At times like the run-up to Christmas, it is useful to reflect on the past year.  I am happy to share my thoughts about my first year at Pro Carton.  Please find a few points of my personal reflections:

From a political and macroeconomic perspective, 2022 will go down in the history books as the year of the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and inflation.

We have all been reminded that we cannot take peace in Europe for granted.  For more than 70 years, we have experienced mostly peaceful times in Europe.  Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has reminded us that we have an obligation to stand up for our freedom and peace across national borders.  We must support Ukraine in its struggle for independence and territorial integrity.  We can allow competing economic and political systems as part of living democratic values, but we must never allow aggression and invasion.

The energy crisis has also reminded us of our obligation to push for independence from fossil fuels and accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources.  We have lived too long with the convenience of oil and gas reaching Western Europe “safely” via pipelines.  In the winter of 2022 we are discussing “controlled blackouts”, something I have only seen in Asian countries in the last 20 years.  There, it is excused by being part of a development process.  I would like to see these discussions and fears mobilise all forces to remove hurdles and drive decision making towards renewable energy sources.

Finally, a few thoughts on inflation. For the past 20 years, we in EU countries have only known inflation from textbooks.  We have lived within the corridor of 1-3% annual inflation, which is “ideal” from a macroeconomic perspective.  With the energy crisis and the aftermath of the pandemic, we are now facing double-digit figures, fuelling fears of poverty and rising living costs.  Inflation is part of our new reality.  I expect it to average 4-5% in 2023 and hope it will fall back to a healthier level of below 3% in 2024.

We will publish interesting results of our consumer survey in January.  Please follow our Bulletins closely and the announcement on our website.

All these factors have a massive impact on our industry.  We are considered an energy-intensive industry that continues to rely on large amounts of gas to keep our operations going.  All Pro Carton members have crisis and contingency plans in place to ensure the production of essential packaging materials for key food and pharmaceutical customers.

We continued to face ever-increasing energy and raw material costs, resulting in a number of significant cost increases for cartonboard and folding cartons.  A big thank you to all our colleagues, both in the mills and in the converting plants, who handled this situation professionally and responsibly.

What a year for Pro Carton too. I would like to highlight a few important milestones that come to mind when I review the year.  We went live with our new website, updating the content, improving the visitor experience and the look and feel.  We added more content throughout the year, including extensive video content on our YouTube channel.  Please take the time to look at our pages over the holidays.

We started the year by demonstrating the resilience of paperboard fibres. “25 times is not the limit” was the key finding announced by Dr Rene Eckhart from Graz University of Technology.  A key statement that was widely echoed in dozens of articles in the international media.

We have developed new formats to bring the industry together.  As an independent association, we compete for space in an ever-increasing flood of information.  That is why we are joining forces across industry boundaries.  We had formats like roundtable discussions with representatives from the entire value chain.  And we have teamed up with key media channels to maximise reach and distribution.

We have worked closely with other associations such as #GreenSource and Fibre Packaging Europe (FPE).  We use #GreenSource to get our messages to decision-makers in Brussels, FPE to raise the voice of our industry in advocacy and legislation.  We have made great progress with these two alliances over the last 12 months.  Please follow the reports in our bulletins and on our website closely.

We also worked closely with 4evergreen and jointly promoted the 4evergreen Design for Recycling guidelines.  We had representatives for the entire value chain, including global clients such as Nestle and Unilever, who demonstrated the benefits and advantages of these guidelines for the use of fibre-based packaging materials.

The focus of our daily work shifted to collaboration across the value chain.  This level of collaboration is necessary to stay ahead of the competition and best meet the challenges ahead.

One of the highlights of the year was the ECMA Congress and Awards Night in Krakow.  We welcomed more than 250 representatives to celebrate the winners of the European Carton Excellence Award (ECEA) and the Pro Carton Young Designers Award as well as the Pro Carton Student Video Award.

The awards are an extremely important promotional tool for us.  With the ECEA winners, we celebrate the creativity of our designers and demonstrate the strength of cartonboard and the leadership role our industry is taking on the road to the circular economy.  With the Student Awards, we bring our industry closer to the next generation of young designers.  We showcase our industry’s exciting environment for graduates.  Here is an example of our collaboration with the Accademia Italiana.

During the Annual General Meeting in Krakow, Pro Carton members elected Michele Bianchi as the new Pro Carton President.  The two associations, Pro Carton and CEPI Cartonboard, also expressed interest in promoting synergies, increasing member engagement and exploring the possibilities of merging the two associations.  All this with the clear aim of increasing the benefits for the members of both associations.  In November we launched a member survey.  Many thanks to all those who took the time and gave us valuable suggestions for the future direction of Pro Carton.  We will report on the results in January.

TICCIT activities in 2022 were still limited due to Covid-related contact restrictions in schools.  We had some TICCIT activities in Germany, Spain and even in El Salvador where we were inspired by some great examples.  We ask for your support to further advance TICCIT programmes in your local communities.  It is a memorable learning programme for generations. Please contact us, we will be happy to support you.

Finally, 2022 is also the year of updating our carton C02 footprint.  This year we have involved 60 production sites from pulp manufacturers, carton mills and converters to report their materials.   We expect to publish the first results in January 2023.

This is my personal review of the year 2022.   A lot more happened, the points discussed are particularly memorable to me.  A year with great challenges and opportunities.

I would like to say a personal thank you for all the support I have received from Pro Carton members and partner associations (#GreenSource, ECMA, 4evergreen, Suzanne McEwen, Helena Schütte, Katie Ryan, Storm Communications, Le Jeune, all our judges for the various awards and all friends and supporters of Pro Carton).  By the end of the year, we will count more than 5,700 LinkedIn followers, an increase of more than 30% in 2022.  Thank you for your trust and confidence.  You are the greatest motivation for our daily work.

We are well positioned to play our part in the #eugreendeal and continue to build on our leadership as a leading sustainable packaging material.

I am proud to be a part of our industry.

Winfried Mühling, Director of Marketing & Communication.  December 2022