A Force for Good: A Conversation With RBIS Sustainability Hero, Michael Colarossi
With Sustainable September now underway, an opportunity to elevate the importance of sustainability on a global scale, and the release of our 2014-2016 sustainability report All of Us, Every Day, we caught up with our own Michael Colarossi, vice president of Innovation, Product Line Management, and Sustainability. A chemical engineer by trade, Michael started his career taking on pollution, understanding its long-term impact on the environment, and today leads RBIS’ innovation toward greater sustainability as a driving force behind Avery Dennison’s 2025 goals.
Read on to hear how Avery Dennison RBIS stands united as a force for good to reach the company’s bold 2025 goals.
How did you get involved in sustainability?
While I certainly grew up understanding the importance of environmental protection, my first real taste of sustainability came through a summer internship in university that was centered on water pollution and what could be done in the industry to prevent chemicals from getting into the Great Lakes. Through that work, I saw the direct implications - positive and negative - that industry can have on the environment and communities in which they operate. That experience left me with a deep personal obligation to make a positive, lasting impact.
While I have held many different roles in multiple organizations over the years, I have always managed to keep sustainability as a part of each role. Today, I am in a product leadership role where I am responsible for driving our 2025 sustainability goals, integrating sustainability into our product line strategies, and spearheading our sustainability agenda across the rapidly growing apparel and footwear industry.
Can you share Avery Dennison RBIS’ vision for sustainability?
It’s actually very simple: We are a force for good.
Whether that means leaving a smaller footprint or working within local communities to improve health and welfare, or our internal diversity to ensure everyone--regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, gender--has a voice. At RBIS, we believe that we have a broader obligation to our employees, our customers, our society, and the environment.
What are RBIS’ successes when it comes to sustainability?
We’ve made tremendous progress in our energy reduction efforts and sustainable sourcing - approximately two-thirds of the paper we buy comes from renewable materials. Equally as important is our commitment to launching new products that are innovative on two levels: in their use and performance, and in their sustainability. We are actively working on bio-based and recycled plastics, automation to reduce energy use in applying our solutions, taking waste from our weaving operations and converting them back into yarn, and others.
What are the opportunities for growth?
Key areas include a reduction in our use of plastics and an increase in use of recycled materials and non-virgin materials. We’re also working across our business to further integrate sustainability into everything we do - and we recognize that we can’t do it alone. It will take all of us, every day, to make it happen.
What are some of the sustainability challenges facing the global apparel industry?
The apparel industry, behind oil and gas, is the second largest polluter worldwide, according to a 2013 study from the Danish Fashion Institute. Whether it’s the exorbitant use of water during production, or the use of dyes that contaminate our waterways, as an industry, we have a tremendous opportunity to reduce our impact. At Avery Dennison, we’re creating new ways to reduce the energy that goes into applying our heat transfer technology and the types of chemicals we use. I’m confident that if we work together with suppliers, brands, and customers, we can make a positive impact. That’s why we’ve set aggressive science-based 2025 goals that we are driving across our organization.
Who are the heros in this work?
Specifically, Helen Sahi, our senior director of Sustainability, and a key advocate for leading change. We are proud that she’s sitting on the executive committee and Board of Directors of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC).
And then there’s the everyday heroes. The operator who’s fighting to reduce waste in cleanup; our engineers who are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; our Commercial Team who’s passionate about promoting our sustainable solutions; or our HR Team who is working to ensure a safe and diverse work environment. You can essentially find a hero within every corner, and I’m proud that we’re making sustainability a priority.
What are your hopes for the future of sustainability?
That companies like Avery Dennison have the courage to prioritize it and advocate for it. Ultimately, it’s the right thing to do and it’s good business. I’m a father of a young son. Our current generation has an obligation to ensure that he and every member of our future generation living anywhere in the world does not have to worry about access to drinking water, plastics in the ocean or climate change. Every business needs to stand up and do something about it. Avery Dennison is and we’re going to make the positive change happen. That’s what makes me proud to work here.