The Life Science Business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany Employee Spotlight: Dustin Andre
As part of our employee spotlight series, we’re sitting down with Dustin Andre, product and packaging sustainability specialist at the Life Science business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, whose US and Canada business operates as MilliporeSigma, to learn more about how he supports the company’s holistic integration of greener solutions into every stage of a product’s life cycle and drives improvement in the sustainability of its packaging.
1. How did you get your start with the company?
Soon after graduating college, I began looking for a motivating career and happened to find the company on LinkedIn. I reached out to the packaging engineer manager and asked him if he was looking to fill a position on his team. After meeting a few of my potential colleagues through interviews and touring the facility, I accepted an offer. I began my career as part of the packaging engineering team.
2. Tell us about your background (where you grew up, went to school, your family, etc.?)
I grew up in the countryside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. As a little kid, I was always working on some sort of project. My father is self-employed and restores old cars, so I was always helping him in the garage or spending time in the woods with my younger brother. My mom is also a very hard-working nurse, so sitting down at the table to eat dinner at the end of the day and spending quality time together meant a lot to me.
After high school, I wanted to keep learning and challenging myself. I had a fascination with art and creating things, so I initially wanted to go to college for graphic design. It just so happens that one day, while I was working at a job I had while in high school, my coworker told me he planned to get a packaging engineering degree. After learning more about it, I had an epiphany— and realized that packaging engineering was exactly what I wanted to do.
I applied to the University of Wisconsin-Stout for their packaging engineering program and was accepted. This was especially exciting because I was the first in my family to seek a four-year degree.
Growing up in the country, having an appreciation for nature and the environment always came naturally. I wanted to incorporate that passion and appreciation into my degree. I decided to dive a little deeper and pursue sustainable design—a brand new minor created by the school.
While in college, I was required to have field experience through an internship. I interned with Bosch (otherwise known as Robert Bosch LLC) in Chicago. It was a great experience, and I made a good impression on my boss. I was a very dedicated student and graduated in five years, even though I was away from campus due to my internship for one and a half years.
3. Explain your role at the company.
My role was initially to oversee internal testing lab operations. I was also responsible for a few projects that included introducing new packaging, packaging changes and introducing new products that needed packaging.
Recently, I became a product and packaging sustainability specialist—joining Jeffrey Whitford, head of sustainability and social business innovation and branding, and his team under the direction of Fabien Thibault, global manager, product and packaging sustainability. In this role, I drive new and existing sustainability topics to market. Currently, I am in charge of two projects that aim to decrease the company’s footprint in two different aspects. Looking toward the future, I will also find ways to improve the company’s global sustainable market presence.
I admire that our company is constantly aiming for sustainability throughout the entire life cycle. This methodology emphasizes that sustainability is not just about recycling—it is also about the resources required to manufacture items and the impact of the item's life and its end-of-life requirements.
4. As a new employee, what are you looking forward to accomplishing as part of the Sustainability & Social Business Innovation team?
I am looking forward to expanding the reach and impact of the sustainability and social business innovation (SSBI) team’s initiatives that already exist. Fabien has been doing great things, such as pushing for more global sustainability. I am excited to expand on this and help to accomplish even more improvements. I am also excited to bring my knowledge from my packaging engineering background to the team.
5. What is the best career lesson you’ve learned so far?
I've learned two major career lessons so far—first, it’s vital to have a strong work/life balance, and second, transparency is important. Especially during the pandemic, it's easy to continue working past the end of the day. I found I was getting drained and waking up each morning feeling like I was repeating the same cycle in an infinite loop. I’ve learned it is essential to use the “work hard, play hard” approach—work hard through the day so that you can confidently sign off, knowing that you did good work and now it's time for your life activities. This method of thinking helps me come back to work the next day, feeling like each day is different and positive instead of a repeating loop.
I’ve also learned that transparency is everything. Good, bad, or neutral information should be shared with the affected people as is. Additionally, I’ve learned that everyone on the team is trying to work toward success, no matter what happens. If a hurdle arises, you attack it as a team. I have always been entirely open with everyone, which has led to greater teamwork and more positive outcomes.
6. How do you envision the future of product and packaging sustainability, and how does the company fit into this vision?
I envision the future of product and packaging sustainability as a role that encourages greener products and procedures. I view my current role as finding, tracking and measuring the company’s footprint to help find more sustainable solutions. Specifically, this means finding new technology in the life science market, ensuring our paper products are sustainably sourced and using materials that begin and end sustainable.
Moreover, I believe my role is a vital component to the future of my company. Through our products and technologies, the sustainability and social business innovation team impacts not only the life science industry but affects the healthcare and electronic industries as well. Sustainability is driving changes worldwide for the better of the Earth’s and its inhabitants’ future. Putting sustainability top of mind shows that we care about current industry trends, topics and the world’s future.
7. What do you like to do outside of the office?
Outside of the office, I like doing nearly anything outdoors. My main hobbies are biking, snowboarding, snowmobiling and “frolfing” (frisbee golfing). I also enjoy working on cars and going to car shows. I also love to travel because I like to take in different environments, cultures and food. Additionally, I am a self-taught photographer who loves to capture a memory in a photograph.
8. What sparked your interest in working in sustainability?
Sustainability has always been a huge passion of mine. Preservation is everything for the world's future, and I believe it will take a lot of effort to work back the damage to our environment. Packaging contributes to a significant portion of waste in landfills and can negatively impact the environment through production, raw material sourcing and more. Enacting sustainable practices in such a large e-commerce company like MilliporeSigma means that my contributions positively impact overall global sustainability.
9. Tell us about the SMASH Packaging Plan. What do you think sets the company’s plan apart from others?
The company’s four-year SMASH Packaging Plan aims to shrink (reduce the amount of packaging), secure (achieve zero deforestation), switch (improve plastic sustainability) and save (maximize recycling) without compromising any packaging performance.
What I believe sets us apart from other companies is its dedication. We set very aggressive goals with due dates, metric requirements and plans to accomplish each goal. We also have a team strictly dedicated to ensuring each goal is achieved under each SMASH category. We are moving away from traditional packaging to new sustainable packaging. Lastly, we are transparent with the media and proud to announce the impact we are making on the life science industry and the work we are continuing to do to help improve sustainability standards worldwide and make our environment cleaner.
10. What is your best remote working advice?
My best remote working advice is to engage in casual and social discussions virtually, when possible. In the office, it is natural to catch up with a colleague, grab coffee together or sit together for lunch. It has been revitalizing for me to have some time to catch up or get to know someone.
Another remote working piece of advice that has worked for me is balancing still going into the office. Getting up early and driving into the office requires extra effort, but occasionally, it is refreshing to work from a professional environment.