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Made for China



In 1997, Jeff Bi was an executive at Swedish-owned packaging company Tetra Pak when his 6-year-old son Hansen came home from school one day and asked him, "Dad, why are you still using trees to make products at work? It's bad for the environment."

 

Bi was not a decision-maker in the company and had no say in what packaging materials were being used, but he wanted to set a good example for his son. He lobbied hard, asking why the company didn't certify its fiber source, but the conversations didn't go very far. Most people in the company wanted to know whether it would help the bottomline or not, and Bi found many of his ideas went into the wastebasket.

 

"When I started my own business, Greatview, I needed to put my money where my mouth was," says Bi, a Young Presidents’ Organization member since 2008. "Although we lost money in the beginning, we started to certify our fiber source. It was the right thing to do."

 

The aseptic packaging business is primarily used for packaging dairy, juice and tea products and is a hotly contested industry in China. Many competitors saw no reason to change their supply chain to ensure that the fiber pulp they received for manufacturing was from a sustainable source. It was a risk that paid off for Bi. In 2013, Greatview reached a landmark 10-billion carton sales, despite milk shortages in China that resulted in less demand.

 

China's economic growth during the last decade is well documented and its exports are so prevalent that it is hard to believe that a company the size of Greatview actually imports most of its raw liquid paperboard from Houston, Texas, USA. In an ironic twist to current globalization trends, Greatview is importing raw materials into China from some of the world's most expensive countries for local consumption. Many will argue that the phrase "Made in China" has turned into "Made for China."

 

Elsewhere, Bi established a factory in Germany and has already started exporting. He has also managed to get the attention of former co-workers and major industry decision-makers.

 

"Before we introduced certified fiber people would say, 'Why should I? It is other people's responsibility.' In many cases, multinational companies used Chinese companies as co-packers, resulting in local companies being very cost conscious. They never voluntarily incurred extra cost for sustainable paper," says Bi.

 

"We're in a society where we always see the bad performers punished; we don't often see the good performers being rewarded. This is because the media are mostly geared toward publicizing the bad. But I think I have more listeners nowadays."

 

Bi believes that this does not happen without some form of personal loss. "You must be willing to sacrifice," he says. "I have never seen a successful leader leading from behind, usually they are leading from the front. You need to become good at motivating other people to do good so that more people, in turn, will follow them."

 

Bi has been trying to communicate with as many people as possible to get them to pay a higher price for their fiber source. "Although it's more expensive, it's good for the environment," he says. "It's an investment that will be paid back in the future."

 

YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) is a not-for-profit, global network of young chief executives connected through the shared mission of becoming Better Leaders Through Education and Idea Exchange™. For more information, visit www.ypo.org.