Creating Winning Sustainability Initiatives
by Mary Ellen Kuhn
The relationship between return on investment (ROI) and operating sustainably was a recurring theme in Session 230, “Sustainability: How Beverage Innovation Award Winners Did It,” held Tuesday morning, June 14, at the IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo.
Speakers in the session, all of whom represented companies recognized for their initiatives by the International Society of Beverage Technologists, pointed out that often operating sustainably also produces economic benefits for a company.
In a presentation on a technology from a company called Trustwater, Christopher Hoemeke of the company pointed out that Trustwater’s Electrochemical Activation technology—which allows for the elimination of all chemicals in processing equipment clean-in-place (CIP) systems—also allows the companies that implement it to achieve substantial savings on water and energy expenditures.
“If the ROI is not there, it doesn’t matter how big the green footprint is,” said Hoemeke.
At Coca-Cola, which last year introduced the award-winning PlantBottle produced with 30% plant-based PET materials, the project would not have moved forward if it had not been economically viable, explained Robert Kriegel of Coca-Cola’s packaging operation.
Using the plant-based PET reduces dependence on petroleum and lowers carbon impact, but it also makes sense from a business and consumer satisfaction perspective.
“No other material can meet our quality standards,” Kriegel said. “We have the infrastructure for PET and PET recycling.”
It was important for the new material to be cost-effective, compatible with the company’s existing packaging equipment, and recyclable, Kriegel continued. Having a cost-effective technology is critical because the company is committed to keeping its price points stable. Making a change that would require a massive change in equipment would not be either cost-effective or sustainable, he emphasized.
“It’s still PET,” said Kriegel. “Make no mistake it’s still polyethylene terephthalate. … Because it is still PET, it is still recyclable, and that is critical for us in the big picture.”
Coca-Cola is working with the H.J. Heinz Co., which later this summer will begin the rollout of Heinz ketchup in the plant-based packaging Coca-Cola developed. “We have to have these partners that can share our vision and provide scale,” said Kriegel. “Ultimately, we want the entire industry to be using (plant-based) PET.”
Also in the session, Nels Anderson of Ecolab talked about the process of driving sustainability into the innovation process. He urged those developing a sustainability program to be aware that program drivers will evolve continually. “Reassess your market,” he urged, “because the factors influencing it will be changing.”
It’s also important to realize that ideas can come from many different sources. “You have to take ideas from everywhere,” said Anderson. At Ecolab, for example, the idea for the company’s award-winning innovation came from a field employee in Mexico—located more than 2,000 miles from the company’s closet R&D facilty.
To help ensure sustainable operation, it’s also important to set sustainability goals upfront. “What we have done is state our sustainability goals early in a project,” said Anderson.