Jack Buffington

Fresh images of sea life caught in discarded plastic surface daily. Yet the challenge is far more complex than an individual’s improper disposal of a single-use container, according to John “Jack” Buffington, PhD.

“The problem isn’t simply plastic, it’s how you balance the environment, economic impacts, decisions to consume or not consume, and inequity of damages from one country to another,” Buffington said. “It spans material science, public policy, environmental policy and the supply chain.”

Since 2018, Buffington has shared his holistic view with a broad swath of DU students via a unique faculty position that bridges Daniels and University College’s Denver Transportation Institute. As a program director and assistant professor of the practice in supply chain management in Daniels’ Department of Marketing and the DTI, he taps numerous insights across the DU campus, aligning research and coursework in engineering, geography, environmental science and sustainability.

Away from campus, Buffington worked as a supply chain leader at MillerCoors for the past 19 years, overseeing warehousing and distribution for the second-largest beer producer in the U.S. He stepped down from his corporate position Jan. 1 to fully focus on his academic pursuits.

“Part of what’s been wonderful about teaching at Daniels is that the students have such a different perspective on the world, which fosters critical thinking,” said Buffington, who previously taught as an adjunct professor at the College.

Buffington’s personal passions have long revolved around sustainability, most notably in environmental plastic, the topic of his book published in late 2018, “Peak Plastic: The Rise or Fall of Our Synthetic World.”

In the book, named an Outstanding Academic Title of 2019 by Choice magazine, Buffington explained how plastic is indeed detrimental to the global environment, yet plays an essential role in reducing global poverty as well.

He also delved into the concept of peak plastic, or the point at which the negative aspects of plastic outweigh the societal benefits, of which he contends there have been many.

“Between 50% to 60% of the plastics in the world are single-use, but much of that is used to reduce food waste, so what’s worse?” he asked.

“These are difficult challenges with cross narratives, but ultimately, the environmental plastic issue was created by the supply chain and so we’ll need to solve it.”

To that end, Buffington sees his supply chain management program as a piece of the foundation for developing such solutions.

“I came to DU because it provided an opportunity to build a new approach to what I consider the principal challenge of the 21st century economy—the speed of change and the supply chain’s role in that,” he said.

“The supply chain can help with problem-solving around social good, and DU gives us a great platform for that alignment, not just with industry, community and research, but with the students as well.”

Editor’s note: Jack Buffington has shared his expertise on the global supply chain in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic with several media outlets. Read his interviews below: