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Liz Wilks: Purpose with Passion

The Pulp, Paper, Print and Packaging supply chain has become ever so important over the last 20 years vis-à-vis climate change. Dr Liz Wilks has devoted most of her career in turning her passion for global collaboration and change into action. Her passion and purpose now is as APP’s European Director for Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement. This role is all about driving partnerships, sharing knowledge and contributing to the evolving need for standards and legislation as to ensure that forestry and supply chain management make a positive contribution to climate change.

When Liz began her career at Wiggins Teape, one of the Europe’s largest packaging distributors and now called Antalis, the Industry was being questioned in terms of its environmental impact. It was during this role that she became interested in how companies could make a wider contribution to their industry.  Her collaboration on a joint advisory committee enabled her to explore how industries could work together in order to achieve great things such as the development of the first Global Packaging Standard. Not long after that, Liz became more and more involved with the International Forestry Standards, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) that all deal with the way international forestry is managed and perceived. 

Full of passion for global collaboration and change, she continued to develop a global sustainability strategy for Antalis which would later be exemplary for many other companies since it became the first firm to implement a multi-site chain of custody standard for FSC and PEFC. This belief that more needed to be done was strengthened after a trek in the Himalayas and a trip with the Bedouin tribe in Egypt. These trips highlighted the need to stay connected with our natural environment in a way that would respect and maintain the resources used. Although the European industry managed to present and demonstrate the positive environmental attributes of this supply chain, she was not convinced the job was finished because the world was turning further afield to SE Asia.

At that time, it was needed to globally reunite the Pulp, Paper, Print and Packaging sector by bridging the gap in understanding between Europe and SE Asia. If this industry was to present its positive environmental credentials, it had to be done not only on a European scale but also on a global one. This is when Liz decided to move to her role at Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the largest and global pulp, paper and packaging producers based in SE Asia.

Forestry management in Indonesia is a complex issue that needs to be understood and communicated around the world. Liz therefore spent the following few years communicating Indonesia’s and APP’s commitments and agreements such as APP’s zero deforestation commitment in 2015 and Indonesia’s partnership agreement with the European Union. 

Looking back to the beginning of her career, she would never have thought that well-managed forests and sustainable livelihoods would form a key part of the international paper, print and packaging supply chain. Even though she admits that this particular industry was not initially seen as attractive to work in, her passion to drive global collaboration and change took her to realms she had never dreamed of.

Since the interest in this industry is changing, largely due to the increasing importance of climate change and the need to know where our products come from, more people should consider pursuing a job in it. As a woman in this industry, Liz believes she benefitted from her softer skills such as her ability to influence others, problem-solving capabilities and enthusiastic attitude to work in a team without which it would have been more difficult, if not impossible. She strongly believes that the values, purpose and passion someone brings to an organization and industry are as important as someone’s skills and knowledge.

Liz remains passionate about sharing her knowledge and experience. On top of her role with APP, she now also forms part of edie’s team of sustainability mentors to inspire young women who have a sustainability focus in their sector. And last but not least, she is an adviser on the advisory board and a visiting professor in Sustainability and Global Supply Chain at the University of the West of England, Bristol.

So what’s next for this woman, wife and mother of two? Watch this space!

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