Believing in Sustainability and Second Chances

Union Packaging

1. No Poverty 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 10. Reduced Inequalities 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 17. Partnerships for the Goals

Overview

Union Packaging is a developing yet aspiring business that utilizes its partnerships and relationships with different local nonprofits and programs to hire individuals that are often overlooked in the job market. Employees at Union Packaging come from ex-offender programs, transitional programs, disability programs, and organizations that support recent arrivals to the community from around the world. In addition to their hiring practices, Union Packaging is a leader in sustainable food packaging. Union competes with larger industry players by maintaining sustainability certifications for raw material sourcing and seeking out green innovations to achieve their environmental goals.

Authors

Esra Elshafey

Esra Elshafey

Jarrid Green

Jarrid Green

Meghan Altman

Meghan Altman

Kaita Albanese

Kaita Albanese

School

Bard MBA in Sustainability

Bard MBA in Sustainability

Professor

Kristina Kohl

Kristina Kohl

Innovation

In order to offer employment to underserved groups, Union Packaging has established partnerships with local programs and organizations that share similar missions. Their relationships with these nonprofits and local organizations have helped them to fill vacancies at the company with individuals looking for a second chance. These individuals may be facing difficulty in the job market for a variety of reasons, and Union packaging has made it their mission to provide that second chance to these individuals, and establish the environment to provide the resources for long-term and gainful employment.

As a microenterprise, they never lose sight of their local community and recognized early on the number of individuals seeking employment right in Yeadon. In order to fulfill this mission, they've established partnerships with the following organizations:

  • Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians - Connects newly arrived individuals from around the world with economic opportunities that are needed to succeed in the region. Union Packaging recently placed an individual from the Welcoming Center into the Account Department.
  • Bridges from School to Work - Helps businesses meet their needs while offering young people with disabilities the opportunity to learn, grow and succeed in employment.
  • Delaware County Intermediate Unit - A regional educational services agency. DCIU provides qualified candidates to Union, assists in the interview process as well as training. Working with them through the OPTIONS Transition Services program, through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Office of Intellectual Disabilities.
  • Goodwill of Delaware County - Nonprofit that provides individuals the opportunity to get introduced to Union's new work environment.
  • Philadelphia Reentry Coalition - Union Packaging is a member of the coalition and has participated in the RISE Program to hire ex-offenders. They worked with the George W. Hill Correctional Facility to receive individuals eligible to participate in the work release program. 
  • Collaboration with the Philadelphia Youth Network and the Benjamin Franklin High School to provide internships to students and professional skills training.

"Union Packaging is not interested in filling temporary vacancies but rather seeks long-term employment and makes investments to ensure the proper resources are provided to allow these individuals to grow and thrive with the business for years to come"  says Jennifer Price, Human Resources Manager. 

In addition to Union's hiring practices, the other thing that sets the business apart is their focus on sustainability in their operations. As a quick moving food-packaging company, it would be easy to overlook sustainability in their business decisions, but Union has recognized the benefits that these green innovations have on both their bottom line and for the planet. Their raw materials are paper, ink, and corrugated materials.

They ensure they are sourcing their paper and ink responsibly and are always considering the environment when making their sourcing decisions. Current products are made from 50% post-consumer recycled paper material, responsibly harvested virgin wood pulp and fast-growing wood/pine fiber alternatives such as sugarcane and eucalyptus. All of Union's green packaging efforts are certified by sustainable sourcing initiatives. They also use only food-grade and water-based inks in their operations, and other alternatives that avoid the environmental and health hazards associated with traditional solvent-based printing. With this strategy, Union Packaging generates no hazardous waste on site.

Believing in Sustainability and Second Chances

Inspiration

Michael Pearson, the President and CEO of Union Packaging, started Union Packaging in 1999 with the goal of bringing jobs and greater economic opportunity to the Philadelphia region. Jennifer describes Michael as a transformational leader with an overall goal to always "generate new ideas, be innovative in all opportunities, and strive for continuous improvement." 

As a true entrepreneur, Michael left Westvaco as a promising Junior Executive to strike out on his own. Identifying the need in the quick service restaurant market for a quality minority supplier, Michael established Providence Packaging, the company that would lead to Union Packaging.

Union Packaging is a business for second chances and new ideas. 

Overall impact

The impact of the innovative hiring practices have been the relationships that have been created within the community. The business has an excellent reputation within their local and regional community because of the partnerships they've established with agencies and organizations in the area. Union Packaging is often contacted by different companies and organizations that are aware of the many successful partnerships they have established in the community, and who want to build relationships as well. 

From Union's standpoint, they have been able to gain more long-term employees through the relationships they've established with agencies in their community than through other means such as posting on job boards or attending career fairs. The established relationships provide Union with candidates that have often been pre-screened and assists the organization in meeting their workforce needs. 

These hiring practices have provided employment opportunities to individuals that may often be overlooked, and most importantly have provided long-term jobs with the potential for growth. Most employees at Union start in an entry-level position, and the business promotes from within, so these individuals are provided a long-term and sustainable job opportunity. 

The sustainable practices at Union have a dramatic effect on the environment, both locally and nationally. By sourcing sustainable raw materials and using water-based ink, Union generates zero hazardous waste on site. This impacts the employees on the floor as well as the surrounding community by reducing health hazards and pollution. Through its certifications with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Union ensures the world's forests that provide their raw materials are harvested in a responsible manner to ensure they last. 

Overall, through all of this, Union Packaging has been able to build long-lasting and positive relationships with their community, their customers, and their employees. 

Business benefit

As described above, the benefits the business are obvious in terms of meeting their workforce demands. The cost to recruit and train employees is high for any business, and the cost of employee turnover is high as well. By partnering with local organizations that work to prepare individuals for professional employment, Union is able to meet their workforce demands with individuals seeking long-term and gainful employment. By promotion from within and providing benefits to their employees, engagement is high and most employees are with Union Packaging for over 10 years. Since most of their employees started at an entry-level position and have moved up from there, they are extremely familiar with all aspects of the business, and all employees from those on the floor to leadership are working towards the same goals.

The relationships Union has with local agencies helps to further reduce resources by receiving candidates that have been pre-screened and are positioned well for the job at Union. 

Union Packaging seeks to grow its workforce over the next couple of years, and their established relationships with local organizations and positive reputation will help them reach these goals. 

Union's sustainability actions allow them to remain competitive as a locally owned business. Many of their competitors have sourcing standards in place and other sustainability certifications because they need to meet customer requirements. Since Union Packaging is of a smaller scale, they are not required to hold these certifications. Therefore, the fact that they do, shows to current and future customers that they go above and beyond, and that they care about other factors than just profitability. This is a strong selling point for Union Packaging and allows them to stay competitive and attractive. 

With more than 50% of their raw material costs coming from paperboard, the certifications and sustainable sourcing standards allow them to secure new business and better communicate their competitive advantage to help make up for these costs.  

Social and environmental benefit

Union Packaging supports a culture of increased well-being and success for all involved, including their employees, customers, and community members. By providing decent work opportunities and economic growth to individuals through its hiring practices, Union Packaging is able to reduce inequalities that exist in the greater Philadelphia area, help to reduce poverty and provide health and well-being so its employees can grow and prosper. 

Union Packaging is constantly seeking out new ideas and changes that can be made that will benefit the business, the community, and the environment. Michael and the entire team at Union Packaging have pledged to continue to grow their expertise and the business while gauging their success by the triple bottom line  - seeking sustainability in their business that includes financial, social, and environmental performance metrics.

*Photos from Union Packaging's website https://unionpkg.com/ 

Interviews

Jennifer Price, Human Resources Manager

Aqeel Sajwani, Process Control Supervisor

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Union Packaging

Union Packaging

Yeadon, PA, US

Business Website: https://unionpkg.com/

Year Founded: 1999

Number of Employees: 51 to 200

Union Packaging is a sustainable food packaging leader. Since 1999, Union Packaging designs, prints, manufactures, and ships folding cartons, box packaging, and disposable food containers to any location. As a full-service food packaging company, Union serves a variety of industries.