Green Bay Packaging Keeps Safety in the Family


It was 1933 when George Kress founded Green Bay Packaging Inc., offering corrugated shipping containers to replace the bulky, expensive wooden crates then in popular use. Since its founding, GBP has been a family-owned, vertically integrated company that now includes recycled and virgin linerboard mills; facilities for producing corrugated containers, folding cartons, pressure-sensitive label rollstock, and custom point of purchase displays; specialty converting operations; timberlands; and a sawmill facility. Headquartered in Green Bay, WI, Green Bay Packaging Inc. is dedicated to innovative development of its products and forestry resources, with a focus on quality, sustainability, and continuous improvement.

The Arkansas Kraft Division uses a combination of virgin and recycled fiber to produce kraft linerboard and medium.

During its 87-year history, the company has had only three presidents, representing three generations of the Kress family: founder George Kress served until 1959; then his son James served as president from 1960 through 1994, and as chairman of the board from 1994 through his death in 2019. Current President and CEO William Kress now carries on the leadership established by his grandfather and father.

GBP has grown to more than 3,500 employees and now has more than 35 manufacturing facilities in 14 states and Mexico. The company’s growth has focused on mergers and acquisitions that expand the company’s product line and strengthen its market position as a packaging leader. In November, 2019, GBP became a minority owner of CompanyBox, formed in 2014 by Louie DeJesus and the DeJesus family. Headquartered in Charlotte, NC, CompanyBox uses proprietary workflow processes and software to specialize in web-to-print in packaging.

In 2018, GBP broke ground in Green Bay on what will be the first new paper mill in Wisconsin in more than 30 years. The US$500 million mill will replace the company’s 72-year-old Green Bay paper mill, and is due for startup in spring 2021. In a major environmental milestone for the new facility, on December 1, 2019, the company turned off its coal-fired boiler and switched to a natural-gas fired boiler, a move that will help make it “the most environmentally-friendly mill in the United States,” says Bryan Hollenbach, GBP’s executive vice president.

As a family-owned company that is continuing to grow, GBP has an especially strong mandate to keep “safety first” as part of its corporate culture. Paper360° interviewed Peter G. Masias, ASP, CSP, and director of safety and risk management.

Green Bay Packaging has been family-owned since 1933. How does that provide perspective for your company regarding safety?

Masias: Being family-owned makes the need to provide a safe and healthy working environment essential. Many of our employees have worked at GBP several years and they have become like family members. GBP still hosts dinners each year for employees who have worked here 25 years or more as well as dinners for retirees. We take providing a safe working environment very personally.

Please tell us a bit about your safety efforts at GBP. What makes your safety program successful? What are some of the achievements you’ve made?

The corporate office at GBP does not provide a lot of safety mandates or directives to our locations. We allow our locations to manage their safety efforts individually in recognition of the fact that their equipment, people, accounts, and processes are unique. This approach promotes responsibility and accountability at the local level regarding safety.

The Arkansas Kraft Division’s “Captain George” machine was named after company founder George Kress.

We have been very successful in reducing the frequency of accidents over the last 15 years, but there is still room for improvement. To support continued accident reduction, the Corporate Safety Department conducts a safety audit of each division every other year. These audits focus on the location’s safety culture and compliance with OSHA regulations, and include a physical inspection of the facility. The safety audits also include separate interviews with the management team and hourly employees to judge how our safety efforts are perceived by our employees.

Lastly, I will say that we have an increased focus on the elimination of serious injuries and fatalities (SIF). Increased focus on SIF reduction within the paper industry is an absolute necessity.

How does GBP communicate its safety goals to employees, contractors, and other stakeholders?

We view the need to provide a safe and healthy working environment as a core value, not a priority. However, each location is asked to develop safety goals for the upcoming year. We ask that these goals be measurable, and that the location indeed measure their progress toward completion of these goals during the year. Each location must communicate these goals to all employees, which is done in a variety of ways. For instance, some locations will send each employee and their family a letter outlining the safety goals for the year in early January and some locations will use their Safety Committee to communicate the goals.

As part of the company’s approach to safety, GBP has made TAPPISAFE part of its contractor safety efforts. What influenced GBP to try the TAPPISAFE Program?

Our paper mill safety staff was spending about 65 percent of its time during outages managing safety compliance with the contractors. They found that many contractors were not provided with the necessary safety training and that the contractors were not reviewing the Contractor Safety Policy with crews before they came on site. Dealing with these issues was taking a lot of the staff’s time and energy during outages.

Since its founding, the company has grown to more than 3,500 employees at 35 manufacturing facilities.

TAPPISAFE provided the tools we needed to make sure that all contractors had the necessary safety training before they came on our site. This gave us reassurance that the contractor and their employees understood the safety rules required to work at our paper mills. We average 100 contractors on site each day working on a variety of projects, and TAPPISAFE is the tool we use to put them all on the same safety page.

Can you tell us more about your use of TAPPISAFE? What benefits have you experienced?

TAPPISAFE is a great tool for making sure contractors have the required safety training to work at our paper mills. The benefits of using TAPPISAFE include:
• Managing the number of contractors that are at our facility at any given time, which gives us the ability to account for these folks in the event of an emergency;
• Speeding up contractor entry and exiting because they are not required to manually sign in and register;
• If the contractor’s annual training isn’t current, the TAPPISAFE System will “flag” them so we can make sure that they get updated safety training; and
• Running a variety of reports that help us manage the contractors on our sites.

TAPPISAFE has worked well for GBP and our contractors and it has been a big help in making certain that the contractors who are working at our paper mills have the necessary training to work safely.

What can other companies learn from Green Bay Packaging’s safety journey? What do you feel lies ahead for GBP on this journey?

GBP is working to create a safety culture of caring and I would suggest to other companies that their safety efforts revolve around this same philosophy. It’s about truly caring that employees have the necessary safety training and resources to go home safe, happy, and healthy at the end of each day. A wise person once told me that “employees don’t care how much you know or what your title is if they don’t think that you care about them.”

The future looks bright for GBP. I expect that we will see continued growth in our business and our people. To that end, I am working to mentor some of our younger safety staff in the hope that they will someday replace me and carry on the strong safety legacy we have been working to create.