12 Nov 20 | Opinion
To close the loop on its drinks packaging, Carlsberg has had to get a lot closer to its suppliers – a complex and time-consuming task that has had a “positive spiral”, says Simon Hoffmeyer Boas, director for group sustainability.
Nobody knows the products we purchase better than the suppliers themselves so co-operating with them to improve the sustainability credentials of our major types of packaging makes a lot of sense. By co-operating instead of just having a purely commercial relationship, we can create more trust and a common purpose for delivering more circular solutions.
It’s a huge task to involve all of the different links in the supply chain. It is not only direct partners we have to work with, but our partners’ partners and their partners, and so on. The amount of time that we needed to spend on analysing our products from a cradle-to-cradle perspective was a bit of a surprise, it took 30-40% more time than we expected.
But it also showed us that it’s necessary to do this in order to optimise the sustainability credentials of our products.
We have used the neutrality of the EPEA (Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency) to ensure that sub-suppliers feel confident about giving the very detailed data we need for the cradle-to-cradle analysis. We couldn’t do it without this knowledge trust function because there will always be concerns around commercial interest.
And what is the risk to Carlsberg of not taking this approach?
We will face a future of more volatile raw material prices, increasing costs and consumer rejection. We believe that in the future, unsustainable products will be more expensive than sustainable ones.
Once we have optimised one packaging type, our suppliers will be able to commercialise these achievements by selling the products to other customers as well. We want to have the benefit of being the first, but the work shouldn’t be held exclusive to us – it needs to be disseminated to other players as well to achieve true scope and scale.
Looking ahead, how might this work at scale?
We have a target of involving 17 partners in the Carlsberg Circular Community by 2017. This is only the tip of the iceberg, the work going on will affect many more partners and sub-suppliers than the primary ones we are working with. We believe it’s better to select a few strategic suppliers and optimise products with them than having a lot of partners where we might not make as big an impact.