A Legacy of Learning

In this Q&A with IPPO president Lindy Hughson talks with immediate past president of the World Packaging Organisation, Pierre Pienaar, about his time in office. He completed his two-term tenure in November 2023. This interview reveals his commitment to education and a generosity of spirit that has benefitted both the WPO and the wider packaging world.


Lindy Hughson, IPPO: As you reflect on the key achievements and highlights of your two-term tenure as President of WPO, what do you consider to be the most significant accomplishments during your leadership?

Pierre Pienaar: Global exposure and awareness have been the key to the growth and success of WPO these past six years.

In November 2017, at a meeting in Rio de Janeiro, I outlined to the new exec my vision for my term. A key goal was to increase global awareness [of WPO]. I emphasised that we all had to focus intensely and intentionally on this goal, so we stepped out of the comfort zone of previous years to embark on a journey of making WPO’s presence and purpose felt in the global packaging industry. At every opportunity presented to us and during the opportunities we created, we shared with the world what we can do to ensure a “Better Quality of Life, Through Better Packaging, For More People.”

Today, as I reflect on the achievements, it is this objective that makes us proud of the team. We were reaching on average, in each 6-month period, approximately 45,000 people in a variety of ways: face-to-face, through webinars, conferences, seminars, training programs, and symposiums. This is beyond remarkable, in fact astounding. I am so proud of the executive team that served in my tenure; they worked incredibly hard and with dedication and gave an inordinate amount of their personal time to achieve this goal.


Hughson: How did the global market’s response to WPO evolve during your tenure?

Pienaar: We harnessed the power of social media, and this changed the landscape in which we operated. This was an untapped resource, which we capitalised on in a significant way.

In the first few years we approached organisations, institutions, the corporate world for support. In the second half of my tenure, the picture we had predicted and had hoped for, started to emerge: that industry players were approaching us to be involved in their conferences, and attend their exhibitions. This has changed the packaging landscape, where we have become the reference, or the packaging standard.

We now have a reputation to uphold and maintain, which is a challenge facing the new administration.

WPO president Pierre Pienaar congratulates IPPO’s Toshio Arita as he receives the WPO Lifetime Achievement Award during the WorldStar ceremony at Interpack in May 2023.


The benefits of this new global landscape are too large to overlook, and I am confident the global connection will continue to strengthen.


Hughson: What initiatives or projects do you believe will be vital for the WPO’s continued success in advancing sustainable and innovative packaging solutions?

Pienaar: We significantly grew the WorldStar Awards program by an average 12 per cent year-on-year. It is this program that stimulates the advancement of sustainable solutions while creating necessary, innovative ideas in packaging. It has been most encouraging to see the competitiveness amongst companies and countries. This brings out the best in those with creative minds, puts ideas into action and creates solutions for many across the world. Once participants win on an international stage, showcasing their creations, they begin to see their winning pack grace the global arena, gaining more exposure than they could have ever imagined.

One must never underestimate the power of knowledge and the confidence that new knowledge offers. In 2014, when I was WPO Vice President: Education, we started from a zero-base offering education and training in packaging technology across the globe. We have, during these past six years, had student participants from 32 countries, in 78 training programs, educating 3,573 persons face-to-face, in classroom training situations.

Education, coupled with newfound knowledge and confidence that comes from training, inspires the industry to participate on a global stage. The ideas are endless. The need is endless. Opportunities to meet these needs are endless.


Hughson: Education was a focal point during your presidency. Can you share some of the initiatives or programs the WPO has undertaken to promote education within the packaging industry?

Pienaar: Education, and the empowerment of others through it, is my passion. The WPO Education Programs have grown year-on-year. We have now been offering training programs across the globe for the past nine years. What has driven me to ensure this growth persists, has been witnessing the enhancement and growth of the packaging industry, especially in developing countries. So much more can be done with more resources. Plans are in place to grow this even more over the ensuing three years.

WPO past president Pierre Pienaar


Coupled with this is the highly regarded Certified Packaging Professional (CPP) program that we offer, utilising the IoPP program in the USA. This has grown since we commenced in 2015 and it is really gaining momentum across all nations in the professional space. It is now the benchmark across the packaging world.


Hughson: In what ways do you envision continuing your involvement with the WPO, particularly in the realm of education?

Pienaar: Education is in my blood. I love sharing knowledge and expertise, while also learning daily from others. Watching others grow in knowledge and confidence, seeing them gain employment or advancement at work because of their training, is very rewarding.  I certainly hope to get back into the classroom more now that my role has come to an end, and I have more time.

More countries need what WPO has developed and can offer. We owe it to industry to ensure they stay abreast of current, global packaging needs and requirements. WPO is in discussion with major players in industry to significantly grow the education offerings across the world. I would love to be called on to participate again in such training, as I did before taking on the role of president.


Hughson: How do you see the role of education in addressing the current challenges and opportunities in the packaging industry, such as sustainability, technological advancements, and changing consumer preferences?

Pienaar: The WPO is very intentional about education content, ensuring it remains current. Having over 60 countries involved in the WPO, gives us the advantage of access to cutting-edge packaging developments globally. This new learning, including new global legislation around sustainability, for example, allows us to adjust training programs to ensure we are aiming for global standards and practices, wherever possible.

All the latest technology and creative design, however, will still not complete the circle if we do not educate the consumer about their power and responsibility to generate energy from valuable recycled packaging material. We have a way to go in educating consumers, from the day they are born, about different materials and the impact the use of these raw materials have on our planet. The misunderstanding by consumers saddens me and I will never give up trying to edify the man in the street.

Pierre Pienaar works his global network, seen here with IPPO’s treasurer, Andrew Manly.


I have always encouraged WPO members to maximise the richness of their own local networks. We can all be learning from each other daily. WPO has now created forums through social media where any new idea can be presented and shared with the global membership within 24 hours of the learning emerging. We must share our knowledge and expertise. We owe it to our planet!


Hughson: Throughout your tenure, the WPO has likely collaborated with various stakeholders. Can you discuss some key partnerships or collaborations that have been instrumental in advancing the organization’s goals, especially in the education sector?

Pienaar: The first one that comes to mind is UNIDO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation. WPO signed the MoU [memorandum of understanding] in November 2017. This partnership has grown and strengthened significantly over the past six years.

With their mandate to promote and accelerate sustainable industrial development, UNIDO’s preferred partner in all projects remotely linked to packaging anywhere in the world, has become the WPO. We have had teams on UNIDO projects on every continent. Having met with UNIDO in Vienna in December 2023, it is evident that UNIDO’s interest in an ongoing partnership with WPO, will only intensify as they have enjoyed the results of the mutual projects over these past six years.

Sustainable Medicines Partnership (SMP) is another area where we have developed a valuable relationship to give depth and strength to the sustainability of pharmaceutical packaging. The WPO assisted SMP in creating an awards program to stimulate the focus on sustainable packaging thereby significantly reducing wastage in medication production and supply.

We have done similarly with global cold supply chain organisations, as well as the major exhibition companies across the world. A more recent partnership has been with the Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA). This relationship will go a long way to ensure these two global organisations facilitate an effective environment in which to carry out their respective roles and responsibilities.

Pierre Pienaar strengthening his relationship with IPPO through a conversation with IPPO VP Naresh Khanna.


Hughson: Finally, on a personal note, what legacy do you hope to leave behind as the outgoing president of the WPO?

Pienaar: I hope to be remembered for encouraging WPO members to be inclusive and generous. Inclusive at Board Meetings, generous with sharing their respective cultures, and respecting others’ differences. Inclusive and generous with their knowledge and ideas shared throughout the year.

I have worked hard to include developing countries so they too can benefit from the shared knowledge and learning, to offer a better standard of living to more through improved packaging.

My hope is that WPO will go from strength to strength in its global profile so that many more will benefit from its rich foundation and intention.

At the end of the day, I am a teacher, a consultant, and I hope to be remembered for fostering a love and a respect for knowledge and ongoing learning. We have a way to go but I hope I made a difference.

I have enjoyed the ride, and it has been a tremendous privilege to work on a global platform with so many wonderful people.

Thank you, WPO, for your confidence and trust.