Pekka Tommola: “The interest of the companies with producer responsibility is at the heart of everything”

Pekka Tommola, the new CEO of Suomen Pakkaustuottajat Oy (Finnish Packaging Producers Ltd, FPP), is an expert in the packaging sector and in change management. Tommola says that there are no big egos at FPP but people are more than willing to make the management of the ever-expanding producer responsibility system even more cost-effective.

By Heli Satuli

Kuva Mikko Hirvonen

Career turning points. An example of a turning point in Pekka Tommola’s career was a past discussion he had during a reservist training course; another, more recently, was his appointment in summer 2022 as CEO of FPP.

“I happened to have a chat with Stora Enso’s divisional director while in a reservist training course in the early 2000s. They had an interesting vacancy for a young graduate engineer like me,” Tommola recalls.

That conversation was the start of Tommola’s long career at the top of the packaging industry. He ended up working in digital printing and packaging integration solutions. Soon, Tommola moved to Lier, a small town near Antwerp in Belgium. He spent several years in Central Europe. Tommola returned to Finland in 2009 but continued to travel a lot.

A career in change management

“Fortunately, my wife’s job as a pharmacist is such that it has been easy for us to move countries and towns,” says Tommola.

In 2012, Tommola was appointed Director of Sales and Marketing at Stora Enso’s Finnish corrugated packaging business unit. He was involved in change management, where the traditional manufacturer of paper and cardboard slowly but surely became a growth company using renewable materials. The decade was filled with turbulent times and difficult decisions.

“I’ve spent my entire career among tough competition, managing changes,” says Tommola.

As a young man in the 1990s, Tommola spent a long time in international crisis management jobs. What he learnt back then has stayed with Tommola. He’s a calm man and not easily worried. He emphasises the importance of listening, talking and having open communication, which he says is essential, especially in times of change.

“Meeting people is vital. You always have to make time for meeting people.”

Red tape and building foundations

After a long career at Stora Enso, Tommola came to a new turning point when he joined FPP as its Managing Director at the beginning of August. Under the revised Waste Act, packaging producer organisations will have to handle the producer obligations for all packaging materials. Plastic, metal, fibre, glass and wood have each had their own producer organisation until now.

FPP was established for this purpose in autumn 2021. This means that the company has existed on paper for a year, but its first three employees, i.e. Tommola, Materials Manager Sanna Peltola and Administrative Manager Anne Lojamo, only joined the company this summer.

“The first weeks at work we’ve been busy turning FPP into a legally competent organisation. Insurance, occupational healthcare and other practical issues take a lot of effort, even in the digital age.”

Suomen Pakkaustuottajat Oy:n tiimi

There is no lack of experience at FPP: Peltola, who is responsible for the recycling of plastics, has more than ten years of experience in packaging producer responsibility issues and Lojamo took care of setting up FPP. Specialists from the existing material-specific producer organisations will also join FPP.

As a board member and chair of the Finnish Packaging Association, producer responsibility is a familiar subject for Tommola, but his new role has involved a lot of learning and reading of legislation. And, of course, the most important thing: meeting people.

“I’ve met a lot of partners. I’ve met Rinki’s managers and experts several times to discuss the future.”

The job obliges

Rinki’s eco take-back points were part of Tommola’s daily routine long before he was appointed to manage FPP.

“We used to live in a detached house in Espoo, where we used the Rinki eco take-back point in the courtyard of a nearby supermarket.”

Tommola and his wife now live in a flat, and there are separate packaging waste collection containers outside the building. Tommola is chair of the housing company board and says that the residents are well aware of the sorting instructions. The waste collection area is tidy.

“Working in this business obliges me to be vigilant in these matters”, says Tommola, with a grin.

The nation-wide instructions for sorting packaging are clear, but Tommola admits that finding the space to sort waste in a small kitchen can sometimes be difficult even for him.

Producers need not worry

Suomen Uusiomuovi Oy (SUM, Finnish Plastics Recycling Ltd) announced in spring 2022 that it had decided to become a multi-material producer organisation. This means that there will be two competing packaging producer organisations in Finland. This is a new situation. Both FPP and SUM are currently awaiting approval from the authorities for their multi-material producer organisation status. The authorities will accept the organisations to the producer register if they fulfil the criteria set out for producer organisations.

Tommola is calm about the new competitive environment. He points out that he is open to discussions about any viable forms of cooperation with SUM.

“There are no big egos at FPP. The interests of the producers are more important than anything else. We want to deal with producer responsibility obligations in a cost-effective and responsible manner.”

The starting point is for Rinki to focus on its duties and FPP on its duties. There will be no overlapping.

Tommola stresses that companies with producer responsibility have nothing to worry about in the situation of change. From their perspective, there will be no radical changes. Rinki will continue to handle producer responsibility for packaging, reporting, customer service and communications.

“The service will continue uninterrupted and the obligations will be taken care of at all times on their behalf.”

Tommola has high hopes for the new strategic cooperation with Rinki. Tommola hopes that Rinki and FPP can discuss the direction in which the world is going and how they can best serve the producers in different scenarios.

“The starting point is for Rinki to focus on its duties and FPP on its duties. There will be no overlapping. The strategic partnership clarifies and streamlines the collaboration between the producer organisation and Rinki.”

Producer responsibility in the spotlight

Tommola’s agenda for the autumn seems clear. Once FPP has been accepted to the producer organisation register, the existing material-specific producer organisations can be merged with FPP. The best practices of each material-specific producer organisation will be applied in FPP’s procurement, development and other operations. This synergy will bring about benefits, i.e. more will be achieved with the same resources.

“The change will improve the efficiency of the management of producer responsibility obligations. This is a good thing for companies with producer responsibility.”

The plans are in place.

“FPP has the concept and products ready. In terms of plastics recycling, the arrangements are almost complete, and the operations for other packaging materials will naturally run seamlessly right away,” explains Tommola.

But there’s work to be done. Producer responsibility obligations have increased and expanded significantly in recent years and there is no end in sight.

“The importance of producer responsibility as part of circular economy will only grow in the future, that’s for sure. EU regulations will become stricter and companies will have new responsibilities and increasing costs.”

Instead of producer organisations, Tommola puts the system’s financiers – the companies with producer responsibility – in the spotlight.

“Producer responsibility is a big and growing part of corporate responsibility. I encourage every company to communicate their responsibility and what producer responsibility means to them.”

WHO: Pekka Tommola

Job: Managing Director of Suomen Pakkaustuottajat Oy (SPT, Finnish Packaging Producers Ltd, since 1 August 2022)
Education: Master of Science in Technology
Career: crisis management positions in the 1990s, including NATO-, OSCE- and UN-led operations in Lebanon, Croatia and Kosovo. Various positions at Stora Enso, including Director of Sales and Marketing at Stora Enso’s packaging business unit for the past ten years. Board member at the Finnish Packaging Association since 2013, three years as chair
Place of residence: Lahti
Family: married, wife works as a pharmacist.
Hobbies: summer cottage, boating, various forms of exercise.

WHAT: Suomen Pakkaustuottajat Oy
SPT (Finnish Packaging Producers Ltd) is a non-profit limited company owned by Finnish producers and their representative associations. The company will take over the operations of the four existing producer organisations: Mepak-Kierrätys Oy, Puupakkausten Kierrätys PPK Oy, Suomen Kuitukierrätys Oy and Suomen Keräyslasiyhdistys ry. SPT is awaiting approval from the authorities for its multi-material producer organisation status.