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Over the latter part of 2014, Matthew Rogerson created a virtual roundtable to talk about what sustainability means to leading executives in fast-moving consumer goods organisations.

Matthew Rogerson: What do you define as sustainability?

Kelly Semrau: For me, sustainability is all about the positive choices of people and businesses alike, whether these are smallchanges in people routines or large-scale investments by companies; these choices drive innovations and efficiencies that can
make our planet a better place not just for us, but for future generations also.

Len Sauers: We look at sustainability in a number of ways. First, we start at our own facilities; how can we ensure that we are maximising our production processes so that we minimise waste? One of our longterm environmental goals is to have zero manufacturing waste going to landfills. To date, 40% of our manufacturing sites are ‘zero-landfill’ sites, meaning that any waste created during the manufacturing process is either turned into beneficial reuse, recycled or burned to create energy. We also generated more than $1.6 billion in value for the company through cost savings and revenue generation. And, we are still working.

We also strive to optimise packaging design to reduce the amount of materials we are using, while at the same time ensuring the packaging meets necessary performance requirements – product protection, consumer acceptance, retailer requirements or legal requirements). We ‘lightweight’ many of our packages, reducing the amount of material in areas of the packaging that do not need highstress performance. We include recycled materials in many of our package designs. We are working to replace petroleum-based
packaging with renewable materials where possible and recently launched Pantene Nature Fusion, which comes in a bottle made of sugar cane. Our overarching goal is to reduce our packaging by 20% per consumer use.

Dan Pettit: As part of our Call For Well-being, our business strategy is to protect the well-being of our planet; one way of doing so is to eliminate packaging material from our products. Our in-house packaging R&D teams evaluate new packaging formats using our proprietary Eco-Calculator tool to help eliminate packaging weight from new designs.

Isabelle Seunier: At ABI we see materials reduction as one of the key parts of our sustainability programme. A wide range of materials go into the manufacturing and distribution of our products. We continuously raise the bar by reducing the amount of materials we use, recycling everything we can, integrating the use of recycled inputs into our packaging and ensuring that our
packaging is recyclable whenever possible. This commitment is reflected in the exceptional progress we made in 2013, reaching nearly half of our 2017 packaging reductions goal.

MR: Where do you see the greatest challenge in sustainability?

KS: The one area that I truly believe is the biggest challenge for a consumer packaged goods company like ours is consumer behaviour. We know that consumers want to make green choices, but that they don’t always do so and so we want to understand how we could help change that. Part of this is to make it easier for them, by giving consumers easy and convenient options.

That’s why marrying sustainable packaging with innovative product development is paramount for the future, and why we’re continually looking at ways to reduce the footprint of our products and the manufacturing operations behind them.

LS: Some of the greatest challenges we all face in the area of waste reduction is increasing recycling rates in the US and around the world. People need more programmes and greater access to existing programmes. Not only does this put material to good use instead of sending it to landfill, but it also give companies like P&G greater access to quality recycled materials, enabling us to use more in our manufacturing processes. Another challenge is to help change and shape consumer behaviour through greater understanding of sustainable alternatives. This is an area where multiple stakeholders will need to work together if we want to be successful.

IS: We continuously invest in equipment, such as detection on-line to guarantee 100% check, and develop standard operating procedures. Having 100% of our packaging checked on-line allows us to optimize specifications without lowering the quality of our product to consumers. It also reduces variability (narrow operating window) and allows us to make our packaging lighter and more sustainable.

To drive further improvements, this year we assembled a new team dedicated to developing long-term disruptive technologies. The team works closely with our internal experts and external partners to identify opportunities to innovate.

For example we invested 100 million USD in a new aluminum bottle manufacturing process in the United States, which has allowed us to reduce the weight of our Bud Light 16-ounce bottles by 40 percent, to 31 grams from 51 grams.

MR: What can governments or consumers do to support your activities in these areas?

KS: As a society, we are aware that we need to consume less and everybody has a role to play in this. Our resources will be in jeopardy if we don’t stop producing and consuming at the rate we are. Therefore, we need to change our consumption patterns as soon as possible and this can only be achieved by gaining a better understanding of how to positively influence consumer behaviour. This change has to be driven by individuals, business and, most importantly, governments. Governments are, without a doubt, one of the most influential stakeholders in positively influencing behaviour changes. However, we have never believed in waiting for legislation to be introduced – we all know this can be a lengthy process – instead, as a company, we have attempted to instigate a proactive rather than reactive approach to sustainability.

DP: Because we can demonstrate that our policies, practices and reporting are already moving us in the right direction on packaging sustainability, we believe this is a shared responsibility (not just for manufacturers), which is why we’re working with others to find realistic solutions.

Our strategy reflects our belief in the efficacy of partnering with other stakeholders including private, governmental and non-governmental organizations. We believe creating consumption patterns that are sustainable requires that everyone does their part:
from individual consumers to private organizations to public policymakers; and a lasting solution will require a comprehensive approach that includes public education, public-private partnerships, changes in public policy and the enhancement of infrastructure.

MR: How can a holistic or resource-efficient method help to address these areas?

KS: Some of the most exciting and effective initiatives at SC Johnson are driven not only by significant investments, but through a more holistic approach by making smarter choices in how we approach what we do every day. Recently, a team at our Europlant manufacturing hub in the Netherlands created a process to use less packaging in our supply chain. By creating pockets to hold bottles in place on the factory lines, much lighter bottles with thinner plastic could be used. This simple innovation had a big impact, resulting in a 25% reduction in the amount of plastic used in the production of Mr Muscle, reducing the footprint of the product and
saving materials, time and money.

LS: It is critical to take a holistic, life-cycle view of packaging design. As we develop packaging, we look at the role it play throughout the entire life cycle of the product. One example, and a challenge we currently are working on, is the use of films in packaging products. Thin, lightweight and not requiring the additional space of boxes or crates, films (or plastic wraps) present a great option, and a sustainable alternative as they reduce use of plastics and other materials, take less space in transport and thus require fewer trucks on the road, which reduces carbon emissions. And yet, many films are not currently recyclable. It’s critical as we look for solutions to some of our environmental challenges that we look holistically at the role a product plays. And then work to solve shortcomings along the way until we get to a real win-win solutions.

DP: From 2005 to 2010, we eliminated around 200 million pounds of packaging material from our supply chain. And we have actually just reached our latest goal to eliminate an additional 50 million pounds (22,500t) of material – hitting our 2015 goal a year early.Some examples would be eliminating 2.8 million pounds of packaging in Australia by converting Cadbury Dairy Milk bars from traditional foil and cardboard to a single-layer flow wrap and in Europe we created a lighterweight glass jar for Jacobs Velvet Coffee,
combining consumer appeal with the elimination of more than 10 million pounds of packaging weight.

We’ve successfully instilled a culture of sustainable package design into our research and development organisation, and we encourage our packaging designers to continue to improve the environmental aspects of design. We’re focusing on increasing our recycled content as appropriate and rewarding increased recycled content within the Eco-Calculator formula. We also want to increase the overall amount of recycled fibre used within our paper-based packaging and we’re looking more at where that paperboard is sourced. Our overall goal of doing well by doing good also requires an understanding of consumer perception and behaviour, along with environmental reality. As a result, we use life-cycle assessment (LCA) principles and tools to assess the environmental impact of our packaging design decisions.

LCA helps us to reduce our footprint and boost efficiencies. Today, we use LCA to help eliminate waste in manufacturing and reduce raw materials used at the beginning of our supply chain. For example, in the UK, we confirmed our Kenco Eco-Refill coffee package delivered a 70% reduction in carbon impact compared with its glass counterpart. And in Europe, our Tassimo single-serve beverage team confirmed they could reduce carbon footprint of each T-Disc package by 20% by upcycling with TerraCycle and diverting from landfills.

MR: What can be done to continue to improve sustainable products?

KS: We have had lots of small successes across our business in terms of reducing our footprint. This success has not happened
over night, it has taken a lot of hard work, time and commitment. However, once you do complete those initial improvements, it can often be more difficult to be constantly identifying new improvements.

I’m convinced that there is always going to be more to do. We must continue to learn from our experiences and apply our learning to all aspects of the business, looking everywhere for new ways to apply these. Sustainability is a dynamic field and the learning never ends. Change is rapid and, as a result, the impossible becomes possible, on a daily basis. This is a challenge and an opportunity, which means at SC Johnson we can never rest on our laurels and there will always be a way to improve our products as well as our operations.

IS: Through our unified brewery management system, value engineering, innovative design and procurement initiatives, we are able to use fewer and lighter-weight materials in our packaging.

We have made great strides in this area, and our culture of continuous improvement led us to commit to reducing the amount of our packaging by another 100,000 tons by 2017; we are nearly halfway there thanks to a reduction in packaging of 48,000 tons in 2013. We estimate that it reduced GHG emissions by 71,677 tons.

Paper Reductions – By removing carton partitions and other paper from cartons, reducing the gauge of the paper, trimming the size of flaps in folding cartons and other paper optimization techniques, we were able to reduce paper use by 32,254 tons, or the equivalent of 248,000,000 12-pack beer cartons.

Glass Reductions – Across our company, our sites worked hard to reduce the amount of glass we use to bottle our products. By paring the weight and thickness of some of our beer bottles while maintaining product safety and structural integrity, we reduced glass use by 13,839 tons, the approximate equivalent of 77,000,000 355-ml beer bottles. Light weighting bottles continues to be a technique that is being implemented across the entire company.

Metal and Plastic Reductions – Through techniques such as downgauging metal crowns and lids and using thinner shrink wrap, we saved more than 1,100 tons of metal and nearly 500 tons of plastic.

Kelly Semrau, chief sustainability officer at SC Johnson
Len Sauers, vice-president for global sustainability at P&G
Dan Pettit, associate director, global packaging and sustainability at Mondelez International
Isabelle Seunier, procurement innovation and better world global director at AB InBev
Danielle Miller, packaging development global director at AB InBev