by Sarah Theodore
Beverage companies take on environmental
The United States is in the midst of a green movement
— not for the first time, but with more pressure, perhaps, on
consumer products companies than ever before. In fact, a recent study
released by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Deloitte Consulting
said sustainability is “unlike any business issue consumer businesses
have encountered in the past.”
“While the issues associated with sustainability
— such as waste management, commodity shortages and energy usage
— are nothing new, the expectations of shareholders, consumers,
regulators and other constituencies have changed, pushing sustainability to
the top of the agenda for consumer products companies,” said Peter
Capozucca, one of the study’s authors at Deloitte Consulting.
“It is unlike any business issue consumer businesses have encountered
in the past. The industry’s large environmental footprint and unique
dependencies on agricultural inputs, water and packaging, make
sustainability a critical strategic issue that consumer packaged goods
companies must address proactively.”
The study found nearly 85 percent of consumer
companies have sustainability initiatives, mainly in the form of recycling
efforts and energy consumption. It also indicates the companies that
implement successful sustainability programs are the ones that include
direct involvement from the chief executive officer, and collaborate with
suppliers, the scientific community and academics.
Interestingly, some consumer surveys report the public
is only moderately concerned with the environment. Yankelovich Inc. found
nearly one-third of consumers feel much more concerned with environmental
issues than they did a year ago. A little less than a quarter of consumers,
however, feel their efforts have no impact when it comes to the
That’s not to say companies should do nothing,
the study’s authors point out. The environment is a “strong
concern” for 30 million Americans, representing an important segment
of the population. In addition, companies still will be required to meet
stricter regulations — often at a high price — and should
leverage those changes with consumers, it says.
Of all the beverage categories, bottled water has
taken the biggest hit regarding environmental
concerns. The segment has received a barrage of bad press, and even has
been banished from some locations. San Francisco recently banned sales of
bottled water at city and county government locations, and a Chicago
alderman reportedly has proposed a special tax on bottled water
(ironically, the idea is meant to cover a budget shortfall due to declining
use of public water, which stands in sharp contrast to those who fear
bottled water might actually deplete public sources). Restaurants such as
Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and Poggio in Sausalito, Calif., have
stopped selling bottled water in favor of filtered tap water.
Bottled water is being scrutinized by those who
compare it to tap water, not other packaged beverages, says Jane Lazgin,
director of corporate communications for Nestlé Waters North
America, Stamford, Conn. “In our on-the-go society, 70 percent of
what consumers drink comes from a packaged container. But you can't get
soda out of a tap,” she says.
The reality is that
bottled water is a popular beverage choice these days. Last year, bottled
water volume increased 9.5 percent from 2005, making it the second-largest
commercial beverage category, according to the International Bottled Water
“Bottled water is simple, refreshing and
healthful because it has no calories,” Lazgin says. “Especially in the small pack, bottled water is an alternative
to other bottled beverages. Tap water is not a primary competitor. We think
that people recognize the value of water to a healthy lifestyle, regardless
of its source.
“We share the environmental concerns about
plastic beverage containers and outdated recycling programs and we’re
doing a lot to address them,” she adds. “But we also have a
concern [about] these media stories. People should not be discouraged from
choosing water, wherever it may be available to them.”
Nestlé Waters is addressing environmental
concerns with the new Eco-shape bottle (see sidebar), and has a number of
production facilities that were built according to standards created by the
U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy &
Environmental Design (LEED) program. The company’s Cabazon, Calif.,
plant, for example, received a Silver LEED rating, and uses natural
lighting, high-efficiency mechanical and electrical systems, and
water-conserving fixtures, among other eco-friendly features. (For an
in-depth report on the Cabazon plant, visit bevindustry.com
The IBWA also is taking on the environmental
challenge, with a recent media blitz to “virtually every major U.S.
media outlet and in local markets nationwide.” The association is
attempting to educate the media and consumers about the industry's
environmental record and support of recycling, bottled water regulation and
safety. The move included full-page advertisements in The New York Times and The San Francisco Chronicle.
“If the debate is about the impact of plastic
packaging on the environment, a narrow focus on bottled water spotlights
only a small portion of the packaged beverage category and an even smaller
sliver of the universe of packaged products,” said IBWA president and
chief executive officer Joseph Doss, in a statement. “Any efforts to
reduce the resources necessary to produce and distribute packaged goods
— and increase recycling rates — must focus on all packaging.
Any other approach misses a real opportunity to arrive at a comprehensive
solution to protecting and sustaining the environment.”
Leading the effort
In the beverage arena, some companies have seized
leadership opportunities on the issue of the environment, adopting green
practices and even guiding consumers into green behavior.
Greg Owsley, chief branding officer at New Belgium
Brewing, Fort Collins, Colo., told Beverage
Industry last month that his company has used
the “cool” factor of its popular Fat Tire beer brand to lead
consumers into green thinking.
“We’re not a heavy manufacturer,” he
said in the July issue. “We don’t use a ton of energy.
We’re not that big of an impact on the planet compared to some other
corporations and manufacturers out there. But we do have a special
platform. Beer is cool. What if beer went out and helped sustainability?
“If you think about environmentalism, everything
you ever hear is super bad,” he continues. “Environmentalism is
doom and gloom, and people, if they want to commit to sustainability,
usually it’s all about abstinence and giving things up in your life.
Who better than a brewery to go out there and say sustainability
doesn’t have to be all about abstinence. It can be a load of fun too.
That’s what we wanted to show them.”
The company features a number of green initiatives
from wind powered electricity to high-efficiency lighting to the types of
inks it uses on its packaging.
Packaging is likely the biggest environmental obstacle
any beverage company will face. “At the end of the day, unless
someone is solely drinking out of a tap, they’re looking to be able
to enjoy a product that needs to be delivered in some format,” says
Scott Vitters, director of sustainable packaging at Coca-Cola.
“There is a basic value that packaging provides
to us as consumers, and what we’re focusing on is how do we
continuously improve that performance,” he says. “We’re
looking at not only the package, but also ensuring that the product is
protected, looking at the transportation impact related to distributing,
and finally, what are the consumer’s needs or desires.”
Environmentally friendly packaging begins at the
design stage. Martha Leflar, project manager at the Sustainable Packaging
Coalition, Charlottesville, Va., says her organization focuses most of its
attention on packaging design and encouraging designers to consider
end-of-life scenarios at the very beginning of the process.
“We’re always trying to get our packaging designers to ask
better questions at the point of design: ‘How do I design for
recycling?’ ‘How do I source healthy materials?’
‘How do I source recycled content?’”
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition has developed a
definition of sustainable packaging to guide members, which include
consumer product companies and suppliers, in their efforts. According to
that definition, sustainable packaging:
• Is beneficial, safe and healthy
for individuals and communities throughout its lifecycle;
• Meets market criteria for
performance and cost;
• Is sourced, manufactured,
transported and recycled using renewable energy;
• Maximizes the use of
renewable or recycled source materials;
• Is manufactured using
clean production technologies and best practices;
• Is made from materials
healthy in all probable end-of-life scenarios;
• Is physically designed to
optimize materials and energy;
effectively recovered and utilized in bio logical and/or industrial
No packaging format
currently fits the definition, but the council is developing a tool that
will help designers get closer. MERGE, as the project is known, was
developed during the 1990s and is being updated this year with current
lifecycle inventory data. It allows companies to put two packaging formats
side by side and measure environmental metrics such as greenhouse gas
emissions, energy consumption and use of resources. The updated tool is
expected to be available next spring.
“This will really help designers know if they
are taking a step forward or a step back,” Leflar says. “If
you’re in the design phase, you can figure out if this is a better
design than this one. Then, before you make millions of them and ship them
all over the world, you already know this is the path you want to go down
— focusing on the point of design, making all those decisions that
cascade down into the environmental effects after the bottle is
Closing the loop
In addition to designing more eco-friendly containers, the beverage industry has an opportunity to help
increase recycling rates at the end of the product lifecycle.
“People have greater environmental consciousness
than they’ve ever had before, but the recycling rates are
dismal,” Nestle Waters’ Lazgin says. “Recycling is a huge
topic. It needs to be revitalized. It needs to find a good
Beverage containers are among the most recyclable
packages on the market, and their recycling rates are higher than many
other packages — but that isn’t saying much. The U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency reports that 34 percent of plastic soft
drink bottles and 45 percent of aluminum beer and soft drink cans are
recycled. According to some reports, the
overall recycling rates for plastic material, when other food and non-food
products are factored in, is as low as 6 percent.
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Leflar
says a lack of consistent information is one of the factors keeping
recycling rates low. “There is no uniform system to label all
packaging as to how you recycle it,” she says. “Until we get a
labeling scheme that crosses materials and really gives consumers
direction, we’re going to have a hard time alleviating those
Several communities have experimented with ways to
increase recycling rates. A program in Philadelphia, for example, uses RFID
technology to tag consumers’ recycling bins and compensates
participating households based on the amount of material they recycle.
Consumers receive credits to spend with local retailers.
“We’ve seen 90 percent participation rate
in the communities where the program has been launched, and taken recycling
rates that were down under 10 percent [to] upwards of 30 to 50
percent,” Vitters says.
San Francisco has been cited for the city’s 69
percent recycling rate, which has been enabled by a single-stream
collection system that sorts all of the city’s recyclable materials
in a 200,000-square-foot facility.
“I would love to design a recycling scheme where
the consumer never had to think; it just happens,” Leflar says.
“I have to believe industry is capable of doing that. Nobody ever
asked for a Hummer — they made it and they made you think you wanted
it, and then you wanted it. So I really think that if we were to pool the
knowledge that is sitting in industry, we could come up with a better
system to get these materials back. They are valuable materials.”
Her comments are echoed by Coca-Cola’s Vitters,
who says, “We have a vision around having our packaging no longer
seen as waste but as a valuable resource for future use.”
The majority of beverage packaging has post-consumer
value. Recycled aluminum cans, for example, are some of the most valuable
packaging materials today, as demand for aluminum currently outstrips the
supply. And according to the Aluminum Association, recycled cans also
require 95 percent less energy and 95 percent fewer gas emissions to get to
a store shelf than virgin material.
Coca-Cola uses upward of 70 percent recycled aluminum
content in the United States, Vitters says, and since 1991 has used
recycled PET material in its plastic bottles. Today’s packages are
designed with recycling in mind, he says, pointing to the Dasani bottle as
an example. The first Dasani design used a dark blue PET, but the company
found there was little end-market value for the darker color. It changed
the color to a lighter blue that can be included in the clear PET stream,
which has a higher value.
“I could say the same in terms of the kinds of
caps we use in a bottle, the types of glues, the types of inks on
labels,” he says. “All are considered from a recycling
perspective to maximize the value of that material for the recycler and
ensuring it’s compatible with the recycling streams.”
While packaging is the most visible way in which
beverage companies affect the environment, it is the issue of climate
change that is fueling overall environmental concern these days. Here, too,
the industry is making an impact. Earlier this year, the EPA named PepsiCo
as the top purchaser of green power, purchasing more than 1.1 billion
kilowatt hours per year of green energy.
Even more impressive, Pepsi Bottling Group and
PepsiAmericas, the company’s two largest bottlers in the United
States, also made the list of the EPA’s Top 25 purchasers of green
energy (at No. 4 and No. 13, respectively). The Pepsi Bottling Group has
committed to buying 458 million kilowatt hours of green power per year, and
PepsiAmericas 157 million kilowatt hours. “The Pepsi bottler purchase
demonstrates that a group of companies, tied together by a supply chain,
can help protect the environment by buying green power,” the EPA said
in its announcement of the Top 25.
In addition to the soft drink companies, Starbucks
Coffee Co. and Whole Foods Market also made the list. The EPA classifies
alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and
biogas, and low-impact hydropower as green energy sources.
Coca-Cola also was recognized by the EPA earlier this
year for its Columbus, Ohio, syrup plant’s participation in the
Performance Track leadership program.
“We’re trying to make sure that the
Coca-Cola Co. is around for a long time, and to do that, we have to have an
environmental footprint that is as small as we can make it,” says
Bruce Karas, director of health safety and environmental services for
Coca-Cola North America. “We’re a member of each community that
we operate in and we want to make sure that plant or facility is viewed as
a good citizen in that environment and people look at us as a very clean,
Karas says the company’s participation in the
EPA program factors in a number of production elements, including water
use, energy consumption, waste disposal and community outreach.
Water conservation has become a major initiative for
the company, which this summer announced a $20 million partnership with the
World Wildlife Fund. The announcement included plans to reduce the water
used to produce its beverages, recycle water used for beverage
manufacturing and replenish water in local communities. As part of the WWF
partnership, the company committed to help conserve seven of the
world’s freshwater river basins, support more efficient water
management in its operations and global supply chain, and reduce its carbon
At the plant level, the plan includes efficient water
use and wastewater processes. “Most of the water goes into the
beverages that we make,” Karas says. “But there is water that
we use for cleaning and other things. It’s looking at where we can
find those efficiencies. It’s looking at wastewater … Our
objective was to really build a wastewater treatment plant that lowers the
things going into the effluent stream.”
Karas indicates the company also worked on issues such
as lighting — using more efficient lighting and systems that
automatically turn off lights and power in areas of the plant where they
are not needed — as well as solid waste reduction.
“In a manufacturing plant, the obvious things
you look at are things that don’t go into your product,” he
says. “It’s packaging materials, pallets, shrinkwrap and so
The EPA Performance Track program is one of two
government-related programs the company has undertaken at its Columbus
plant, as well as a number of the 21 plants it operates in North America
related to syrup production, bottled water and Minute Maid juices. The
company also participated in the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program, receiving a Star
rating, OSHA’s highest ranking for the program.
Karas says both programs provided information and
support that made transitions in the plant easier. From mentoring to
regular conference calls and Webcasts, the
programs provided opportunities to learn from other participants.
“Once you’re in it, that’s what it’s all about
— sharing best practices with other companies as well as with the
agency,” he says.
But don’t go into it lightly, he warns.
“You’re making a formal commitment to a regulatory
agency,” he says. “Before you do that, you’re going to
want to make sure you have some things in place or it’s going to be a
“What I did like was the level of active support
we got from those agencies,” he adds. “It’s definitely a different relationship than you normally have on
enforcement activity. You’re really engaging in dialog and developing
a relationship with an agency. It feels different and you have to get
comfortable with that.”
No matter what shape your environmental plans take, a
word from the wise is to take the time to evaluate your options and not
simply use the efforts for marketing. Plans that look good on paper but
don’t work in the real world or don’t fit within the available
infrastructure will only backfire.
“Everybody wants to make green claims and
sustainability claims, but the whole concept of sustainability is being
thoughtful, so people need to slow down and think of the big
picture,” the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Leflar says.
“Really take your time and consider ‘What does this mean for me
now?’ ‘What does this mean for my company and my children 20
years down the line, or 50 years down the line?’ And really take a
longer term view of what we’re doing to the planet with all of
Nestlé Waters North America is rolling out new
packaging this fall with environmental issues in mind. Called the
Eco-shape, the bottle weighs 12.5 grams for the half-liter size and uses
about 30 percent less plastic than most bottles on the market. Lighter
bottles use fewer raw materials, and require less energy to make and
transport. The bottles also incorporate smaller labels, which should save
20 million pounds of paper a year.
The Eco-shape package took 10 years to design, says
Jane Lazgin, director of communications at Nestlé Waters. “The
detail that went into the design is fascinating — exactly how they
strengthened the shoulder and positioned the waist and put the ribs in the
bottle. It was like building the Brooklyn Bridge,” she says.
The new package is rolling out first with
Nestlé’s Ozarka brand, as its facility in Texas was best able
to integrate the new equipment first. The company’s biggest challenge
will be to convince consumers that the lighter, “crunchy” feel
of the bottle is a positive attribute, and is explaining the move through
“We’re putting information on the case
pack and doing print ads because the consumers think the bottle feels
flimsy,” Lazgin says.
The Coca-Cola Co. also plans to redesign its Dasani
packaging by reshaping the bottle and its closure. “We’ll
eliminate 280 million pounds of PET plastic through design efforts,”
says Scott Vitters, director of sustainable packaging at Coca-Cola.
Vitters also points to Coca-Cola’s glass
technology as an area where the company has used design to reduce
“We’ve got a program called our Ultra
Glass Technology where we’ve used finite element analysis —
basically computer technology — to look for weak spots in the glass
and shave it off,” he says. “In doing so, we reduced the weight
of our glass contour bottles by 20 percent. At the same time, we’ve
improved the impact resistance by 50 percent, and lowered cost.”
Vitters says the result is equal to saving 89,000
metric tons of glass and the energy-use equivalent of taking about 10,000
cars off the road.
But, he warns, eco-friendly design is not all about
lightweighting. “You can have a very lightweight package, but do you
have a quality product as a result?” he asks. “What does your
secondary packaging look like when you transport it? Are you seeing
packages that get crushed and so you’re having to double-pack your
“Usually 10 times the energy and waste is in the
product itself,” he adds. “So if we’re wasting the
product, have you really done something that’s better? You need to
take an integrated look at packaging as part of an integrated system that
considers the product, the package, the transportation and the
5 things you can do to create eco-friendly packaging
Martha Leflar, project
manager at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Charlottesville, Va., says
consumer product companies should incorporate sustainability from the very
beginning of package design. They also can help build a better recycling
infrastructure by encouraging the use of better sorting technology and
making it known that a market exists for post-consumer material.
1. Understand where your materials come from. According Leflar, the process begins with “relationships
with suppliers and really working the supply chain upstream.”
2. Spec for recycled content. “Create markets for [recycled materials] so
infrastructure increases and we can close the loop,” Leflar says.
3. Create designs that fit within current recycling
systems. Know the playing field before you
design and make sure it is going to add to an infrastructure, not
4. Optimize the use of materials and energy. “Using less is always better, as long as it still gets
the job done,” Leflar says.
5. Support the development of infrastructure. Communication with local municipalities is a good place to
start. If a market exsists for materials, collection is more likely.
“There are beverage companies who have made commitments to having a
certain percent of recycled content in their bottles and they are
scrounging to find it,” Leflar says. “How do we get the word
out to municipalities? There is just no communication mechanism between
those two groups of people to get it going.”
It’s not easy being green, a beloved
“Sesame Street” frog once told us. But a number of beverage
companies are taking on the challenge:
• Kraft Foods has reduced the weight of the PET bottles for
its ready-to-drink bottles, including Crystal Light, by 18 percent. The
company estimates the move will save 8.7 million pounds of plastic.
• Procter & Gamble lightweighted its canisters of
Folgers coffee to the tune of about 1 million pounds of plastic a year.
• Fetzer Vineyards, Hopland, Calif., received the
Environmental Protection Agency’s Best
of the Best Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award for its phase- out of
methyl bromide, organic farming, integrated pest management, use of cover
crops, as well as solar and other renewable energy sources, and for broadly sharing information about sustainability. Fetzer also received the California Integrated Waste
Management Board’s Waste Reduction Award Program (WRAP) award for
becoming a zero-waste facility.
• Green Mountain Coffee Roasters incorporated new
Ecotainer cups with a corn-derived lining from International Paper,
earning it the Sustainability Award from the Specialty Coffee Association.
• Jim’s Organic Coffee, Wareham, Mass., became
the first coffee roaster on the East Coast to use 100 percent renewable
energy, and uses paper cups that contain 10 percent post-consumer material.