March 29, 2021 | By Wisconsin School of Business | Back to news

Corporations worldwide are looking for ways to make their operations more sustainable, and supply chain managers play a lead role in these efforts. Recycling of materials, particularly plastics, is integral to green business practices, but many view it as difficult and costly. In fact, experts estimate that less than 10% of plastic has been recycled since the 1950s.

WSB’s Jake Dean

The Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management at the Wisconsin School of Business is tackling relevant issues such as this, most recently with the event, “Sustainable Success: The Future of Plastic,” a virtual panel discussion on the recycling challenges inherent with plastic. Through a partnership with the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the dialogue was the fourth segment in a sustainability series that prepares students to analyze and address pressing issues facing businesses today.

“Supply chain and sustainability are integrally linked, so it’s crucial to have an understanding of the issues, many of which don’t always have simple, immediate answers or solutions,” says Jake Dean, director of the Grainger Center. “Business and sustainability are not at opposite ends of the spectrum, and that’s one of the main reasons why we started this longstanding partnership with the Nelson Institute was to open up a broader dialogue for all.”

The event featured UW–Madison faculty experts as well as industry leaders such as Steve Alexander, president and chief executive officer of the trade organization Association of Plastic Recyclers, whose members represent more than 95% of the processing capacity for postconsumer plastics in North America.

“There has to be some recognition by the brand companies at one end about the impact of their design in terms of what they’re doing to the stream,” Alexander said. “At the end of the day, we have to be able to capture more material, process it better, and capture that discarded microbead before it gets into the water stream and the marine environment. They talk about the circular economy. This is all circularly related. There’s not one silver bullet out there that is going to solve the issue. It’s really multi-faceted.”

We are focused on helping students tackle the challenges of today—whether that’s sustainability or big data or even a pandemic—as well as the challenges that will emerge tomorrow.

–Jake Dean

Speakers also included Illinois Tool Works, Inc. executives Shawn Welch and Carolyn Woznicki. Welch is group president of the company’s packaging equipment and consumables platform; Woznicki is vice president of global strategic sourcing and environmental, health, and safety. She is also a member of the Grainger Center executive advisory board, a group of corporate partners that gives students direct access to senior executives at leading firms renowned for supply chain excellence.

Through collaborations with campus partners like the Nelson Institute and with industry, the Grainger Center focuses on topical issues that affect the supply chain field and offer a global perspective, such as sustainability, blockchain, cryptocurrency, big data, and many more.

Topical relevance and industry connections are also vital to another key area for the center: preparing its supply chain management students for career success. The center frequently partners with its industry and center advisory board members from leading companies such as Google, Kraft-Heinz, and Medtronic to offer supply chain students applied learning classes that incorporate guest speakers, site visits, case competitions, and professional development activities.

“The center’s four pillar approach—individualized student development, interdisciplinary orientation, global experiences, and integration of applied learning—positions students to lead regardless of what future area of the supply chain field they may enter,” Dean says. “We are focused on helping students tackle the challenges of today—whether that’s sustainability or big data or even a pandemic—as well as the challenges that will emerge tomorrow.”

Watch the video: “Sustainable Success: The Future of Plastic

Founded in 1991, the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management is dedicated to supply chain excellence, providing a student-centered, industry-relevant approach that leverages the expertise of its faculty, distinguished alumni, and industry partners. One of the only endowed, center-based supply chain programs in the country, the Grainger Center enriches students’ education through applied learning opportunities and a cross-functional curriculum in the areas of marketing, operations management, financial management, and analytics.


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