This climate action week we profile 5 large CPG companies innovating sustainably
This week is climate action week – seven days of climate justice action focused around the United Nations Climate Summit in New York on 23rd September. At this Summit, the UN Secretary-General will call on world leaders to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, with a view to reaching zero net emissions by 2050.
But it’s not all about the actions of governments. Companies are also waking up to their responsibilities to the future of people and the planet. If nothing else, this is a business imperative. If we fail to pursue sustainable business opportunities now, we jeopardise our very survival in the future.
In co-operation with PA Consulting, DISRUPTIONHUB has produced a research report into the sustainable use of plastics and packaging within CPG companies. Innovation for Sustainability: Solving the Plastics and Packaging Challenge examines the main drivers of sustainability initiatives, as well as the risks and rewards at stake. Here we take a look at five corporates featured in the report, who are working towards using less plastic, better kinds of plastic, or no plastic at all.
International food and beverage giant Mondelēz has a clear need for appropriate packaging to ensure its products reach the consumer in optimum state. Nevertheless, in 2014 the company pledged to reduce the weight of its packaging material by 65,000 tonnes. This involves strategies such as choosing materials that are more readily recyclable, and making a switch from polymer-based to biodegradable, fibre-based packets. In 2018, Mondelēz announced that 100 per cent of its packaging would be recyclable by 2025. A stated aim within this pledge is the education of consumers, who need clear guidelines around what they should do with packaging once a product has been consumed.
In 2011, Coca-Cola set up the first and only bottle reprocessing plant in the UK – an operation which now supplies a quarter of the plastic in all its bottles sold in Great Britain. As well as reducing amounts of virgin plastic in circulation, a bottle made from recycled plastic also uses 75 per cent less energy to produce. Examples of the company’s laudable promises include a commitment to use 50 per cent recycled materials in all bottles by 2020, the bottling of the Glacéau Smartwater brand in 100 per cent recycled plastic by the end of 2019, and the use of a plant-based plastic – polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The company is also committed to positively influencing consumer behaviour, by promoting the positive effects of recycling and supporting anti-litter campaigns.
Colgate-Palmolive has partnered with the likes of the Consumer Goods Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, to promote and actively shape the discussion around plastics and sustainability. In the United States, it is a member of regional organisations such as the Closed Loop Fund and The Recycling Partnership, which focus on improving recycling infrastructure and education around what is and isn’t recyclable respectively. This partnership model is crucial to the company’s aim of meeting other like minded businesses, and gaining deeper insights into what others are doing in this space. One of Colgate-Palmolive’s greatest successes is the creation of the first recyclable toothpaste tube. It is also currently working to remove the non-recyclable spring from bottles of liquid hand soap.
4) John Lewis
The large size, inherent expertise and reputation of established corporates make them ideally placed to help shape the sustainability agenda. This is a stated aim of retailer John Lewis, which works with legislators to inform and improve regulation – a crucial piece in the sustainability puzzle, as it has a huge impact on the entire materials and recycling ecosystem. John Lewis is helping the government, particularly the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), by feeding back on its proposals. Retailers are particularly able to inform on the behaviour of consumers, who often voice greater concern about sustainability issues than they display in their purchasing habits. This demonstrates the difficulty of pursuing sustainable innovation in business, as companies must balance environmental considerations against cost, convenience and quality.
According to its research, plastic reduction is now the third most important issue for Morrisons’ customers. In recognition of this concern, the supermarket chain is introducing a Loose Produce initiative to 60 of its stores over the course of 2019. This will see up to 127 different varieties of fruit and veg on sale in dedicated plastic free areas, in addition to the loose offerings that have always been available. The Loose Produce initiative is being rolled out in select stores nationwide following a 10 month trial, which saw the amount of loose fruit and veg bought by customers in three stores increase by 40 per cent. The scheme is expected to save around 156 tonnes of plastic per year in each store where it is introduced, and is part of Morrisons’ wider strategy to cut down on plastic.
Meeting the challenge
These examples demonstrate that many large corporates are leading the way when it comes to protecting the planet, at least where plastics and packaging are concerned. The size and scope of the issue, however, requires collaboration – and a concerted effort – from all parties in the ecosystem. Materials designers, recyclers, retailers, legislators and consumers must all work together if we are truly going to make plastic waste a thing of the past.
As for the many other kinds of climate action? They all have their part to play, and clearly – as a species – we have a long way to go.
To download your free copy of the report – Innovation for Sustainability: Solving the Plastics and Packaging Challenge – click here.