Director Daum shares the impact the transformative Amcor gift will have on the School of Packaging

Recently, global packaging leader Amcor made a transformative gift to the MSU School of Packaging. We interviewed the MSU School of Packaging director Matt Daum to learn more about the impact this gift will have on the school.

Matt Daum, Ph.D., director, in front of the MSU School of Packaging building.
Matt Daum, Ph.D., director of the MSU School of Packaging.

Matthew Daum, Ph.D., has served as director of the Michigan State University (MSU) School of Packaging in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) since January 2020.

For over 25 years, Daum worked at HP Inc. (formerly Hewlett Packard) based in Boise, Idaho. Since 2016, Daum was HP’s Director of Research and Development for the LaserJet toner supplies business. His team had responsibilities for new product research and development, current product engineering, supplies security strategy and product/package serialization strategy and implementation. From July 2019, he also held the position of Product Marketing Director for the LaserJet supplies business.

Recently, global packaging leader Amcor made a transformative gift to the MSU School of Packaging. We interviewed Daum to learn more about the impact this gift will have on the school.

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Q: What does this partnership mean for the School of Packaging? 

This partnership is incredibly important for the School and for the packaging industry. At this critical moment in the school's history, the Amcor partnership will be a catalyst for accelerating research and teaching in the area of sustainable packaging solutions.

Amcor is a premier global packaging company, and so it makes sense to partner with a premier packaging education program. We have compatible cultures in that we strive for data-driven packaging solutions, and a shared emphasis on excellence in all that we undertake. Like Amcor, MSU is committed to innovating sustainable packaging solutions that consider the whole value chain, from raw material, all the way through end of use. The School of Packaging teaches from a material-neutral perspective because we are focusing on the larger issue of scalable solutions that minimize total environmental impact. We want our students and the research we undertake to make long-term positive societal impact, and Amcor shares that objective.

More specifically, this partnership with Amcor allows us to begin renovating our facilities to create a modern, collaborative environment for our students and faculty, and it will become a hub for sustainable packaging thought leadership across industry, academia, governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). We want to build a facility that attracts the best talent and inspires innovative thinking. The Amcor partnership also establishes an endowed chair position focusing on sustainable packaging solutions. This person will have a unique platform to influence and lead the thinking around truly sustainable and scalable packaging solutions across the whole value chain. By renovating our facility and by adding a world-class endowed chair position, the Amcor partnership re-establishes MSU as the premier packaging education program.

Q: How will this partnership help bring your vision for the School of Packaging to life?  

The vision I have for the School is to reinvigorate and re-establish our program to a world-class level across several dimensions. The vision can be summed up this way: we want to be unquestionably the world’s best packaging program for teaching, research and community outreach. To achieve that vision, we need to modernize our facilities, invest in our faculty and graduate students, and ensure that we attract, retain and graduate a diverse student population. For a number of years, the School and its supporters dreamt about and discussed what it would take to bring modern facilities and a prestigious faculty position to the School. The partnership with Amcor will finally make that happen.

Q. What changes are you making to the building and how will they help inspire more sustainable packaging? 

The changes we are making in this Phase I renovation are a critical first step towards a longer term vision. This first phase encompasses three objectives. The first objective is to modernize our main classroom, the showcase space for teaching and gathering people together. We will be moving away from fixed chairs and desks to a more flexible, multi-use design that facilitates many different teaching and learning approaches. The second objective is to update and add office space for our faculty and graduate students. We want to show a commitment to providing modern facilities that attract the best and brightest to our program. Third is adding new collaborative workspaces with connective technologies. This last objective is all about creating an atmosphere of innovation and inspiration, not only for students and faculty, but something that can be shared with partners across industry, academia, government agencies and NGOs. Creativity and inspiration is sparked when people come together, and having the right facility brings people together. The renovations will draw the best minds to East Lansing, Mich. and inspire and accelerate sustainable packaging solutions.

Q. What challenges are faced by the industry and how will this partnership help the industry face these challenges? 

There's a strong societal emphasis right now on all things pertaining to the environment. Most people have an innate sense we need to be good stewards of the planet, and we need to be conscientious of the processes, materials and design of products and packaging. It can be easy to only focus on the challenge of excessive or wasteful packaging without also considering the many critical benefits packaging provides. Examples are reduced product damage through e-commerce, reduced food waste, or ensuring delivery of life-saving medical products — like vaccines. For sure there are packaging end-of-life challenges, such as lack of recycling infrastructure, excessive material use or the use of a less optimal material type. What we need is a holistic value chain approach for solving these challenges that considers the whole environmental impact while still reaping the benefits packaging provides. This is where partnership across suppliers, brand owners, government entities, waste management companies and packaging programs can generate innovative solutions. This partnership is meant to tackle this challenge head-on.

Q. What will the focus be for the person who is appointed to the Endowed Chair of Sustainability professorship?

The person appointed as the Amcor Endowed Chair of Sustainable Packaging will focus their efforts in three key areas. The first will be innovative, sustainable packaging solutions that lower overall environmental impact; not just new material development, but total solutions that work through the whole value chain from raw material extraction to end of use.

The second focus is to take those new learnings from research and incorporate them into our program curriculum. This ensures our students have the most up-to-date and innovative training as part of their education.

The third component this endowed chair will focus on is public outreach. And when I say outreach, I’m including partnerships with industry, government entities and NGOs. The idea is to have a voice and bring a data-driven point of view to critical policy-making conversations. Outreach also means translating academic concepts and presenting them to the general population in terms that are easy to grasp and easy to implement. It’s about providing a holistic perspective on the benefits of packaging, along with scalable, practical solutions for end-of-life challenges.

Q. What are some of the core competencies around packaging that this gift will help develop in students?

This gift, and specifically the Amcor Endowed Chair of Sustainable Packaging, will help reinforce some of the core competencies our graduates are known for, such as a total environmental footprint approach to design, design optimization through the full value chain and the competency of approaching packaging design through the lens of value creation, not just a product after-thought.

This gift reinforces our commitment to those competencies and can take us to a new level as we innovate and create next generation solutions.

Q. How will this gift impact faculty? And students?

For faculty, this is first and foremost a boost of confidence for their work in sustainable packaging solutions and it helps reinforce the premier status of our school. Amcor’s gift sends the message that this is the place to be. It also validates years of hard work creating a world-class program, and now we're going to add a first of its kind endowed chair for sustainable packaging. This is going to be very attractive for faculty and graduate students.

Our undergraduate students will also directly benefit from the research and teaching that's going to come out of this. And I suspect the gift will also create excitement for prospective students to see such a commitment to sustainability. It says we are serious about teaching and finding environmentally sound solutions and students can be in that learning environment surrounded by an attractive and modern facility. Like faculty, the gift will create a sense for students that the School of Packaging is the place to be. And of course, that means we have better-prepared students entering the workforce.

Q. What’s the future of the School of Packaging, where do you see the growth potential?

If you look at the packaging industry as a whole, it's close to a trillion-dollar industry. It's one of the largest global industries, and it's growing. It's growing between 3% and 5% annual growth per year and the growth is happening across most sectors.

Back in January, right in the middle of the pandemic, there were over 20,000 packaging engineering positions available online. There is a great demand for packaging professionals. I think that demand will continue, because companies are striving to take advantage of new technologies and they're striving to develop more sustainable packaging solutions. I see continued strong demand for our graduates.

The COVID-19 pandemic really highlighted the benefits of packaging as well. Everything from vaccine preservation and delivery solutions to food packaging, and packaging that kept businesses and restaurants open during the pandemic. E-commerce is growing, medical and pharmaceutical industries are growing. All of these already are strengths for the School, and I expect that they will continue to be so. I want the School to be poised to follow the industry growth and do it with a firm foundation in a sustainable solution curriculum.

Q. What niche does the MSU School of Packaging fill in the industry? Is it a general need for packaging engineers? Does this gift steer that niche toward sustainability?

I would offer that the MSU School of Packaging does more than just fill a niche. Over the years we have produced between 40% to 50% of the packaging engineers going into industry. Our graduates have tremendous leadership influence in all kinds of companies, and you'll find MSU packaging grads at all management and C-suite levels. Our alumni are also technical and creative thought leaders. A lot of the creative packaging you see in stores and online are developed by our graduates.

The Amcor gift reinforces our long-standing effort incorporating a sustainable design approach throughout our curriculum, which in turn further distinguishes MSU as a thought leader in this space.

And finally, I’ll mention that MSU has the only Ph.D. packaging degree in the U.S. We attract many international graduate students, many who return to their home countries to teach or take influential public and private sector positions. So, we also have global influence with our packaging education, which in turn influences the global packaging industry.

 

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