Pierre-François Thaler is co-founder and co-CEO of EcoVadis. He has 15 years of experience in procurement and business development of innovative solutions for procurement organizations. He is a frequent speaker on the topic of sustainable procurement and the author of multiple studies in this area. Pierre-François is an electrical engineer by trade, holding a master of science from Supelec and a MBA from Insead.
With 33% of consumers choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good, businesses have started making a public effort to move toward more sustainable practices. This has forced top CPG companies to rethink their sustainability efforts, starting with packaging — from increasing the use of recycled materials to reducing the amount of packaging altogether.
Coca-Cola is among the companies leading the way in sustainable food and beverage packaging with plant-based, recyclable containers and strict packaging guidelines. Along with Coca-Cola, market leaders like Unilever recognize that sustainability is much more than a marketing gimmick at this point. It’s a revenue-driving strategy that provides a competitive edge. As more CEOs embrace the future of sustainability, teams working in product development, procurement and any other role that touches the life cycle of a package will discover the importance of sustainability throughout the entire process, from raw materials to disposal. As they feel the pressure to be sustainable and see the opportunity it presents, they will find the move toward sustainability is not as difficult as it may seem — especially if there is collaboration with industry peers.
Compliance is a good start
A recent study highlighted that sustainable packaging is not just demanded by consumers, but also by manufacturers and retailers. With increased pressure from retailers themselves, manufacturers have a huge opportunity to develop and provide sustainable alternatives made of renewable materials. However, true commitment to meeting and exceeding industry demand goes beyond the materials used, and should also include improved labeling and minimization of packaging.
Industry pressure with continued pushes from legislators and NGOs, and the demand for increased sustainability and waste reduction, will continue to test the food and beverage packing industry.
A little commitment goes a long way
Many companies have recognized the need to expand eco-friendly practices and have made the commitment to improve their sustainability practices. This may include limiting the amount of packaging or increasing the amount of post-consumer recycled resins in it, but this leaves a hole in the product development process. Food and beverage companies tend to fill this gap with generic recycled materials sourced and aggregated from a variety of recycling facilities, which means there is little to no traceability back to the original product.
One alternative is to use storied plastics, which are collected by waste stream, sorted by material type and traced to a point of origin. A commitment to sustainable practices is a commitment to ensuring compliance in each step of the package’s life cycle, which is only done with full visibility of every step of the process.
Collaboration drives meaningful change
While compliance, commitment and creativity are virtues that will help guide sustainability in food and beverage packaging, it’s also crucial that companies collaborate with each other. Organizations like AIM-PROGRESS are providing a forum for manufacturers or suppliers in the fast-moving consumer goods industry to work together. Their goal is to build supply chain capability, effectively assure compliance and drive continuous improvement in responsible sourcing across the globe.
Along with EcoVadis, AIM-PROGRESS has launched a collaborative project for member companies to receive full visibility into their suppliers’ processes. Six companies will engage in collaborative sharing of sustainability performance ratings that align with the organization’s objectives and establish governance and operational management with the intention of growing the initiative. The highlighted 6 companies include Le Groupe Bel, Pernod Ricard, Nestle, Unilever, Ferrero and Heineken. These main brands are joined by multiple packaging companies, which make up 25% of the membership portfolio. This initiative further validates the benefit of collaboration and a “race-to-the-top” ratings mindset for sustainability.
With advancements in technology and increased globalization, the options for alternative sustainable materials have only increased. New materials are being discovered or designed that challenge existing processes and recovery channels. These changes should not be seen as threats, but instead be embraced so that the advancements can allow for implementation of more sustainable practices for the overall improvement of the industry. Well-run sustainable procurement and packaging initiatives lend a competitive advantage to companies that implement them, which only encourages the rest of the industry to keep up.