GEMI’s Strategic Priorities

In early 2021, GEMI began a strategic planning process to ensure GEMI’s strategic direction for the next few years continues to be aligned with its members’ goals and needs, while navigating through what we can anticipate will be an increasingly complex and disruptive future.

As part of this process, GEMI conducted a series of phone interviews with member leaders regarding their current and emerging sustainability goals and needs, and conducted a workshop in March 2021 to collaboratively outline strategic priorities for GEMI over the next 3-5 years to address shared challenges and opportunities identified by GEMI’s member companies.

We are pleased to now share a summary of four of the strategic priorities identified through this process that GEMI and its member companies will be working together to address over the coming 3-5 years.


Strategic Priorities for GEMI (2021-2025)

Sustainable Disruption Project

Supporting corporate sustainability leaders in identifying, understanding and developing strategies to prepare for a range of anticipated and unknown future disruptions that may challenge short to mid-term business and sustainability goals, while creating new opportunities for leaders to position their organizations for greater resilience and success in the short and long-term.

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Closing the Loop on Industrial Plastics

Bringing together key internal and external stakeholders to foster dialogue on contaminated plastic waste challenges and advance business driven solutions to achieve sustainable management of plastics across the life cycle, while creating value for stakeholders across the value chain.

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Scope 3: Scaling Solutions / Positive Impacts to Value Chain (and Beyond)

Increasing transparency and understanding across industries of Scope 3 priorities, measurement and reporting methods, engagement strategies and challenges, and promoting collaborative cross-industry approaches to collectively scale meaningful solutions and drive positive impact across the value chain.

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Emerging Sustainability Leadership

Providing a safe space for experienced and emerging corporate EH&S and Environmental Sustainability leaders to connect and learn from their peers, share experiences in managing and leading through ever increasing pressures facing sustainability leaders today, and develop capabilities required to lead sustainable business into the future.

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GEMI invites corporate sustainability leaders from across industries to join us in our mission to create collaborative sustainability solutions for business. To learn more about opportunities for participation in GEMI activities as a corporate member or project participant, please contact Steve Hellem at shellem @ navista.net or Kellen Mahoney at kmahoney @ navista.net

GEMI Announces Mark Johnson as Chair of Board of Directors for 2021

Washington, DC. The Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI) has announced Mark Johnson, Senior Vice President and Director Private Sector Services, Gannett Fleming, Inc., as the Chair of GEMI’s Board of Directors for 2021.

Mark Johnson

“I am honored to serve as GEMI’s Chair in 2021” said Mark Johnson, Senior Vice President and Director Private Sector Services, Gannett Fleming, Inc.  “GEMI provides a unique forum for corporate sustainability leaders to work together to develop actionable solutions to current and emerging business challenges.  I am looking forward to working together with the leaders of this organization to advance the future of sustainable business, and help other businesses to prepare and lead their sustainability programs through an increasingly complex and disruptive future.“

In recent years, GEMI worked with the Institute for the Future (IFTF) to explore various external drivers of change that are likely to challenge companies as they strive to meet their business and sustainability goals over the next decade and beyond, culminating in the publication of the GEMI Future Forces That Will Disrupt Sustainable Business report in March 2020. 

Over the next year, GEMI will be working to advance action on key insights gained through that process through a new Sustainable Disruption Project, while continuing its work to identify new solutions for recycling of food contaminated plastics through a Contaminated Plastics project, as well as its long-term mission of developing tools and resources to help companies improve the environment, their operations and add business value.

“Building on the learnings of last year’s Future Forces report, GEMI looks forward to working with Mark Johnson to bring corporate sustainability leaders from across sectors together to identify, understand and develop strategies to prepare for a wide range of possible future global disruptions that may challenge short to mid-term business sustainability goals, while creating new opportunities for leading organizations to position themselves for greater resiliency and success in the long-term,” said Steve Hellem, GEMI’s Executive Director.

Gannett Fleming has been a collaborator of GEMI since the early 2000s and joined GEMI as a full member in 2015. Mark Johnson was first elected to GEMI’s Board in 2016 as Communications Chair before being elevated to the role of Vice-Chair in 2018, and Chair in 2021.

As a partner to GEMI’s Water Sustainability Work Group in the 2000s, Mark Johnson and his team at Gannett Fleming lead the development of GEMI’s Collecting the Drops: A Water Sustainability Planner tool. The web-based tool is tailored for facility managers or owners and guides them through the process of assessing water use and impacts from their operations. 

In 2016 GEMI again partnered with Mark’s team at Gannett Fleming on the development of an ISO 14001:2015 Self-Assessment Checklist, which has become one of the organization’s most highly downloaded tools in the years since.  The Excel checklist is designed to improve facility managers’ understanding of the requirements and elements of the environmental management system outlined in the ISO 14001:2015 international standard.

“Mark and his team at Gannett Fleming have partnered with GEMI on a range of environmental sustainability projects over the past two decades, and we look forward to continuing to work together in advancing collaborative solutions to the range of new sustainability challenges and opportunities that will be impacting business over the years to come”, said Steve Hellem.

About GEMI 

GEMI (www.gemi.org) is a global leader in developing insights, networking, and creating collaborative sustainability solutions for business. For over 25 years, GEMI has captured the vision and experience of global corporate environmental, health and safety (EHS) and sustainability leaders from diverse business sectors through the development of a wide range of publicly-available, solutions-based tools designed to help companies improve the environment, their operations and add business value.   GEMI member companies and project supporters include organizations such as, ConocoPhillips, The Davey Tree Expert Company, Dell, ExxonMobil Chemical Company, FedEx Corp, FMI – The Food Industry Association, Gannett Fleming, JBS USA, Sealed Air Corporation, Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods, Waste Management and Winpak.

Recycling Combo Liners Contaminated with Food Residues

GEMI’s Contaminated Plastics Work Group is seeking ideas, connections, and solutions with potential to address challenges in recycling post-industrial combo liner waste, a commonly used plastic film packaging material that is contaminated with food residues through the food production process.

What is GEMI

GEMI is an organization of corporate sustainability leaders dedicated to fostering global environmental sustainability excellence through the sharing of tools and information.  GEMI has formed a Contaminated Plastic Work Group to foster pre-competitive collaborative cross-industry dialogue and develop business-driven solutions that can enhance domestic recycling and material management capabilities for contaminated post-industrial plastics while increasing value for stakeholders across the value chain. The work group includes representatives of organizations from across the food processing and packaging value chain, includingExxonMobil Chemical, FMI – The Food Industry Association, JBS USA, Sealed Air, Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods, and Waste Management.

What Are Combo Liners

A “combo liner” is a thin plastic liner that is used to line bulk storage / shipping containers (combo bins) used in the food and meat processing industry. The liner prevents food products from contacting other materials, ensuring safe and efficient storage and transport of the products through the production process.  As such, combo liners are necessarily contaminated with food residues through their intended use. Combo liners tend to be single-layer polyethylene-based materials, primarily LDPE or LLDPE.  Liners vary in size, color and thickness based on the application, with the average range between 1 – 3 mil. The liners are commonly used in chicken processing, pork processing, beef processing, pet food processing, and other food manufacturing plants.

Why Focus on Combo Liner Recycling

GEMI’s corporate work group members have established clear goals around waste minimization and zero waste to landfill and have found that plastic packaging contaminated with food residues is one of their most challenging waste streams to recycle today. Once these materials come into contact with food residues, they are generally no longer accepted by traditional recycling facilities due in part to concerns with sanitation, odors and vermin.  While there are several types of contaminated plastics used in the food industry, GEMI has selected to focus on post-industrial combo liners as a starting point as 1) they are widely used across the industry, 2) the flow of waste materials tends to be concentrated around production / processing sites with fairly regular and predicable volumes, and 3) the liners tend to be made of single-layer materials that would be generally accepted by recyclers but for the contamination.

What are the Key Challenges to be Solved in Recycling Combo Liners

There are currently various technological and economic barriers to developing scalable end-to-end recycling solutions for these plastic film materials, such as material weight and volumes, storage and transportation processes, end market demand, USDA / FDA requirements for food contact plastics, and the current economics of waste and recycled-materials markets.  Perhaps the greatest challenge though is the need for practical, scalable solutions to address the sanitation, odor and pest concerns posed by the food contamination itself for waste generators, haulers, processors, and potential end market customers of the recycled materials.  This may include, but is not limited to:

  • Post-Industrial Storage / Transportation – transportation and logistics solutions to enable efficient near daily pickups of food contaminated materials; solutions to allow for longer-term storage of contaminated materials to accumulate full truck load quantities
  • Recycling Technologies – cleaning, disinfecting and deodorizing solutions to address food contamination concerns prior to introduction into traditional mechanical recycling processes; advanced recycling solutions able to accept contaminated materials as direct feedstocks without pre-processing; solutions for transport and storage of contaminated materials prior to processing
  • End Market Development – solutions to address potential transfer of food odors to recycled pellets; solutions to verify recycled materials meet regulatory requirements and industry specifications for food contact plastics to allow for circularity; solutions to address additional end market needs

What Volumes May Exist

Concrete facility-level data on the volume of combo liner waste is currently limited as the contaminated liners are not typically source separated. The most common approach across the industry today is for the waste liners to be mixed with other non-recyclable facility waste streams and sent directly to landfill, or waste to energy where feasible, as there are few higher-use options available for these contaminated materials at present.

Based on a review of average film purchase volumes, GEMI estimates there to be an annual volume of ~36 million pounds of virgin combo liners used across US-based facilities in the GEMI network that could potentially be diverted from landfill if practical and economical recycling solutions were developed at scale.  Accounting for food residues after use, we estimate the waste volume to be managed at the backend to be roughly double this amount.  However, the opportunity for scale and impact of new solutions could be even greater than this in the long-term. There are many food and beverage processing plants in the US — over 30,000 according to the most recent comprehensive data in the Census Bureau’s 2012 Economic Census — and combo liners, together with other food contaminated plastic packaging materials, are in widespread use across the industry.

How Can You Help

We are inviting other organizations to share their ideas and expertise to help the companies participating in this work group to identify and explore potential solutions to address challenges in cleaning, disinfecting, transporting and recycling food contaminated post-industrial combo liner wastes.  Does your organization have a technology / innovation that you feel would be useful in addressing these challenges? Are you aware of other organizations working on similar challenges that we may want to connect with? Do you have suggestions on potential opportunities to work together on this issue? Please let us know!

If you would like to share information for the consideration of the work group, please submit a brief outline of no more than one page to plasticliners@list.gemi.orgThe submission should succinctly outline your thoughts on this topic at a high-level and should not include confidential business information. GEMI’s work group members will review and prioritize the information received and follow up with those submissions that they wish to explore further in evaluating the work group’s next steps.

Thank you for your consideration!

GEMI Sustainability Disruption Project

GEMI is planning a new Sustainability Disruption Project to bring together corporate sustainability leaders from across sectors to identify, understand and develop strategies to prepare for a wide range of possible future global disruptions that may challenge short to mid-term business sustainability goals, while creating new opportunities for leading organizations to position themselves for greater resiliency and success in the long-term.  

In 2019, GEMI worked together with the Institute for the Future (IFTF) to explore various external drivers, or new spectrums, of change that are likely to challenge companies as they strive to meet their business and sustainability goals over the next decade and beyond.

The resulting report – Future Forces Disrupting Sustainable Business – forecast a scrambled future of powerful new technologies, radical visibility/transparency, rising global turbulence and rapid social change where it will be increasingly risky for business leaders to force-fit new threats, or new opportunities, into old categories of thought.  While there are many opinions on what exactly those new threats/opportunities may be, leaders across industry tend to agree that new disruptions are on the horizon and that those relating to sustainability are likely to come much more rapidly and with greater impact than some might have anticipated in the past. 

While the exact nature and timing of such emerging disruptions is impossible to predict, we can anticipate that those organizations that prepare and create effective strategies for long-term operation today (beyond the career spans of individual people) will be the ones that are most likely to weather increasingly complex and volatile global systems – complete with new disruptions of increasingly frequency and duration – and will be best positioned for long-term growth. 

Business leaders will need to begin looking at their business and sustainability strategy through various possible lenses to be ready to navigate an increasingly complex, uncertain, and rapidly changing future environment. Those leaders who are able to identify and understand multiple, possibly divergent, implications of future disruptive events and who are prepared to act on those implications with clarity will likely be best positioned to lead their organizations through the challenges to come.

What will the GEMI Sustainability Disruption Project Do?

Today, corporate sustainability leaders face two distinct but related challenges: how do you keep your sustainability program going through disruptions, and how do current and emerging disruptions inform and alter your corporate sustainability program going forward. To help companies work through these challenges, we will lead project participants through a process via (4) quarterly facilitated, interactive virtual workshops.

The workshops will focus on:

  1. Approaches to keeping sustainability programs DURING disruptions. – what changes, what is maintained without change, what is leveraged with or by disruptions. And lessons for sustainability programs FROM disruptions – if you knew then what you know now, how would your program look different in the past?
  2. Implications for corporate sustainability PROGRAMS for the FUTURE. Looking at the program you have and lessons from the previous workshop, how should your sustainability program be the same or different going forward? What would be substantively different? What would be unchanged, but priorities or “packaging” might be different?
  3. Making those changes stick. The “half-life” of critical events is a well-known phenomenon. Once things settle down (into a new normal, not back to normal), exhaustion and relief often overtake good intentions. What do you do stakeholder engagement, internal and external, to make these changes real and lasting? How can you use goals and metrics to make the learning and changes stick?

How will the GEMI SDP operate?

The GEMI SDP will be led by GEMI members and supported by GEMI’s staff with the support of Scott Nadler, Nadler Strategy LLC. All activities will be led and supported virtually, until such time as it is safe to engage personally. We anticipate the project will kickoff in Q1 2021.

Join Us

Current GEMI Members will be able to participate in the Project as part of their membership contributions to GEMI.  Non-member companies and organizations may apply to join the project for a fee of $5,000.  To learn more about how to participate, please contact Steve Hellem at shellem@navista.net