From the latest issue of Food, Nutrition & Science, sustainability partnerships are growing in popularity. See how large food companies are making a difference.
This article originally appeared in Food, Nutrition & Science.
Sustainability is a hot ticket for manufacturers, and they tackle this issue in different ways. Some focus on reducing the environmental impact of their products; others work on sourcing their raw materials in more sustainable ways. Recycling, the reduction of water use and the reduction of carbon emissions are additional measures many companies take.
Now, growing in popularity is the formation of sustainability partnerships. Through mutually beneficial partnerships, companies and environmental groups can reach their sustainability goals while realizing environmental savings in a way that manufacturers say wouldn’t be possible without this kind of collaboration.
Coca-Cola, the world’s largest beverage company offering more than 500 sparkling and still brands that include Coca-Cola®, Diet Coke®, Fanta®, Sprite® and Minute Maid®, is one such manufacturer making strides in their sustainability efforts. Recently, the company partnered with River Network, a non-profit that protects and restore rivers and other waters, and donated more than 1,000 syrup drums for reuse as rain barrels in communities all across the country.
Rain barrels capture rainwater and help reduce stormwater pollution. The collected water can then be saved until needed during dry periods and for other non-drinking water needs. And since one of Coca-Cola’s environmental focus areas is centered on reducing, recycling and replenishing water, the River Network seemed like the right fit.
“We discovered that repurposing the syrup drums used in our beverage production process is a great way not only to replenish water back to nature, but reuse the drums as well. In addition, these rain barrels provide a great way to engage the community and raise awareness around water conservation,” says Jon Radtke, Water Resources Director for Coca-Cola Refreshments.
A lot of Coca-Cola’s focus within the water space is on water replenishment projects, and they currently support more than 60 community water projects in North America with partners such as the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy, among others, and continue to look for additional partners aligned with their goals.
“We also recently announced partnership agreements with three biotechnology companies to accelerate development of the first commercial solutions for next-generation PlantBottle™ packaging made 100 percent from plant-based materials,” says Radtke.
Collaboration, says Coca-Cola, enables manufacturers to achieve greater results. Their long-term goal to return to communities and nature an equivalent amount of water to what they use for their beverages and their production is a big initiative, so it helps to work with partner organizations that understand the specific issues at hand, and how to address them.
“River Network helps Coke expand their water conservation stewardship beyond the bottling plants’ four walls across community watersheds by connecting them with local conservation groups to safeguard water resources for their operations and the communities they serve,” says Matt Burke, Director of Corporate and Community Relations, River Network.
Yet another manufacturer engaging in sustainability partnerships is Kraft, the world’s second largest food company with brands like Cadbury®, Maxwell House®, Nabisco®, Oreo®, Oscar Mayer® and Philadelphia®. Their collaboration with Sonoco, a global provider of consumer packaging and packaging supply chain services, is helping Kraft Foods by diverting over 99 percent of their waste at five separate manufacturing facilities. Between 2005 and 2010, Kraft Foods cut more than 100,000 metric tons (200 million pounds) of packaging from its supply chain. And since 2010, when it announced its expanded sustainability goals, the company has cut an additional 20,500 metric tons (45 million pounds) of packaging from the supply chain – towards its goal of eliminating another 50,000 metric tons (100 million pounds) by 2015.
Sonoco also helped Kraft Foods convert their Maxwell House, Nabob and Yuban brands of coffee from metal cans to paperboard containers, maintaining shelf life while reducing the use of materials, energy and emissions. The new cans are made from paperboard that consists of more than 50% recycled materials.
“Employees continue to raise the bar by improving efficiency, by changing behavior, business practices and culture, and by creating new partnerships to turn waste into something of value. For Kraft Foods, manufacturing accounts for the vast majority of its solid waste output, so its plants are a natural place to take action,” says Richard Buino, Corporate External Communications, Kraft Foods Inc.
Buino says the company recycles or reuses about 90 percent of manufacturing waste. In some cases, Kraft Foods is even reusing manufacturing by-products as energy sources. Sonoco has recognized five of Kraft Foods' plants as Gold-level Sustainability Star Award winners for achieving landfill-free status by diverting over 99 percent of their waste. Elsewhere, many plants have made significant reductions through partnerships to put waste to work.
For example, in South Africa, employees at Kraft Foods’ Port Elizabeth plant have partnered with EnviroServ, a well-known waste management company, with the ultimate goal of sending zero waste to landfill. The plant now sends less than 10 percent of the waste it produces to landfill thanks to employee-led programs such as turning waste into useful materials like animal feed. The Kraft Foods’ Philadelphia cream cheese plant in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin recently partnered with the city to build an anaerobic digester that turns whey waste (a byproduct of cheesemaking) into biogas that generates electricity for the local power grid, eliminating the need for whey disposal.
“This reduces solid waste and improves wastewater quality, which is a win-win for the plant, the city, its people and the environment,” says Buino.
Many other companies are partnering up too. Johnson & Johnson works with the World Wildlife Fund as part of their “Healthy Communities, Healthy Ecosystems” initiative, supporting the health of local communities in Kenya. ConAgra’s “Child Hunger Ends Here” campaign partners with Feeding America to fight childhood hunger by donating meals from purchases of specially marked products. Frito Lay partners with TerraCycle, an innovative company that turns waste into new products, to reduce the environmental footprint of their packaging. And the list goes on.
Sustainability partnerships are invaluable and can help protect the environment, conserve resources and enhance the economic development of the communities where manufacturers operate. And, says Coca-Cola, participating in sustainability initiatives is no longer optional or something nice to do for companies and manufacturers. It’s something we have to do.
“We have a responsibility to ensure we are doing everything we can to use our resources as efficiently as possible. At Coca-Cola, we analyze the areas of our business where we can make the most positive impacts on the environment, and that’s where we drive our focus,” adds Radtke.