FPA Leader Reflects on Her Tenure

Alison Keane Spent Eight Years With the Advocacy Organization

FPA Leader Reflects on Her Tenure
Digital Exclusive

Alison Keane, the outgoing president and CEO of the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA), says one high point of her eight-year tenure was the ability of her “small but mighty” staff to tackle extender producer responsibility (EPR) laws that have been gaining increasing traction among states nationwide.

“From an advocacy standpoint, being able to make a difference in the EPR legislation and supporting a couple of bills—including the one in Minnesota that just passed—that is huge,” says Keane, who is leaving FPA at the end of July to take a position outside the packaging industry.

“When I first came in, hardly anyone in the FPA membership knew what EPR was and could not yet grasp how it would influence the industry. Over a couple of years, we had to work on that education and get our position straight so we could go forward and speak with one voice.”

Keane, who announced her resignation publicly in June, made those observations in an interview with FlexPack VOICE®, which she created as a new brand just a few years into her tenure. The “flex” brand extends to other trademarked products that FPA has created and has helped FPA members expand their voices through print, digital publications, and social media, Keane says.

Minnesota was the fifth state to pass EPR legislation, following California, Colorado, Maine, and Oregon. Those states are in various stages of implementing EPR programs that will be fully operational over the next few years. EPR rules put the responsibility of handling waste on the shoulders of the waste producers such as packaging companies and consumer brands by collecting fees to create processes for diverting waste from landfills.

FPA staff members monitored the various initiatives with the help of others, including Serlin Haley, a lobbying firm based in Washington, D.C., while each state took a unique approach to EPR. That lack of consistency among the state initiatives has been one of her biggest sources of frustration, too, Keane also says. The federal government must do more to standardize rules regarding packaging and waste, or a confusing array of rules will continue to roll out on a state-by-state basis, she says.

“The lack of federal guidance or insight on some of these big picture items that we are dealing with—EPR or I could just say plastics, packaging, recycling, or compositing—leaves us having to run around to 50 different states to talk about it,” says Keane, an attorney who received her law degree from Golden Gate University in California. “None of them are harmonized, and that takes a lot of manpower to try to then be a voice for the compliance.”

Finding a Replacement

Keane credits her staff of seven, which has nearly doubled since she started, with having the dedication to tirelessly pursue that and other issues. And the person who replaces her can build upon their accomplishments, she adds.

“This is a great opportunity for somebody who is energetic. FPA is small but mighty,” she says.

And the projects outside advocacy are interesting, too, including the program that celebrates packaging innovations.

“Every year there is something new and fun or incredibly sustainable that is entered. And getting to witness that before most other consumers—and getting to understand what it means as a consumer—always is a highlight.”

Keane has been helping with the initial stages of recruitment. FPA’s board of directors created a search committee and retained the executive search firm Vetted Solutions to assist, says William Jackson, Ph.D., chief technology officer for Amcor Flexibles and FPA chair.

The committee started reviewing resumes in June, with the board hoping to have a replacement before fall, Keane says.

Next Opportunity

Keane will be taking the top job at the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) and Mattress Recycling Council (MRC) based in northern Virginia. ISPA is a $40 million association, with a staff of about 35 workers, Keane says. At FPA, one of her goals was for it to be a $5 million association by 2025, and the organization is on track to accomplish that goal. When she started, FPA was a $1.2 million to $1.5 million association, Keane says. Much of that growth was built by expanding memberships and increasing sponsorships.

Running an operation much larger than FPA was not something she was seeking but proved difficult to dismiss, she adds. She recently bought a new home in Maryland near FPA’s headquarters. She had no intention of leaving FPA but was recruited strongly by people who knew her work, including her tenure at the American Coatings Association where she spent nearly 16 years before joining FPA in October 2016.

“It’s bittersweet for me because FPA is fabulous, and it is hard to find a manufacturing industry in the United States that is still growing,” says Keane, 57, who will remain in Maryland but commute a couple of days per week to ISPA headquarters. “But when you get an opportunity to grow your career, you need to take it. I feel like I have another 10 to 12 years, and learning a new industry is exciting at this juncture.”

ISPA, which was founded in 1915, represents mattress manufacturers and component suppliers globally. ISPA created MRC in 2014 to operate recycling programs in states that have passed mattress EPR laws.

FPA and ISPA represent industries, but the advocacy and regulatory issues largely will be different, she adds. Keane notes that one of her disappointments at FPA was not being able to stop the U.S. tariffs on aluminum that started with China and later expanded to include South Korea and Thailand.

“We firmly believed we were on the right side of the issue but still lost, not once but twice,” she says.

Those experiences, however, will be useful in her new role, she adds.

“Policywise, it is going to be different issues. There is some trade work that I will work on, and some environmental work in that they do recycling,” Keane says. “And there are states that will want to put in EPR for mattresses. So, there is a little that is the same, but I will be learning a lot that is new.”

Thomas A. Barstow is senior editor of FlexPack VOICE®