Is it enough to focus on just recycling, or is there a need to elevate the conversation to talk about circularity, decarbonization and take a more strategic view?
This World Environment Day’s theme – Restoring Ecosystem – gives us an opportunity to reflect on how well crafted our own priorities are with regard to environmental sustainability. Is it enough to focus on just recycling, or is there a need to elevate the conversation to talk about circularity, decarbonization and take a more strategic view? We are #GenerationRestoration, and it is up to us to take strong actions now to address the climate crisis. However, no one can go this alone. The government, manufacturers, food and beverage brands and us, consumers, have a role to play.
Many corporate organizations have stepped up with strong commitment, and on-ground action to lead this sustainability transformation. One such company is Tetra Pak, a world leading processing and packaging company that is amongst the world’s most reputed organizations for their commitment to environmental sustainability. A company of Swedish heritage, Sustainability has been embedded in their corporate strategy since inception over six decades ago.
Jaideep Gokhale – Sustainability Director, Tetra Pak South Asia talks to Huma Siddiqui on how Tetra Pak views their own role and that of the industry, and what can India learn from the world.
Following are excerpts:
The UN has called for global companies to ramp up their efforts to reduce emissions. How can package manufacturers help address this issue?
The global food system accounts for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Energy accounts for the majority of the emissions, but farming, processing and distribution of food also have a significant climate footprint. From how we power our buildings and factories to how we design our food packaging and processing solutions and how we transport and distribute food products, there are multiple opportunities to curb emissions.
If all actors in the packaging industry take responsibility and collaborate across the value chain, we could create a future of sustainable packaging. Shifting to renewable energy across operations would allow us to reduce our carbon footprint. Lightweight packaging and efficient designs would minimise wasted space during transportation and help reduce food producers’ distribution and operational footprint.
What is Tetra Pak’s approach to sustainability?
Our sustainability encompasses our entire value chain – including the environmental, social and economic challenges we face. From our School Feeding Programmes to our circular economy commitments, to our Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, we constantly strive towards safeguarding our own employees and supporting communities where we operate, and protecting the future of our planet and the long-term success of our customers
We take this approach because we recognise that we can only create a more sustainable future by addressing the interconnected nature of the environmental, social and economic challenges we face. Our solutions work because they are joined up.
In addition, we use the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help us prioritise our sustainability efforts, and this focus on the SDGs builds on our ongoing commitment to the UN Global Compact and its ten principles, to which Tetra Pak has been a signatory since 2004.
Tetra Pak has recently stated that it will reach net zero emissions by 2030. What are you doing to achieve this?
To achieve a net-zero goal across our own operations by 2030 and realize a net-zero ambition along the value chain by 2050, we are focusing on four areas:
Lowering energy-related emissions – we have gone from 20% use of renewable electricity in 2014 to 69% in 2019, and we are on track to achieve our 2020 target of 80%.
Working with suppliers and other actors along the value chain to significantly reduce carbon footprint. We are working with suppliers to cut upstream carbon emissions, including setting ambitious renewable energy targets and increasing the use of renewable and recycled materials.
Accelerating the development of our low carbon circular packaging and equipment portfolio and working to help customers achieve their emission reduction targets. A step change in investment levels in sustainable innovation is helping us realise our ambition of the package of the future – a fully recyclable and renewable package – as well as to offer processing and packaging lines with minimal carbon footprint.
Developing sustainable recycling value chains, via collaboration with customers, waste management companies, recyclers, municipalities, industry associations and equipment suppliers.
How does Tetra Pak compare to other materials, both in terms of circularity and emissions?
An LCA or life cycle analysis is regarded as the best tool to compare the environmental impact of packaging because it compares different packages on their carbon (CO2) impact of Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) while considering the entire life-cycle of a package, starting from where the raw materials are sourced; through manufacturing; to end-of-life. Our sustainability strategy is also based on a holistic view that takes into account not just recycling and reuse, but also the climate impact of raw materials and manufacturing, as well as impact on biodiversity and fresh water availability.
A 2020 life cycle assessment carried out on behalf of Tetra Pak concludes that Tetra Pak carton packages have a lower carbon footprint than glass, plastic or metal packages. The study states, for example, that if for one full year consumers and food producers in Europe would choose beverages packed in Tetra Brik Edge Aseptic 1L packages with Light- Cap 30 opening instead of PET bottles, this would save the equivalent of all CO2 emissions produced by 60,500 cars.
In India, the conversation around Environmental Sustainability is still limited to recycling. Do you think it is time to expand our view of sustainability?
Absolutely. While waste management and recycling are important conversations to have and we need strong action as well on this front, it is only one part of the life-cycle of a product. We need to take a full view from raw material, to manufacturing, distribution and end of life to truly be able to build a low-carbon circular economy.
It is also important for policy and legislation to evolve accordingly and take a long-term strategic view rather than short-term gains. For example, the endemic issue of littering in India demands strong waste management infrastructure, not elimination of certain packaging material which is in fact recyclable. Similarly, efforts are needed to integrate and consolidate the informal waste segregation ecosystem already available in the country, as opposed to thinking of new / parallel mechanisms. The legislation needs to be uniform across the country, clearly assign the right roles and responsibilities to various stakeholders like manufacturers, brand-owners, municipal bodies and others; and lastly, the legislation needs to be enforced strongly.
It is also important to ensure that the entrepreneurs who enter the waste management or recycling business are able to build a sustainable business. This could be through incentivization or through expanding the market for recycled products itself.
Lastly, there is a strong need for consumer awareness and behavioural change that will help them make better buying decision on one hand, as well as dispose of their waste correctly.