Moving the mainstream

Tomorrow’s successful companies will be those that put sustainability at the heart of all business decision-making. But with dwindling natural resources and the prospect of an explosion in the middle classes, we’ve reached a tipping point. The next stage of sustainable business will come from greater innovation, collaboration and better use of technology.

 

Three years ago, we committed to reduce the carbon footprint of the drink in your hand by one-third by 2020. No mean feat.

 

I oversee production at 17 manufacturing sites across six countries in North-West Europe, so I appreciate the critical role that green manufacturing has in realising this ambitious target. It’s where we can have the greatest impact within our four walls.

 

Research from the Economist Intelligence Unit reveals that embedding sustainability strategies will be most successful if they have executive sponsorship. We’re fortunate, our sustainability agenda is led from our CEO, and it flows down into everyday decision-making. It determines how much water we use, where and how we source our energy, and how we manage our waste. Importantly, our commitment to be a more resource-efficient business is core to our business growth and innovation strategy.

 

Our Sustainability Advisory Council is led by our senior leadership, and within that we’ve established an Environmental Steering Group, which explores new and innovative ways to reduce our carbon footprint across our value chain.  Much of our innovation originates from our people and partners who share our passion, and we encourage and reward their ideas through employee and supplier recognition schemes.

 

As a beverage manufacturer, one of our most pressing priorities is achieving a water sustainable operation. We’ve set our sights on using just 1.2 litres of water to make one litre of product by 2020 at all of our facilities, which is setting the benchmark for the Coca-Cola system globally.  At the end of 2012, across our sites, we reached 1.4 litres, so still have some way to go. We’re looking at new innovations and technology to help us reach our goal.

 

Over the past three years we’ve invested $22 million in energy and water efficiency projects to make our manufacturing sites more sustainable. And, we’ll continue to invest to improve our track record in water, energy and waste efficiency.

 

For example, we’ve implemented a system for rinsing bottle preforms and cans with ionised air, and utilising the latest camera technology to check all the containers are cleaned to the highest standard.


We’re also piloting a cutting-edge Manufacturing Execution System (MES), which constantly monitors and reports back on the water use of every component in the factory.  This means swift corrective action can be taken whenever something isn’t working as efficiently as it could be. This is a first for the European soft drinks industry, and its potential to revolutionise real-time monitoring of water use, and loss, is significant.

 

Our Dongen factory in the Netherlands has deployed both the MES system, and pressurised ionised air rinsing, reducing its water ratio by almost one-fifth - affording the site the first ever Gold Level European Water Stewardship Standard (EWS) Certification.

 

The factory hasn’t only achieved great results with water stewardship, it’s also sent zero waste to landfill since 2007. In fact, all of our British, Dutch and Belgian facilities send zero waste to landfill, something we are looking to fulfill across all plants by the end of this year.

 

We’ve made good progress, but there’s more to be done. To help reduce energy consumption we’ve implemented carbon budgets and monthly sustainability scorecards for our internal functions, and we’re always actively exploring ways we can collaborate with external partners for mutual benefit. For example, in Dongen we’re working with the neighbouring Ardagh glass factory to set up a heat exchange pilot programme, where we’ll use its residue heat to supply heat-driven processes in our facility. This has the potential to provide 30% of the total energy required by the Dongen plant and save up to 3,000 tonnes of carbon a year.


Crucially, these initiatives make business sense. As well as reducing costs, we recognise that companies which rely less on natural resources will be better equipped for the future.  

 

The challenge to run ever more sustainable operations intensifies, but leading companies are already starting to align profitability and sustainability. We need to adopt new approaches through innovation, collaboration and technology if green manufacturing is to move from the margins to the mainstream.

 

Richard Davies is Vice President for Supply Chain operations at Coca-Cola Enterprises and oversees the company’s 17 manufacturing facilities across GB, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

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