Peter Görlitz joined Sonoco CPE in 2019 as sustainability manager. He is passionate about the “bigger picture” and implements new processes and guidelines at Sonoco that will guide us on our sustainability journey. We sat down with him to learn more about his career path, his interests and how the sustainability trend is changing the market.
What are your duties as a sustainability manager?
The idea of sustainability focuses on the ecological, social and economic aspects of any given issue and seeks to find a balance between these three perspectives. As a sustainability manager, it is my responsibility to advise the company in several areas and according to these principles. Together with my colleagues, I decide on suitable measures and work to find sustainable long-term solutions.
My goal is to share my knowledge about sustainability so that ideally all Sonoco employees have a common understanding on that topic. My role is to provide the company with sound advice on the direction for its sustainability journey, so that every employee knows what steps to take next. I also act as an interface for customers and other stakeholders who are equally concerned about sustainability and want to align their ideas with ours.
What is your academic / professional background? How did you become a sustainability manager?
There are a lot of ways to enter the field of sustainability. I myself have a background in the natural sciences, having studied Geo-Ecology and International Management of Resources and the Environment. This background allows me to assess the sustainability aspects of different issues very well. On the one hand, I can assess the impact of a product or measure on the environment in both short and long term. On the other, thanks to what I learned from my management studies, I have a thorough understanding of the various social and economic processes within a big organisation like Sonoco.
My first job in the field of sustainability was in the automotive industry. The focus there was primarily on improving development and production processes. At Sonoco, my focus is mainly on the product itself. I try to find answers to questions like: What do we have to do to offer more sustainable packaging? And what is the definition of sustainable packaging in the first place?
Anyone who wants to be involved in sustainability management should be curious about the bigger picture, so to speak. Sustainability is based on the idea of balance and preservation, while taking into account environmental, social and economic aspects. As a sustainability manager, I’m confronted with a number of new topics daily, so I have to familiarise myself with them quickly. I also enjoy working with people, and in conversations, I often find myself in the role of the mediator.
Why did you decide to become a sustainability manager?
As a child, my love for nature and the world at large was sparked by taking regular hikes. That’s something I’ve been able to keep as an adult, and now I would like to do my part, so that all children and adults can discover that beauty for themselves. I am interested in economic issues and I like dealing with people. Working as a sustainability manager involves all those interests.
What do like most about your job?
When I start working on a new issue, at first I often don’t know how to solve it. It’s only by collaborating with my colleagues that I can deliver a suitable solution that provides sustainable outcomes for the company and all its employees. I learn something new from them every day, so it never gets boring.
What topics are you currently working on?
An attitude change is taking place in the market right now, and the topic of recyclable packaging is becoming more and more important. Many companies are defining new standards for themselves in response to this change. In this context, it is my job to review these standards in close collaboration with experts, and to provide guidelines for my internal and external colleagues. My focus area is Europe. I’m also overseeing both smaller and larger projects in which we’re testing the recyclability of our products at sorting and recycling plants. My participation as Sonoco’s representative at associations in the packaging and recycling industry is an important point on my agenda, too. We jointly define new standards and guidelines for recycling in order to promote a circular economy and a more sustainable use of resources.