I head up a 600-strong team of primarily technical staff and scientists, such as mechanical engineers, chemists, software engineers and other disciplines. Our job is to design and develop Tetra Pak packaging solutions - that is, the cartons people have in their fridge at home, plus all the packaging equipment our customers have at their production sites. That means we don’t just make the cartons for liquid food, we also make the equipment that puts it into the carton – safely, efficiently and with as little waste as possible.
Our company’s purpose is built on the premise of reducing food waste. It goes to the core of why we exist, and why we’ve been so successful. Take a product like milk: highly nutritious, highly perishable. If you package it in one of our containers, you can transport it – without refrigeration, and without it perishing – across long distances, even across continents. Which means there’s a far higher chance that it will be consumed before it goes to waste. SDG 2 is about zero hunger. Thanks to Tetra Pak processes and packaging, our customers can provide a remote village with a supply of affordable, nutritious food. This one example illustrates why Tetra Pak was relevant 67 years ago, when the company was founded, why we’re still relevant today, and why we’re going to be even more relevant in the future.
We take a 360-degree view when we talk about sustainability. That means we’re talking about the sustainability of our business and our customers’, our operations, the lives of our employees and consumers and, of course, our planet. For us, sustainability isn’t just about helping process and package food, it’s about everything that’s connected to our work - from the way we design equipment, to how it operates, to its lifetime energy and water use. It also means thinking about impact during manufacture, which materials we choose, and the way we assemble and transport equipment.
When my team starts developing a new piece of equipment we define its 'product requirements' in two main categories: food quality and performance. Increasingly, that second category of performance has a lot of sustainability focus – making our machines run faster, with less energy, less water, creating less waste. We are constantly looking at the whole system for the smallest opportunity for improvement. For example, we recently launched the Hyperspeed Filling Machine, which can produce 40,000 packs per hour, nearly double the speed of the previous version. Some of our customers are producing 950,000 packs per day, on just one filling line. So when we make a ‘small’ 0.01% improvement per pack – to energy use, CO2 output or whatever – it adds up to make a big difference.
The awareness and desire for progress on sustainability issues is much higher than ever before – from society, from legislators and from many of our customers. Our global accounts are absolutely driving the agenda from a sustainability perspective. So that’s one part of the motivation. Another personal key driver was joining the Sustainability Forum – it was a real eye opener for me. I’ve come to realise how much business sense sustainability actually makes for Tetra Pak – and for our customers. For example, when we make those marginal gains in our systems, we reduce their impact, save our customers money, reduce food waste and contribute towards the SDGs.
Although sustainability has a clear global goal, its specific challenges vary around the world, from North America, to South East Asia, to Western Europe. It's a mistake to think we understand all these challenges - they're different from region to region, and constantly changing. For example, Japan has a progressive and mature economy, but they also have demographic challenges. Many of their senior citizens are living alone or in pairs, and lots of them struggle to finish a litre container of milk before it perishes. That means food waste. We’re working with our customers in Japan to resize containers, so we have package sizes that are optimised to the consumer need. The challenge is finding the right answer for the right circumstances.
In 2017, Just Water, a brand of sustainable bottled water in the USA, chose Tetra Pak for their packaging. I'm extremely proud that a company with this kind of ethos selected a Tetra Pak system. The Just Water bottles are 82 percent plant-derived, with paper from trees, and a cap and shoulder from sugar cane. This adds up to a 74 percent reduction in carbon emissions, compared to a standard plastic bottle.
I’m excited about the opportunity we have to really address some of the world's food packaging challenges. We have a responsibility because of who we are, and we have the resources, the talent and the drive to make a real difference. In my team, sustainability has moved right to the top of our agenda.