Creating a culture of innovation in a packaging organisation

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Written by Eric Collins on 4 November 2014 in Features

There is no way a company will be able to compete unless it is keeping up with the most influential environmental innovations, Eric Collins says

In recent years, the packaging industry has come under increasing scrutiny, having to adapt to ever changing consumer and environmental pressures. In these conditions, packaging manufacturers have had to be more innovative than ever before. However, in a traditional manufacturing industry, encouraging creative thinking can be challenging. Packaging manufacturers need to look at new ways of supporting and promoting certain behaviours and practices to create a true culture of innovation.

There is no doubt that over the last few years there has been increasing pressure on the packaging industry to provide greener, more innovative and more efficient packaging solutions. Recent surveys have shown that from a consumer perspective, it is no longer acceptable for packaging not to be sustainable, with many people refusing to buy packaging that cannot be recycled.

Furthermore, recent industry standards have meant packaging manufacturers have had to sit up and take note. The third Courtauld Commitment, for example, is an industry initiative which aims to significantly reduce the weight and carbon impact of packaging waste, both in the home and the UK grocery sector by 2015.

Clearly, the pressures on packaging manufacturers are growing. The sustainability agenda is moving forward, and there is no way a company will be able to compete unless it is keeping up with the most influential environmental innovations that are shaping the industry.

The question then arises, as to how manufacturers can create the innovative solutions the market demands? In an industry that traditionally revolves around protecting and transporting a product, and volume of output, how can a culture of innovation be fostered in order to come up with the novel solutions needed?

Nampak Plastics, the UK’s leading producer of plastic milk bottles, pushed innovative boundaries when it created the world’s lightest plastic milk bottle – the Infini bottle. Nampak recognised that, as the most widely purchased item of packaging in the country, there was a huge opportunity to re invent this iconic piece of packaging and have a huge impact. After four years of tests and trials, the Infini bottle is now up to 20 per cent lighter than a standard milk bottle and contains up to 30% post consumer  recycled material.

Such ground-breaking developments could not have been achieved it had not been for the culture of innovation that envelopes the whole Nampak organisation. On arriving at Nampak, I set out to overcome the barriers to innovation you find in most packaging companies, and sought to promote engagement and participation throughout the business, knowing this would support some much needed creative thinking.

On my arrival at Nampak, a number of engagement initiatives were introduced to drive fresh impetus and ideas throughout the company. These ranged from simple tactics such as an Employee of the Month award, a buddy system for new employees, and an annual staff Excellence Awards, to bigger changes such as introducing a flat ‘matrix’ staff structure. This means that everyone across the company has been given a voice and interaction between different levels is encouraged.

Furthermore, ‘Engage for Success’ is a Government campaign promoting workplace approaches that ensure employees are committed to their organisation’s goals, whilst also enhancing their own sense of wellbeing. I worked to support the launch and roll-out of the campaign – speaking at the national conference, blogging about it for national newspapers, contributing to radio shows about it, and embedding the ethos at the heart of the Nampak culture.

Recent developments at Nampak mean the company is continually working to create an employee-focused culture. For example, the ‘Your Voice’ scheme has been introduced at each of Nampak’s sites, and Suggestion Scheme for any colleague who comes up with ideas to improve the business’s productivity, environmental footprint or overall morale, is rewarded for their contribution.

This raft of initiatives has been simple to implement and has ensured our staff are motivated and happy. Higher engagement levels very much promote innovation from the bottom to the top of the organisation and this has lead to some very tangible business benefits.

Not only did the team create Infini in 2012, coming up with a completely unique, next-generation design, but this is continually being improved through ever lighter versions and higher levels of recycled material. We have now sold over 850 million Infini bottles throughout retailers in the UK and we are currently expanding into new markets in Australia and New Zealand. Infini is also one of the world’s most decorated items of packaging, having claimed six awards on a national and international scale.

Nampak wouldn’t have been able to achieve these tangible business benefits without such a creative workforce, and the drive and ideas from everyone in the company. The company’s creativity is bred out of motivation and engagement.

Looking ahead, all packaging manufacturers, even those well established, need to be putting innovation right at the very heart of their business if the industry is to progress. Packaging is not necessarily the first industry people think of when it comes to creativity, but it is actually a sector with huge potential, as Nampak has shown.  Other businesses, in packaging and beyond, can certainly learn from Nampak’s success, and here are five of my top tips:

  1. Make sure everyone in the business has a sense of voice so they speak up with ideas and suggestions
  2. Ensure all employees feel engaged so they take a genuine interest in the business
  3. Reward or recognise people for their ideas
  4. Show employees they are valued, for example, through investing in extra training or award schemes
  5. Continuously assess and update the processes and practices you have in place

For more information about Nampak or the Infini bottle visit


About the author

Eric Collins is managing director of Nampak Plastics


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