis of Produce, and Fire Safety of Reusables.
“Many of the studies conducted by the RPA have helped validate and quantify the benefits of reusable packaging,” says Mike Hachtman, CEO and President of reLogistics Services and RPA 2012 Chairman.
Driving traffic through the Reusable Packaging Pavilion
The RPA aggressively promotes the values of reusables and its member companies in a number of ways including its comprehensive website, regular features in influential media outlets and a monthly e-newsletter. In addition, the RPA hosts industry events to educate the market¬place about the benefits of reusable packaging and to drive sales for its members. One of the high-profile marketing opportunities available to members only is the well-established RPA Reusable Packaging Pavilion at PACK EXPO. The 2011 Pavilion was the Association’s third annual event. The sold-out 5,000 square foot Pavilion was home to a record 22 member/suppliers of services and solutions for reusable packaging. Several exhibitors reported increased attendance and sales as a result of being part of the Pavilion.
“When we exhibited alone, attendees sort of stumbled upon us,” says Quick-Crate’s Fraser League. “We had much more traffic in the Pavilion because people came to this area looking for reusable solutions.”
“There is no doubt that we gained incremental sales by being part of the Pavilion,” says Ron Warner, Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Composite Technologies Corporation (CTC). “But we also joined the RPA because we feel it is important to be part of the reusable community and support the industry.”
Traffic was also steady at the RPA booth with numerous attendees stopping by to inquire about membership. “The Reusable Packaging Pavilion has become established as an important part of PACK EXPO. Attendees tell us they appreciate being able to come to one place to learn about all the facets of implementing reusable packaging into their supply chains,” says RPA President, Jerry Welcome.
The RPA Conference Sessions at PACK EXPO 2011, Implementing a Sustainable Reusable Transport Packaging System and Managing and Protecting Your Reusable Packaging Assets, were also a big draw for attendees interested in reusable packaging. The sessions featured presentations from RPA members and end-user companies including Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, Coca Cola, and Alpha Baking Company. Additionally, a reception the first night of the show gave members an opportunity to network with each other, potential members and the media.
“The Pavilion, conference sessions and networking reception we hosted at PACK EXPO significantly increased awareness regarding the benefits of reusable packaging solutions and our RPA Member companies,” says Drew Merrill, Vice President, Business Development & Strategic Planning, Container and Pooling Solutions, and RPA 2011 Chairman of the Board. “We present a much stronger and compelling message when our collective voices and efforts are united in one forum.”
In addition to hosting its Pavilion at PACK EXPO 2012, the RPA presented a Reusables Conference at the new MODEX show in Atlanta. The educational and marketing opportunities provided by the RPA are beneficial. In addition, simply being connected to the RPA can enhance a company’s reputation as a trusted and reliable provider to the reusable packaging community.
“When we read about RPA in an article, it was obvious to us that it was a good fit for our efforts. Being aligned with the Association gives us added credibility,” says John McCurdy, Marketing Director of Coroplast Inc.
Strengthening connections while growing the market
The ability to network with fellow members, end users and other associations involved in reusables provides another competitive advantage for member companies.
“The RPA is a good platform to get to know players in this field and gain knowledge,” says Tony Sun, General Manager, Founder and CEO of Anwood Logistics Systems. “We know a lot about the reusables market in Europe and China, but the US is different. We’ve increased our business by joining the RPA.”
The RPA has built strategic relationships with several key associations through its Industry Relations initiative. These relation¬ships include Stop¬Waste, the California Resource Recovery Association, EPA, Sustainable Packaging Coalition, and the Wal-Mart Supplier Value Network. The relation¬ships bring the RPA and its members closer to their customers, policy-makers and others who are shaping the reusables marketplace.
“The RPA has allowed me an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the various types of reusable packaging and systems beyond what IFCO provides. This understanding gives me greater insight into possible solutions for IFCO’s customers,” says Hachtman. “In addition, the opportunity to network with industry peers has proven very valuable. IFCO is able to learn from best practices from across the reusables industry to see how we might may apply them to our businesses and benefit our customers.”
In 2012, the RPA is expanding its relationship with StopWaste, providing content for a series of nationwide workshops being conducted by the organization to help businesses replace limited-use transport packaging with more durable and economical reusable alternatives.
Not only does the RPA provide a wide range of resources, it also helps shape the reusables industry. Membership gives companies an opportunity to influence the future of the market. The RPA leverages the collective power of its members to promote and protect member’s interests by keeping track of key political and social issues such as:
- Tax issues
- Environmental legislation and regulatory compliance issues
- State initiatives
- Extended producer responsibility bills
- Transportation issues
- Food safety
- Track and trace
“The reusable packaging industry is not homogenous; each provider has its own unique needs for the association to fill – be it research, networking, best-practices or marketing. If your company is not a member of the association, you’re missing out on the opportunity to have your unique needs represented and allowing your peers – and competitors! – shape the marketplace for you,” emphasizes Hachtman.
Members have the opportunity to join the RPA Board of Directors or the various committees: Industry Development, Marketing/Communications, Education, and Membership.
“We are still a young association and a new member’s input will make a difference in shaping the RPA in years to come,” says John Frey, President of Tosca Limited, and RPA Secretary/Treasurer. “This is a great opportunity to have your voice heard and generate good debate on how we can grow the industry.”