There's More to Sustainability Than Recycling​

By Jason Pelz, Vice President of Environment for Tetra Pak - Americas

When brands evolve their organizations to include more sustainable practices, recycling efforts are usually the first line of action. But recycling is only one part of the equation.

Rather than thinking about sustainable efforts in isolation—how to recycle more often, how to procure more responsibly sourced products, how to reduce water consumption and waste—brands can make the greatest contribution to environmentalism by driving toward a low-carbon circular economy.

With incremental efforts and a focused mission that becomes a part of the company culture, brands can address sustainability across the entire value chain, affecting change that's positive for business, consumers, and the planet.

Defining the Ideal

Achieving a low-carbon circular economy is an ideal state, and the journey is just as important as the destination. Let's look at each part separately:

  • Low-carbon refers to the act of purposefully reducing or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. This is made possible by actions like using renewable energy sources and logistically sound transportation, reducing energy consumption, and making environmental considerations in manufacturing and packaging.
  • A circular economy describes the focus on regenerating natural resources (i.e., using renewable sources and environmentally sound products), reusing and recycling materials, and reducing waste, all of which converge in an effort to lessen environmental impact.

When we put these two concepts together, a low-carbon circular economy considers how the climate is impacted across the value chain, from procuring raw materials to manufacturing and fulfillment. Tetra Pak outlines the five components necessary to achieving a low-carbon circular economy:

​Where to Start

Organizations can follow two main steps for driving toward a low-carbon circular economy.

First: Look at the big picture and overall value chain. Change doesn't have to be immediate or comprehensive. The point of entry will be different for every brand, but change starts at the beginning.

Second: Communicate the importance of a low-carbon circular economy across the entire organization. Change starts at the top. Leaders must engage employees to drive change within the organization, as well as across other companies and industries. We won't reach a low-carbon circular economy working in silos. We have to come together.

Why Recycling Isn't Enough

Driving toward a low-carbon circular economy is an ongoing process that isn't bound by any specific product, but food and beverage brands are positioned to lead the way. Consider recycling as a foundational effort — and then build from there.

For example, at Tetra Pak, we look at how we can increase environmentalism across the entire value chain. We ensure our packaging checks the right boxes for renewable content (the paperboard used is responsibly sourced, plants utilize renewable energy sources, etc.), but we also identify the production processes that make the most environmental sense. So, while we can manufacture a carton that's 100% recyclable, if it can only be produced with coal-powered electricity, then we'll find a better choice.

Driving toward a low-carbon circular economy means examining the product life cycle to make sure every point along the way is as sustainable as possible. Even if there are 20 things you can fix and you only accomplish two, you're still driving change. All change in the name of sustainability is good, and there will always be more we can do. Recycling, which is just one step of many, addresses the product's end-of-life stage.

But, in a low-carbon circular economy, end-of-life is also a beginning.

Create Sustainability Ambassadors

Organizations driving toward a low-carbon circular economy are successful when they engage their employees to not only carry out best practices but also help define new ones. When employees are a part of the process, they'll become sustainability ambassadors, influencing other employees, and eventually other consumers.

Tetra Pak and other organizations have done ample research to conclude that customers want to buy from brands that "walk the walk" when it comes to environmentalism. As consumer sentiment toward brands that take action to protect the environment increases, organizations have to step up sustainability efforts to remain competitive.

Driving toward a low-carbon circular economy is predicated on four pillars:

  • Maximize recycling.
  • Eliminate waste.
  • Protect resources.
  • Reduce environmental impact.

When we prioritize all four, change happens—and the impact ripples positively throughout the organization, the industry, and the planet.

​Learn more about our sustainability efforts here​

Interested in learning more?

Interested in learning more about how Tetra Pak can support your food and beverage business? Contact us