A Meeting of Minds

By Catherine Diamond, Associate Editor | May 24, 2012

The L9, a global group of industry associations, met in Tokyo to discuss global awards, standards and sustainability.

Association presidents and delegates who attended the most
recent L9 meeting.
The sixth meeting of the L9, an informal group of the world’s leading label industry trade associations, took place on April 3 in Tokyo.  The L9 was established at Labelexpo Asia in 2009 as a way to unite label communities around the globe, and to serve as a resource to the label community at large. Subsequent meetings were held at the FINAT Technical Seminar in Barcelona, Labelexpo North Americas in Chicago, the TLMI Converter Meeting in Florida, and Labelexpo Europe in Brussels. The meeting in Tokyo included the attendance of the leaders of seven L9 member associations. In addition to the hosting association – JFLP (Japan Federation of Label Printing Industries) – delegations from FINAT (Europe), TLMI (Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute of North America), LATMA (Label and Tag Manufacturers Association of Australia), LMAI (Label Manufacturers Association of India), PEIAC (Printing Equipment Industries Association of China), and Ametiq (Asociación Mexicana de Etiqueteros) were in attendance. Additional members who were not present include ABIEA of Brazil and SALMA of New Zealand. 

Kurt Walker, president of FINAT, says that since the organization was established in Shanghai, it has been growing stronger. “The L9 started as an informal get together of global label associations in Shanghai at the end of 2009. At that time – on the initiative of Tarsus, FINAT and TLMI - eight associations from across the globe were invited for a meeting to exchange experiences, discuss common problems and explore the possibility of closer interaction in the future,” Walker says.

While Walker expected that many of the topics addressed would be relevant to each association’s local community, he was surprised to find that many of the challenges each association faced were found across the board.

“First of all, many of the suppliers offering materials and technology to the label and narrow web industry are global.  A growing proportion of our members’ customers are operating on a global scale. In response to all of this, our respective members are reaching out on a global scale, to adopt global standards, share best practices, establish global partnerships, expand their B2B network and promote the versatility of our products to the global market in a consistent manner.  And last but not least, they share the same corporate responsibility towards the planet. For example, a number of recycling initiatives have been developed and are being deployed. However, it is crucial to keep the momentum and create critical mass.

“FINAT has identified recycling and sustainability as key to the continued success of the self-adhesive label industry. This is exactly why we have re-established the FINAT recycling project and why the L9 has dedicated an entire session to this topic.

“It is only logical that our associations follow its members on the ‘global trail’ and it was therefore decided to meet on a more regular basis. Initially one of the participants came up with the idea to use the name L8 for our informal platform. In the meantime, a 9th association has joined and we soon expect our 10th member,” he says.

Trevor Bowles, president of SALMA (Self Adhesive Label Manufacturers Association of New Zeland), says that the benefits of the L9 are numerous. “Benefits of membership include improved interface with other associations, networking and understanding what issues each association has within their national operation. It also provides an understanding of the role the association plays in the industry, and knowing where we can provide enhanced value to our members,” he says.

Topics discussed at this most recent meeting – which was co-hosted by local manufacturer Lintec – include the World Label Awards framework, benchmarking standards and a survey of regional trends and developments. During this trip to Japan, delegates were also offered the opportunity to visit Toyota, as well as Osaka Seal Printing, and to discover best Lean practices, the continuous improvement in manufacturing philosophy that originated there.

The primary focus of the meeting was on the industry’s response to the challenge of environmental sustainability and for this purpose, the top management of two leading global players, Avery Dennison and UPM Raflatac, who shared their companies’ perspectives on this subject. Suntory, a major local beverage company, completed the scope from an end users’ perspective. The subsequent dialogue between label converters and their trade associations at the meeting produced recommendations to align efforts as an industry to stimulate environmental sustainability. Special focus was on recycling in the label sector worldwide through collaboration on regional waste management strategies.

Itsuo Komiyama, president of JFLP and host of the recent
L9 meeting in Tokyo.

Going green, globally
UPM Raflatac President Jussi Vanhanen addressed the group with facts regarding the depletion of the world’s resources and the inevitable raw material inflation. “In these circumstances it is more important than ever for the industry to focus its efforts on the efficient use of raw materials and resources. Doing nothing is not an option,” he said.

Vanhanen’s presentation was part of an L9 initiative aiming to stimulate global awareness and collaboration for recycling and sustainability in the self-adhesive labelstock industry.

“Major brand owners and retailers are asking for accurate and case-specific information concerning the environmental performance of self-adhesive products and the factories producing them,” Vanhanen said, and invited the self-adhesive labelstock industry to lead the development of harmonization for its raw material suppliers’ environmental reporting under the umbrella of the L9 associations. The Paper Profile, developed and used by graphic paper manufacturers with the industry associations, was presented as a good example of similar development.

The main factors influencing the global warming potential of labelstock products throughout their lifecycles are the raw materials and the end-of-life treatment of labelstock waste. Vanhanen highlighted practical means for label printers to reduce their environmental impact, most important of these being the selection of substrates, thin and light labelstock components and sustainable end-of-life treatment. He invited label printers and end users to join labelstock suppliers in supporting the efficient use of raw materials and resources by promoting environmentally sound solutions. 

Viable recycling uses for labelstock waste streams were identified as the main bottleneck to increasing recycling rates. Vanhanen said that UPM has made substantial investments to innovate and develop solutions to meet this need. The RafCycle labelstock waste management concept makes use of labelstock by-products from all stages of the labelstock lifecycle. The recycled waste is given a new life as UPM ProFi wood-plastic composite products, paper or energy. Vanhanen concluded his speech by inviting the industry to innovate new uses for labelstock waste to expand recycling globally.

American perspective
TLMI Editor Jennifer Dochstader recently spoke with TLMI Chairman Art Yerecic and TLMI Chairman Elect Dave McDowell, both of whom attended the meeting, for an interview in TLMI’s The Illuminator. According to an excerpt from the interview, Yerecic believes that the success of the L9 is rooted in its structure.

“The group observes parliamentary procedures in our meetings and decisions that are not unanimous are brought to a vote. The chairmanship of the group was held by FINAT for the first two years; however, the Japan meeting was chaired by Mitsuo Komiyama, president of JFLP, as the L9 has moved to a rotating chairmanship based on the host location of the meeting. FINAT’s secretariat, Jules Lejeune, graciously serves as the L9 secretary,” he says. 

Yerecic emphasized the importance of a global label community, and says that TLMI is embracing the opportunity to share ideas with association leaders around the globe. “TLMI is fully committed to the L9 and the Board of Directors is committed to sending two or three delegates to every meeting. We recognize the importance of being part of a collective like the L9 as so many of the challenges and opportunities in our industry are global, affecting converters in every region,” he says.

Yerecic says that the value of L9 comes from a willingness to share on the part of the individual associations, including TLMI. “TLMI’s L9 mission is to partner with the leading label associations of the world to improve and grow the industry, and to provide opportunities for TLMI and its members. As the world’s longest established industry association, we naturally have an important role in the L9 meetings. TLMI has developed many best practices, which we have gladly shared and our financial benchmarking Ratio Study received quite a bit of interest at the Labelexpo Brussels meeting last September. We were asked to present the Ratio Study in detail and did so in Tokyo,” he says.

One example of best practices shared by the organizations include the development of young managers and leaders in the industry. “Prior to the formation of the L9, we found value in discussing best practices with our friends at FINAT. We launched our Young Leaders Development Organization after learning about FINAT and the LMAI’s Young Managers concept. Together, we are promoting the concept and importance of training and educating the next generation of leaders to the other L9 associations.

“The L9 additionally creates opportunities for TLMI and our member companies to network, learn, and potentially create strategic partnerships with the world’s leading label converters and suppliers. The L9 platform also gives TLMI an even bigger voice to promote our sustainability mission.  We have discussed LIFE (Label Initiative for the Environment) with the other associations and there is interest from some of them in adopting the program as their own standard,” Yerecic says. 

Sustainability was a central theme at the most recent L9 meeting, and Yerecic says it is a primary focus of the organization as a whole. Given the global platform of the organization, Yerecic believes that it gives participants a real opportunity to affect change in the industry.

“The leadership of the L9 associations is comprised of their converter members and we recognize that as converters we have the opportunity to make a difference. For example, as Yerecic Label, I can make a difference. However I can make a much bigger difference as TLMI Chairman, and the L9 presents an opportunity to make an even bigger difference because it is an even bigger stage.

“This is one of the reasons we asked Avery Dennison and UPM Raflatac to make sustainability presentations at this recent meeting in Tokyo. The presentations were focused on what two of the largest industry suppliers are doing to reinforce their own sustainability priorities and ways they are impacting the greater industry. The group was quite impressed with the companies’ vision and the scope of their activities,” he says.

Yerecic says that the goal of sustainability can only be reached by collaboration – from converters, suppliers and industry associations. “As label converters, we’re looking for even more extensive industry vision. We are going to require help from suppliers on key issues like liner recycling and waste matrix disposal and/or conversion. The L9 wants our industry supplier partners to envision an increasing role in helping us meet the requirements of our own customers – brand owners and packaging buyers. As an industry, we want to do the right thing, however we cannot add a lot of cost so we must find solutions that deliver cost savings or are cost neutral when it comes to increasing our own sustainability practices.”

According to Yerecic, one of the ways TLMI is assisting both its converter and supplier members is by making available to membership things like the new LIFE brochure. This brochure serves as a professional piece of marketing collateral that LIFE-certified companies are using in approaching and discussing sustainability with their customers. It is targeted at the brand owner/packaging buyer and explains LIFE in a language that is relevant to them, a language that addresses retailer scorecards and transparency in the supply chain.

“In terms of how much of a priority sustainability is in emerging markets, I believe it’s a priority in any region where labels are being produced for global brand owners and major retailers. These two groups have a persistent focus on sustainability. In some countries landfill costs are negligible and it is less of a priority. However in other emerging markets this isn’t the case. For example, we learned at the meeting that the disposal of waste matrix isn’t an issue for many converters in India because there are small-scale entrepreneurs who pick up waste matrix directly at the converter’s site and then sell it to be converted into other products.

“Sustainability is an area where TLMI continues to both learn and educate, maintaining a leadership position with LIFE and the research we are constantly undertaking on behalf of our membership. A mission for both TLMI and the L9 is to increase our practical knowledge of exactly what the solutions are in the market currently. For example, who and where are the companies that actively recycle liner materials and either recycle waste matrix or have it turned into energy? What are individual converters currently doing who are active in recycling; what are their internal processes and who are their partners? This is the kind of information that will be made available to the joint memberships of the L9 partners, and in sharing what our respective market’s approaches, challenges and solutions are; it will serve in benefitting our own association’s members, and the greater narrow web industry as a whole,” he says.
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