Although the economy is showing signs of recovery, businesses are still closely evaluating where and how they spend their time and money. At some point, a business might weigh the benefits and costs associated with joining relevant industry associations.

So, what are the benefits of joining a packaging, material handling or supply chain management association?

A strong industry association can serve many important roles. It can help to build the industry's identity and promote the value of the products and services to a broader market audience. A strong industry association can serve to build consensus and speak with one voice on important business issues. It seeks to promote a stronger sense of professionalism among those working in the industry, while defining best practices and promoting industry standards. Taken together, all of these objectives should help drive demand for the industry's products and services.

Members of the Reusable Packaging Association (RPA), for instance, believe in the value of reusable packaging solutions in the marketplace. We are aligned with those seeking to better manage our planet's finite resources and eliminate waste whenever possible. We are committed to helping end users improve their businesses by finding new and cost-effective ways to protect, move and deliver products. And, as an industry, we know that the more end users come to understand the reusable packaging business model, the more they will choose to adopt a reusable packaging strategy.

To illustrate my point about the value of associations, we can turn to the following typical business assessment process. Let's say as an industry we know that, until we can provide more comprehensive and reliable information, data and assessment tools about our practices, we will continue to see resistance to the widespread adoption of our solutions. To overcome this challenge, a trade association can actively conduct research, develop white papers and host educational forums on relevant topics to provide business leaders with the data needed to support the business case for change within their organizations.

For example, the RPA orchestrated and implemented a field test of RFID technology on reusable containers. What's more, we believe that the research and statistics the RPA strives to provide will help to reduce “green washing” and highlight organizations implementing solid strategic business practices to improve sustainability in the supply chain.

Under the auspices of a trade association, an industry's leadership can come together, identify the constraints to further growth and build consensus on what steps need to be taken to address the issues. A trade association should serve the collective business needs of the industry. If the industry sees that it must build the tools and knowledge base to help end users gain a better understanding to ensure growth, it can take the steps to do so.

Trade associations are often viewed as reliable, trusted and unbiased sources of industry information, more so than data coming from one company. Further, industry associations can provide easy access to and continually update collective industry content. This can be accomplished through the commitment of an entire industry working through its trade associations to provide these types of resources.

Belonging to an association also can have value on the individual level. Associations provide opportunities for professional development and networking, which are especially critical in retaining and securing jobs in today's economy.

So, the next time you ask if there is real value in being a member of a trade association, think about where your customers are going when they are looking for help. It's a twist on the old adage: If you're not part of the solution, you're not likely to be part of the answer.

Jerry Welcome is president of the Reusable Packaging Association. Contact him at jwelcome@choosereusables.org.