• World Biz Magazine

TIM DEBUS, CEO OF THE REUSABLE PACKAGING ASSOCIATION (RPA) - INTERVIEW



TIM DEBUS, CEO OF THE REUSABLE PACKAGING ASSOCIATION (RPA) HAS BEEN SELECTED BY THE JUDGES OF WORLD BIZ MAGAZINE'S ANNUAL AWARDS TO BE A RECIPIENT OF THE TOP 100 CEOS IN INNOVATION AWARD 2021. THIS SELECTION FOLLOWS A STRINGENT PROCESS THAT EVALUATED OVER 40,000 NOMINEESS TO SELECT THE EXCLUSIVE LIST OF 100 WINNERS.


Tim Debus leads the Reusable Packaging Association (RPA) as president & CEO to advance the common business interests of its many member companies by promoting reusable transport packaging systems. Reusable transport packaging products like pallets, bins, and containers combine to form a $100 billion market worldwide.


What excites about your work in this industry?

The most exciting aspect of my work for the reusable packaging industry is the knowledge that our business not only contributes to problem-solving of the world’s biggest challenges like waste, pollution, and climate change, but also plays an important role in the transformation to a modern digital economy that decouples financial growth from resource consumption. The Reusable Packaging Association is at the forefront of change for a better world and the way we package and distribute goods, and the market opportunities ahead for our companies are unlimited in innovation, service, and value creation. I am privileged to work for RPA member companies and the association’s top-notch leadership teams and staff. RPA members are leading the charge in the reuse revolution.


"As a platform for the distribution of goods, reusable packaging can play a lead role in a digital economy and a key driver of Industry 4.0 and supply chain modernization."

What are some of the challenges facing the industry?

A challenge for the reusable packaging industry is the commercial transformation from a long-entrenched single-use packaging model to an advanced system of packaging reuse leading to waste prevention and value creation. Today’s packaging predominantly follows a linear process of resource consumption and product manufacture for the intended one- time use of low-cost packaging that passes accountability and expense of waste disposal downstream. Companies can be reluctant to break away from the status quo and invest in a circular process of continuous packaging recovery and reuse, despite universal recognition that product reuse is a preferred activity over material recycling for environmental stewardship. The good news is that growing awareness, advocacy, and acceptance of the benefits of reusable packaging systems – both to reduce environmental impacts and increase economic values – are starting to encourage more companies to consider and deploy packaging source reduction practices in their business operations and customer engagement activities. Transformation from linear to circular packaging models need to occur at a quicker pace in the market to combat rising environmental crises such as pollution, climate change, and natural resource depletion.


What are some of the trends in customer demands?

The marketplace is responding quickly to meet changing customer needs during the Covid-19 pandemic. Early in the pandemic significant shifts in market demands, such as more products required in retail and ecommerce distribution channels, led to supply shortages and inventory imbalances. In addition, interruptions in the workforce from quarantine and social distancing practices made it difficult for companies to steadily operate and fulfill orders. As a result, companies are seeking to build resiliency and visibility in their business operations to strengthen their abilities to meet changing markets and to protect against future supply chain disruptions. It is widely viewed that the global pandemic has accelerated business integration of new technologies and automation in the handling of goods. Reusable packaging systems contribute to business resiliency and technology enablement. When packaging products are already manufactured and ready for another use, companies are not challenged with raw material or manufacturing constraints for sourcing of packaging. Also, durable reusable packaging can be equipped with technology devices for automatic identification, monitoring, and locating anywhere in the supply chain. Plus, the highly precise specifications of a reusable packaging product meet the stringent requirements for automated and robotic handling facilities.


What role does technology play in the improvement and growth of the reusable packaging industry?

Technology plays an important and exciting role for the improvement and growth of the reusable packaging industry. Technology-enabled reusable packaging will turn pallets, bins, crates, and totes into smart packaging that can capture and transmit data for real-time product visibility, accurate inventory management, condition and climate monitoring for quality assurance, and predictive analytics for future demand planning, for example. As a platform for the distribution of goods, reusable packaging can play a lead role in a digital economy and a key driver of Industry 4.0 and supply chain modernization.


What advantages do US companies have in this field?

Reusable transport packaging is a global industry. Many companies develop and sell reusable packaging products and services in multiple regions around the world, applying learnings, best practices, and innovations into new markets. Through international trade, reusable products are often moved, used, recovered, and returned across borders. However, the size, geography, population, and economic characteristics of countries and regions can vary the use and extent of reusable packaging systems. In the United States, commerce often moves long distances such as from imports or between the coasts, and the system of reuse needs to account for extended transit needs and times. Companies operating in the U.S. gain expertise in complex reuse models and asset management efficiencies. The U.S. market is also poised for growth in sustainable products like reusable packaging that offer environmental, social, and economic benefits.


"A good leader is a strategic thinker who brings clarity to the mission and workflow of the organization. Leadership listens, learns continuously, and is open to change, but then has the means and fortitude to make a decisive decision. Leaders communicate defined roles and responsibilities, set clear expectations for teamwork and individual contribution, and empower and inspire the workforce talent to carry out the tasks and succeed on the goals"

Tell us about some of the international work the RPA does.

RPA consists of member companies from all over the world. Many RPA members are headquartered outside of the United States or have business interests abroad. While based in the U.S., RPA’s promotion and advocacy work is universal in content and scope. For example, RPA is an original signatory to the internationally recognized New Plastics Economy by the UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and RPA routinely communicates how a reusable packaging model advances a circular economy. Also, RPA participates in international events to represent its members, promote the benefits of reusable packaging, and build collaborations for a stronger industry. One example is RPA’s meeting with industry leaders from Scandinavian countries in Oslo, Norway, in October 2019, to discuss industry issues and to share industry insights.


What makes a good leader?

Leadership forms an effective strategy for the business, has the discipline to stay the strategic course, and clearly communicates the business plan and priorities teamwide. Strategy is rooted in the fundamentals and competitive strengths of the business; it should not waiver or be confused with tactics that may change with business conditions. A good leader is a strategic thinker who brings clarity to the mission and workflow of the organization. Leadership listens, learns continuously, and is open to change, but then has the means and fortitude to make a decisive decision. Leaders communicate defined roles and responsibilities, set clear expectations for teamwork and individual contribution, and empower and inspire the workforce talent to carry out the tasks and succeed on the goals. In leading a trade association with diversity of interests, diplomacy is a skill to treat stakeholders equally, find the common element, and reach consensus on action supporting the strategy and advancing the shared objective of all parties.



Please tell us how important innovation is to the RPA.

Innovation is at the forefront of RPA’s work with member companies and promotion of the increasing value proposition for reusable packaging systems. Innovation for our industry comes in forms such as:

  • Technology-enabled products for smart packaging in a digital supply chain.

  • Use of reusable packaging in massive machine type communications (mMTC) as a key driver of Industry 4.0 and supply chain modernization.

  • Automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) for real-time tracking and management of reusable assets.

  • Product specifications for compatibility and performance in automated facilities and with robotic equipment.

  • Advanced networks and infrastructures for inventory management to meet scale and volume-driven operating efficiencies.

  • Cutting-edge material sciences and manufacturing processes for improved product performance and speed-to-market capabilities.

RPA features innovation in our education materials and presentations. For example, in 2019, RPA released a white paper entitled “A Smarter, Technology-Driven Supply Chain with Reusable Packaging Systems.” And in 2020 RPA assembled an industry panel on the topic of “Smart Packaging through a Reusable System.” In April this year, RPA produced two panel sessions on the topics of Internet of Things and automation.


Share with us some of RPA's work during the pandemic.

The global Covid-19 pandemic challenged the business of reusable packaging. Questions about the safe use of reusable packaging, radical shifts in product supply and demand, and labor constrains in service operations, for example, all contributed to a disruptive period for the industry in meeting new demands in the market. RPA served as a valued resource for its members by facilitating information exchange, fostering collaborative responses, and communicating fact-based perspectives. RPA used its voice to not only alleviate concerns in the market, but also to highlight the advantages of reusable systems to overcome deficiencies revealed by the virus. This included recognizing the safety of commercial reusable products and their role in building supply chain resiliency and inventory visibility. RPA’s leadership was evident enabling the association to retain and grow its membership and impact.


Find out more by visiting: www.reusables.org