Tim Bohrer

Username: Timothy Bohrer

Location

Chicago, IL, United States

Role

Consultant

Job Title

Owner

Company

Pac Advantage Consulting, LLC

Profile

Tim Bohrer formed Pac Advantage Consulting, LLC in 2003 after 30 years of developing new and improved packaging in flexible and rigid formats using polymer, fiber and composite materials. Using his Chemical Engineering background (BS and MS degrees) and business knowledge, he has consistently worked to streamline packaging through material substitution, package redesign, and process optimization and development, before the ‘sustainability’ label was attached to those activities. Today, he works with consulting clients from raw material suppliers through converters to end users, creating lasting competitive advantages for them by bringing strategic and tactical insights and innovations to their needs. Increasingly, Tim is engaged by clients to assist them with their package sustainability objectives.


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Comments

  • Not all irritating properties signal virtue

    Not all irritating properties can be spun into positive signature attributes; ugly is in the eye of the beholder, but loud is just plain loud. Instead of a 'green' signal, think instead of the sound as a signal you're sneaking a snack before dinner, an unintended invitation to all in the office to come over and share, missing the key dialogue in the TV show or movie because it got drowned out, or simply wreaking a quiet moment and I think you get closer to how consumers were responding. I don't buy the argument that we have to wear hair shirts and accept whatever we are presented with, just because we are told it is more "responsible" or better for us. Making a sacrifice for something one believes in, like separating recyclable waste, is different from actively seeking out sources of irritation. Especially for what to the consumer is a very small part of their activities and impact, for which there are options. We need a society filled with people equipped with well-honed critical thinking skills; we will be more creative and make better, more informed decisions. Along with that, however, comes the possibility that folks say "No. That tradeoff is too great", and send us back to the drawing board. The stage has also changed; bad 1st impressions, while rarely good, are even more deadly in today's social networking world. In the 'old' days such messages spread by word of mouth. Now before the 1st echo dies down it goes viral around the world in living sound and color - and much of the target audience for the product gets distracted, rather than even getting to the point of thinking whether it is possibly an advance. While there might (stress might) have been a chance to "save" the entire introduction with some self-deprecating humor and clever messaging, that probably was not a good strategy for the long term. They are off to retool, do some clever technical work supplemented by clever marketing, and try again. A well intended effort that could have been an interesting test of the US consumer around renewable/compostable/etc. unfortunately has been, at least for now, largely lost in all the noise (pun intended). Sometimes even the best CPG's miss - its no fun when it happens, and I'm not for gloating, as big packaging misses reflect on the whole industry. But I also know that there will and should be experiments on the sustainability front and not all of them will work - its just awfully painful when they are highly visible and expensive, and I really want the industry to be one that the consumer understands and respects. We are a lot more than the garbage left over after the product is gone. Our industry has, does and will make life better for people. Our challenge is to continue to do that in new, different, higher performing and more sustainable ways. All the time.

  • Data, completeness, and clarity about biases

    From my experience working with and looking at the results from a wide variety of tools, I have developed several strong beliefs. First is that without good data (material and process factors regarding energy use, GHG emissions, end of life impacts, etc.), it doesn't matter what tool you use; you'll be misled and will likely then mislead others to whom you communicate results. For me, two key elements about data are transparency and the ability to override default data when better or specific knowledge exists. Transparency means clearly referenced sources showing when the data was generated and naming the sample size, geography, etc. This provides confidence and credibility regarding the base information on which an analysis is conducted, and also highlights shortcomings when data is old or from not very relevant industry segments. The more rigorous the tool, generally the better the data, but "caveat modeler" if you fail to test the assumptions upon which the supplied data is based. In particular, looking for biases built into the data that skew results towards the desired types of conclusions. Being able to override the default assumptions to test the impact of different inputs is crucial to knowing how important the accuracy of of a particular piece of data is, and also permits substituting what a user may know to be more accurate, up-to-date, or relevant data. Few of the streamlined tools are good at fully documenting their sources, and often have out-of-date or geographically specific data that is not explained. The Wal-Mart scorecard and most other tools do not allow overriding default data, which is a big limitation. The SavvyPak tool, which I use regularly and also have a limited hand in refining and marketing (full disclosure!), is particularly good in this regard, offering the ability to substitute preferred data easily. It is then incumbent on the user to document the source of the data in the context of reporting the results, coming full circle to transparency. GaBi and SimaPro, two tools which have the ability to model very rigorously more aspects of environmental impact than most streamlined tools, use the EcoInvent database, which has decent documentation, and also permit inputting the specific data a user may prefer. The second belief is about completeness. Just modeling raw materials, but ignoring converting process impacts and differences misses key pieces of the puzzle. The scorecard essentially ignores converting and COMPASS in many cases seems to lump together raw materials and converting, making deconstruction of the data to understand relative impacts difficult. GaBi, SimaPro and SavvyPack look at all aspects of creating a package and allow good customization of material and process combinations, broadening their applicability and making them more representative of real life. GaBi, SimaPro and COMPASS aim to account for many more impacts, including things like aquatic impacts and the like, although I am a bit concerned that in some of the more esoteric areas there is a great deal of scientific uncertainty today, and I worry about people putting too much stock in these results in comparing materials and package formats. The third belief is avoiding undisclosed biases. Wal-Mart is explicit the scorecard is a business tool for their company, and their clarity about that is appropriate and admirable, as it does contain their biases about what is important. But other companies or individuals may have very different weighting schemes that incorporate different metrics, and they should be able to use what they want, so long as they are equally clear about how they are building those preferences into the analysis. When an analysis is reduced to a single number, one can almost always be sure there are biases built in and it should be a signal for ferreting them out to understand the implications. Algorithms should be material and process neutral, and should be applied consistently to close the modeling loop - good data with sound and complete calculations combined to yield meaningful and actionable results. Again, GaBi, SimaPro and SavvyPack do a good job in this regard and are very flexible in handling many materials, converting process and package formats. Unfortunately, there are not short or easy answers in comparing the available tools, as they vary greatly in intent, approach, flexibility, complexity and rigor. My advice is to become familiar with them and chose the one(s) that most closely match your desired outputs and your capabilities. BUT, don't scrimp on spending the time to develop a clear understanding of the strengths and limitations of whatever system(s) you chose to use, and be clear about those when you communicate results. LCA's are serious business and the temptation to turn the results into sound bites is strong; being open about data, completeness and bias puts the discussion back on solid ground.

  • Hard to separate elements when taking systems look

    The question(s) posed are similar to those I am hearing and responding to for a wide variety of supply chain situations. The common thread running through all these is that to realistically assess the impact of a product/package supply chain, one is inevitably driven to examine all the important elements and their interactions. Certainly there is high visibility to package, pallet, truck, container, etc. packing efficiency. Sometimes greater geographic distance is not beneficial and sometimes there are other environmental aspects that overcome the common wisdom that further is always worse, everything else being equal. That last caveat is a dangerous one, since upon a closer look we discover that everything else is rarely equal. In a brief presentation I made a year ago at The Packaging Summit on the potential impact of Middle East plastics and packaging materials on the US and global market, I made the point that longer shipping distances could be much more than offset by a combination of lower extraction environmental costs, by more efficient and innovative process technology and a high reliance on cleaner and more efficient natural gas for electric and plant energy production. A number of companies are proving that what we have thought of as largely equivalent and interchangeable raw or semi-finished materials are anything but that. Through investment in world-leading technology and a relentless focus on driving out variation, waste and unnecessary energy consumption, the very best operations can offer higher performing materials and packaging components that offer converters and end users the potential to significantly reduce the footprint of finished packages compared to conventionally produced traditional materials. Even after ocean transport. For me, BOM and the rest of the supply chain are inextricably linked, because all materials are NOT created equal. We are largely constrained today by a dearth of of recent, public and transparent data (even on industry averages) to analyze comparative package footprints. This is the weakness and the potential danger of some of the less rigorous tools out there today. One of the risks is that it is easy to conclude that we must treat all sources of a material type as essentially equivalent. They aren't, and many of the best-in-class producers are in the process of gathering and verifying the data to prove what kinds of advantages they can offer. Some of those companies are in North America and will be able to advantageously deliver to domestic users as well as users in other countries. In other cases, the lowest footprint materials or components offering equivalent or even superior performance to conventional approaches will come from overseas. Companies can make good decisions when they are based on a broad and deep systems-based look at the specifics of the situation, and where good data are available. Smart behaviors like that will reward innovative thinking and investment and will result in a constantly improving set of supply chain systems being made available. Should value chain participants work hard to improve the area in which they principally play and have the most skills to apply? Absolutely, but with good knowledge and in the context of how what they do impacts the rest of the chain. Will there be fits and starts and failed experiments? Of course we will see these, but when experimentation flourishes and artificial skewing is prevented, we can count on seeing the emergence of superior approaches that will offer real and meaningful improvements, and at all stages of the chain.

  • Durable clear rug wrap

    It seems to me that you have already largely answered your question. Given the need for clarity, you are talking about using a clear film, so long as you want to completely contain the rugs and are not interested in exposing them to dirt contamination through the use of a drawn up netting of some kind. Given the weight of the product and a difficult transportation cycle, you need a tough package that displays a fresh looking package and product at retail. In films, you have chosen a commodity material, HDPE, that is tough, scuff resistant and rigid, which seems like a good combination for your needs. A reasonable stream of recycled HDPE material is available, and you could check out the performance and cost of film substituting some recycled content for virgin. I assume you have explored how thin an HDPE film satisfies your needs and you have moved to that, possibly gaining some weight reduction. There may be some internal confusion on the codes for recyclability; HDPE is #2 and LDPE is #4, and you should appropriately see more post consumer collection acceptance for HDPE as a result. Many of the plastic 'T-shirt" bags, particularly at grocery stores, are HDPE and consumers could drop off the rug wrap at collection points for those shopping bags. While the bio materials are improving rapidly, in addition to you wondering about the impact of the diversion of resources from food, the biggest issue you should be focusing on is adequately protecting and merchandizing your product. The first criteria has to be to meet the technical needs of the packaging challenge. It is very important to remember that the worst environmental impact of a package is to fail to protect a product adequately. A product that is wasted before the consumer can use it is a true environmental disaster. It is possible to over-think these things, especially when a simple and effective solution is already in place. You seem to be in a good place, with the potential to add some recycled content; on a weight basis, your package to product ratio is small and with proper labeling you should be able to lead your consumers to a convenient recycling stream for their used packaging. If you can give on some implied, but unstated constraints, such as dirt protection mentioned above, you might open more options, but without being clear about what tradeoffs you are willing to accept, it is not so easy to create an obviously superior solution.

  • Cost effective green packaging - it depends

    Drew, I agree that moving towards "greener" solutions doesn't have to cost more. One of the best examples is light-weighting packaging, which the industry has been doing for as long as any of us can remember. In addition to the cost savings which were always recognized, there is a clearer recognition that there may be environmental advantages as well, depending on materials involved, product damage and waste, converting intensity, etc. There is a also a long history of the use of recycled materials in packaging, with the folding carton, corrugated, glass, steel and aluminum industries' longstanding success incorporating recycled materials only possible because there were economic advantages in doing so. While humans find it attractive to create simple rules and categorizations to keep track of all the complex interactions with which we have to deal, most of the time, the right answer is 'it depends'. Part of the richness of the packaging manufacturing industry and package users' experiences is the variety of answers possible for packaging needs, and a realization that one size does not fit all. Returnables have a growing and valuable place in the constellation of transport packaging solutions, but like other approaches, it depends on the circumstances. Once a returnable has been shown to be conceptually useful for a specific product or component and a specific value chain segment, other factors must be taken into account. These can include the expected number of reuses vs. the cost of the returnable (minus any recovery value after final use), return distances and back haul availability and costs, efficient use of truck weight and volume capability and any cleaning requirements that a specific company may have for containers leaving and re-entering their processing areas. These and other application specific criteria are all part of the equation a user must evaluate in reaching a decision. I see reusable plastic totes used extensively for restocking the shelves of a local chain drugstore, but know while this returnable is a good solution to get the specific, highly varied mix of products each store needs in this final step in the value chain, it is not efficient for long distance, high volume transport from the manufacturers of those products through several distribution steps to end up at the chain's distribution centers. Other returnable solutions might be developed to fit the bill for these earlier stages, but for a variety of criteria, returnables may not be the right answer. As it has in the past, competition between approaches (to the extent that accurate and transparent information is supplied for comparisons to be made) will continue to improve the relative efficiency of all parts of the value chain, both economically and environmentally.

  • Claims misuse

    Claim misuse will always be a problem at early stages of usage, and in the case of compostable and biodegradable claims, there is a fair amount of confusion in the US, even though clear standards for testing do exist. ASTM D6400-04 Standard specification for compostable plastics ASTM D6863-03 Standard specification for biodegradable plastics used as coatings on paper or other compostable substrates ASTM 5338 Standard test method for determining aerobic biodegradability of plastic material under controlled composting conditions Materials passing these standards should biodegrade suitably in actively managed composting operations. Europe handles it a bit different, with classifications for compatibility with managed composting, backyard composting or biodegradability performance for litter. My view is that just as any other property of a material that we might specify is only meaningful in the context of quantified performance against a specific test (think tear resistance of a film, where conditions and specific test method are required for someone to understand what the reported number means), claims about degradability performance must be specific to a standard and method. Only by holding ourselves to rigor in these claims can credibility be maintained. I'm inclined to believe that self-regulation won't be sufficient, given the tendency of some companies to exaggerate and there will be some labeling guidelines at least for on-pack claims. Users of these material and packages should demand specifics from suppliers before giving any credence to claims.

  • Selectivity and focus is the key

    I sympathize with the dilemma you describe - initiative overload is one of the real effectiveness killers in industry, and can often keep companies from focusing on the most important things they should pursue. Start by setting some clear objectives that lay out what you want to achieve in short, medium and long timeframes in terms of improving your environmental performance. Just doing that will help get you aligned with any corporate goals your company may have or allow you to lead in defining priorities for your area of responsibility. Once you've done that, you can have much more control over the conversations, since you will have a framework of priorities and the criteria by which you will choose what initiatives to take on. In terms of cost - Deming said that defining a quality level in the absence of any understanding of the cost required to achieve it was a meaningless exercise; I believe strongly this applies directly to 'green' initiatives. The concept of the "triple bottom line' is useful here, and you should direct early energies to concepts that not only have measurable positive environmental impact, but for which you can clearly see how success will lead to improvements in your operations that improve cost, quality, customer perception, etc that have a real payback. This will also be a valuable tool for getting others in your organization on board. This is a difficult process to get started; clarity, simplicity and clear articulation of benefits are key to getting buy-in and resources.

* indicates an article that was submitted directly to this Web site by the supplier, and was not handled by the Greener Package editorial staff.

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