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Nestlé expecting suppliers to pursue sustainability

By Mike Verespej
Posted 24 November 2008
There are a lot of things companies can do that create an appearance of being green and sustainable. But Kim Jeffery wants to do things that actually enhance sustainability and the environment.

“Are you trying to look good, or are you trying to do good?” asked the president and chief executive officer of Nestlé Waters North America, in an interview during Sustain ’08 in Chicago earlier this month.

“If going for energy credits is all you are going to do and you are not going to work on your supply chain, it doesn’t pass the sniff test,” he said.

“I want to be known as a company that does good. We are going to hold ourselves to be self-accountable in a very transparent way” with goals and milestones, many of which were outlined in the company’s corporate citizenship report in October.

A company must first get its own house in order and develop ways to “use less of something” to save money, resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and its carbon footprint, said Jeffery. But he added that a company then must “go outside its own four walls.”

For its part, Nestlé Waters reduced the size of its half-litre PET water bottle 15% this year, and will reduce it another 20% in 2009, cutting its weight to 9.8 grams. Using less material results in energy savings and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Nestlé Waters is working with its suppliers to achieve additional sustainability gains.

“We are just getting to the point where people will have to have their house in order to do business with us,” said Jeffery. “We are going to be pushing more on our suppliers to figure some of this stuff out. By 2013, we plan to reduce carbon intensity by 20% across our full value chain — from the production of plastic resin to delivery of products to our customers.”

Jeffery also wants to ensure Nestlé makes the right sustainability and environmental decisions on the use of recycled content in its bottles and the use of bioplastics as a feedstock.

Nestlé has set a goal of producing a bottle with up to 25% recycled PET by 2013, and developing and producing a “next-generation bot- tle” manufactured entirely from recycled materials or renewable materials by 2020, Jeffery said.

But Jeffery has some concerns about both of those concepts.

“It sounds good to have recycled content,” said Jeffery. “But it takes more energy to use recycled PET and it may be more expensive than using virgin resin because of processing costs. So it is not particularly attractive” from an economic standpoint.

Jeffery contends that right now it makes more sense, economically, to use recycled PET for carpets and strapping.

“We should operate on a hierarchical approach and use [recycled PET] in the most efficient uses first,” he said. “So unless you have used recycled PET for other products first, using [it] for bottles may not be the best use of that material.”

Similarly, he said, while polylactic acid is being used to make water bottles, at this point, “it uses a lot more material and it is used once” because of the paucity of industrial composting facilities in the US.

In addition, Jeffery said PLA “can’t be commingled with other plastics that are recycled [because] it will disrupt the float-sink process to sort plastics and because it looks identical to PET containers.”

“Is using bioplastics the best solution?” questioned Jeffery. “The better solution may be getting better at PET recycling, but that is also the harder solution.”

The Sustain ’08 conference was organized by Plastics News and the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry.

* Mike Verespej is a staff reporter at Plastics News.

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