Hillenbrand manufactures machinery for a variety of applications. (photo courtesy of Hillenbrand)

Hillenbrand Inc. (NYSE: HI) in Batesville is partnering with California-based nonprofit Net Impact to launch a case competition designed to boost innovation and sustainability in plastics. The 2022 Plastics & Circularity Case Competition will be open to the more than 130,000 Net Impact members to figure out “how we can further shape the responsible life cycle management of plastics.” Hillenbrand CEO Kim Ryan says the project creates a great opportunity to collaborate with students and businesses in a way that could be replicated for years to come.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Ryan said plastics play a major role in the machinery manufacturing and processing company’s operation.

“Much of the end markets that we serve are in the area of plastics. So, we really want to be on both ends of both the creation and the reuse of plastics,” Ryan said. “And so, this is a really unique opportunity for us to take our capabilities and really apply them to both sides of the equation because we think we have a role to play here in the future of material science and how those materials are processed on machinery like ours.”

Net Impact is a global nonprofit with more than 300 chapters at colleges, universities and local communities. The organization says its members include “students and emerging impact leaders who want to use their skills to make a positive impact for people and planet.”

Hillenbrand and Net Impact will spend the summer to build the case study, including the information provided to participants and the desired outcomes.

The competition will begin this fall and is open to all Net Impact members. It will continue through the fall semester as students work on case studies and interact with businesses interested in the topic before presenting their case studies at the end of the semester.

“Business can no longer focus solely on profits,” Net Impact CEO Peter Lupoff said in written remarks. “Business plans must prioritize environmental and social factors as well. The Plastics & Circularity Case Competition activates next generation leaders, in partnership with business, to solve one of our world’s most critical issues. Having a company with a reputation as an innovator like Hillenbrand to serve as a partner and mentor for this year’s participants should assure another exciting and effective program.”

Ryan says she hopes the competition leads to future projects with Net Impact on other topics.

“Right now, we’re focused on plastics circularity,” she said. “Maybe projects in the future are around how do we drive more efficient equipment or how do we drive more efficient manufacturing processes. The number of ideas that we have around the ways that this input and innovation could be really helpful to us and to other companies we collaborate with as we go forward is endless.”