Drinks sector moves sustainability from ‘nice’ to ‘must do’

The drinks sector has sharpened its focus on sustainability as the climate crisis continues to build pressure for radical and effective change.

That was the overall view from sustainability leaders in the sector at the inaugural Drink Tank conference in London.

Rapidly growing interest and action in the sector is something that we have seen in our work with leading companies.

SaveMoneyCutCarbon has helped Greene King strengthen its active commitment to sustainability, for example at its distribution centre in Abingdon, where the LED lighting project we planned and installed reduces carbon emissions by 72%, saving £15,000 a year in energy costs and providing an ROI in 2.29 years.

Reducing carbon emissions

Reducing energy use and carbon emissions are significant elements in the strategies of companies throughout the sector, as Heineken’s corporate affairs director David Paterson explained at the conference:

“Sustainability is no longer a nice to do, it’s a need to do. It brings rigour, better understanding and leadership throughout the business.”

The Dutch company has a visionary sustainability strategy, from conserving water to reducing carbon footprint and community focused initiatives.

It is also ditching single-use plastic rings and shrink wrap from millions of multipack cans and replacing them with eco-friendly cardboard, investing £22 million in new technology and production facilities at its UK sites to rolling out the changes across its popular brands, which include Heineken and Foster’s from next April.

Stimulate business

Paterson said that setting ambitious sustainability targets that stimulated business and consumers were being balanced by realistic and achievable goals.

He said:

“We want to set a stretching target but one we believe we can achieve. It calls for a lot more work, effort, rigour and closer loop right the way through your business.”

He added that Heineken’s environmental targets for 2030 will revolve around wider scientific research as opposed to work done in house.

There was also real opportunity in the closed- loop network of beer service in pubs.

He explained:

“Pubs are the original closed loop network. We send kegs to pubs, where they fill beer in reusable glasses, then we get (most of) the kegs back. We already have a loop going in the UK on-trade. Can the logistics be cleaner, yes, can the tech be smarter, yes. But we’ve got a great story to tell consumers that the beer they’re enjoying in the pub is a greener pint than ten years ago.”

Green credentials

For Diageo’s sustainable project manager Michael Alexander, consumers putting more pressure on the sector and actively checking green credentials actually made his task easier.

At the Drink Tank session he said:

“My role was a struggle in demonstrating the business case for sustainability. Over the last two to three years the consumer dynamic has changed.”

The global company has ambitious targets to be reached by the end of next year. The targets aim to ensure it achieves the UN’s Global Goals as well as supporting WHO programmes on health.

Diageo has recently announced strong targets for plastics use. These include that 100% of plastics used should be widely recyclable by 2025 and plastic bottles should be made of 100% recycled content by 2030.

KPIs drive performance

Alexander advocates targeting specific numbers in a drive for sustainability.

He said:

“You have to have a number – a number drives action. KPIs drive performance and they’ve certainly done the trick with sustainability.

“I don’t think we can ever be satisfied when there’s a climate emergency going on but the bar is raising quickly. What we were saying three years ago is no longer acceptable in meeting shareholder expectations. It’s far more complex now.

“Science and technology is changing so quickly – understanding is changing so quickly – we need to keep up with that. We need to be in touch with that. We need to grasp the opportunity to get to where we want to faster.”

Carlsberg’s sustainability manager Peter Statham said that initiatives like environmentally friendly packaging had led to the commercial side of the business seeing the benefit of sustainability.

Net zero target

The company’s science-based carbon-reduction targets focus on cutting brewery carbon emissions and working with value chain partners to reduce “beer-in-hand” emissions by 2030 – with net zero the target.

Other intermediate targets to 2022 include the promotion of low impact cooling and renewable electricity and the elimination of coal.

Carlsberg led the field with the launch of a new glue technology to replace replaces the plastic wrapping used around Carlsberg’s six packs. The new technology is set to reduce plastic waste globally by more than 1,200 tonnes a year – the equivalent to 60 million plastic bags.

The Danish beer giant said this would reduce plastic used in traditional multi-packs by up to 76%.

Collaboration will be a key element in the success of sustainability strategies. Paterson advised that Heineken had achieved a 66% reduction in CO2 emissions in its breweries but this as a small part of the overall carbon footprint.

He said:

“If you look at where the big impact is you’ve got to go barley to bar, that’s where the big impact is, in the supply chain. You can only address those challenges by collaborating.”

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