US-based Milliken & Company, a leading global producer of chemical additives, wants to help solve the environmental issues created by the improper management of plastics. As experts in helping organisations to become more sustainable, we’ve been working together to develop a strategy to mitigate the environmental impact of single-use plastic packaging.

Key successes

  • Identified over 30 emerging trends within the plastics industry
  • Developed four FutureWorlds™ scenarios for the future of plastic
  • Identified a set of opportunities from which to build a robust and innovative strategy

Creating a sustainable solution

Consumers, governments and business alike are becoming more concerned about the impact of plastics on the environment, and stakeholders across the value chain are increasingly feeling pressure to become part of a more sustainable solution. Milliken, a leading producer of additives that give plastics their colour, transparency and toughness, wanted to create a more sustainable future for plastic packaging. As a global organisation, Milliken had an opportunity to make a lasting impact.

To do this, Milliken sought to develop a strategy to support the sustainable use of plastics, especially in common packaging applications such as food packaging. As specialists in driving successful innovation, we brought together a diverse team to help develop this strategy. Our materials scientists, manufacturing engineers, strategists and sustainability experts worked with the Milliken team to provide the tools needed to think through what the world of plastic packaging might look like in 2030.

Mapping out the future of plastic

We began by researching trends, challenges and opportunities and interviewed people across the plastics value chain, from resin producers to recyclers, to global brand owners. Together, we identified eight key drivers and mapped future scenarios. These ranged from assessing the circularity of today’s materials to a future where compostable and bio-plastics are widely used.

Our FutureWorlds™ approach is highly effective when looking into future opportunities where there is a high degree of uncertainty or where the outcome of several strong drivers is unpredictable. FutureWorlds™ helps businesses to remove the natural bias to try to predict a single future, considers a range of possible futures, and builds on uncertainties to arrive at a view of several possible future outcomes. We mapped four polarised future worlds and the possible impacts of each for Milliken.

  1. ‘Lean machine’ world – A world where there is a global move to a consolidated set of polymers with high regulation and efficient recycling pathways
  2. ‘Commodity collage’ world – A less-regulated world where synthetic polymers dominate, but regional uses vary greatly
  3. ‘A la carte’ world – A world of higher costs, where plastic producers adhere to broad and varied but globally agreed design directory
  4. ‘Frontier’ world – A world unbounded with little regulation, where brand owners and retailers choose and market their material choices.
Building a more sustainable future is a key focus for Milliken. PA has helped us prepare for what the future may hold and has helped us develop an innovative sustainability strategy that will positively impact the world around us.”
Senior Vice-President, Milliken Plastic Additives

Building a robust strategy

Although these worlds are very different, our team of experts worked closely with Milliken & Company to bring the thinking required to build a robust strategy. Our material scientists and manufacturing engineers advised on material types and our strategy and market experts advised on competitor and macro-economic trends.

As members of the Circular Economy 100 (CE100), we were also able to provide extensive insight into the circular economy opportunities within each scenario to re-use and recycle more plastics. In 12 weeks, working collaboratively with Milliken, we provided shape and structure to what is a complex and fast-moving problem space. We also developed a strategic framework and a tool to inform Milliken’s strategy and engage in further discussions across the value chain about what the future for plastics might hold.

Milliken is already seeing the benefits by aligning to this significant change in the market and the broader sustainability agenda.

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