Sustainable Ideas Can Sprout up Anywhere

Posted: May 6, 2014 by
John Barry

In this ongoing series, we've invited designers and manufacturers to tell us a bit about their process, and how solutions come together. Sometimes sustainability concerns are the primary creative-driver, sometimes it's just a part of the creative mix. But in any case, each new solution helps move the whole of the industry one step closer to a sustainable future.

With the original start-up of the company over 25 years ago, General Converting Inc. (GCI ) outside Chicago always had an eye for recyclability (as it was termed back then). This was largely driven by economics, as scrap paperboard had value as a bailed and recycled product, but was costly to dispose of in normal waste. Strong efforts had always been made to utilize as much of the paperboard as possible and recycle what could not be used.

When GCI built a new manufacturing facility in Bolingbrook, IL, in January of 2000, the design of the plant included a sophisticated dust collection, waste collection, and automatic bailing system to improve the amount of waste paperboard that was recycled and to segregate the various fiber streams. Since opening, the plant has averaged over 99% recyclability of waste paperboard. All core plugs and cores from the incoming roll stock are also recycled.

In early 2007, GCI began to make some concentrated efforts in becoming educated about sustainability. Following that education, the company put a plan together to address sustainability from the manufacturing plant and processes sides of the business. Areas that had already been addressed by the company included:

• Utilizing reusable plastic pallets through all processes in the plant
• Entering into reusable plastic pallet exchange programs with key customers
• Over 45% of raw paperboard material purchases are 100% recycled (Clay Coated News Back – CCNB)
• Recycling over 99% of paperboard waste into bails which are used to make new paperboard
• Recycling of all core plugs and cores from incoming raw material
• Utilizing soy-based inks which have a 40% fewer VOCs than conventional inks and are comprised of 100% natural and renewable oils
• Utilizing ethanol instead of alcohol in printing to reduce VOCs and utilize a renewable resource.

The new plan had to focus on areas that went beyond what had already been accomplished. As material issues had been part of earlier efforts, a logical next focus area looked at energy. GCI is pursuing LEED certification for their building, with Platinum Level certification as the end goal. GCI has signed contracts with its energy supplier for 2008 to source all of its energy through wind power. This shift in energy sourcing means, every carton produced in the plant this year will be made with 100% renewable energy. Since the plant is located in Illinois, which uses coal fired power plants, this action by the company will result in a reduction of 1,468,000 pounds of coal being burned in 2008.

GCI is also investing in a lighting system upgrade that will use motion sensors with T8 and T5 bulbs to reduce energy consumption. The upgrade will result in a reduction of 281,826 kilowatts per year. That is equivalent to 205,733 pounds of coal that would otherwise be burned. In addition to these initiatives, the company continues to work with design teams from its customer base to utilize recycled paperboard whenever possible, and offer alternative styles and structures that minimize waste.
The efforts to convert to a more eco-friendly manufacturer are never-ending. There is always room to do more and GCI has the attitude and dedication to continue down the path of being more environmentally responsible.

John Barry of General Converting Inc. has 25 years of experience in manufacturing and packaging. To find out more, visit
The Sustainability Update is coordinated by Wendy Jedlicka, CPP – Jedlicka Design Ltd. (, o2 Global Sustainable Design Network ( and, Minneapolis College of Art and Design's groundbreaking Sustainable Design Certificate Program (