The general perception is that increasing sustainability puts pressure on the bottom line. However, speaking to Inside Packaging, Jaap van Dokkum at soft drinks producer Innocent believes the longer-term rewards justify the short-term efforts.
Van Dokkum’s career to date has centred around corporate responsibility and sustainability. In June last year, he joined Innocent, which has been a part of The Coca-Cola Co since 2013. Since joining the smoothie maker and brand owner, van Dokkum has been working on the construction of Innocent’s first fully sustainable production facility, in Rotterdam.
The factory, nicknamed ‘The Blender’, will be carbon-neutral and will come “wind turbines, up-cycling waste heat and considerable reduction in water consumption”, according to van Dokkum.
Inside Packaging: The move to full sustainability is considerably expensive. Right?
Jaap van Dokkum: That’s true, if you look only at the cost of packaging materials. However, I feel that people always forget the upside behind sustainable operations. With Innocent and The Blender, we’ve found that suppliers and contractors are really interested in working with us because of our focus on sustainability – they feel they can learn from us. The people that we hire are motivated because they want to help reduce waste in packaging.
It may be true that taking care of your workforce and taking care of the environment requires more investment, but the returns on it are often more intangible and have a huge upside: a more dedicated workforce and a supply chain that is willing to go above and beyond what is normal in the world of packaging in order to help find solutions.
IP: What’s other incentives are there for businesses to be more sustainable, if to do so is more costly?
JvD: For larger corporations, there’s a lot of pressure from the public to be sustainable. I think this is the driving force for a lot of them. But, there’s more incentive to go sustainable, beyond the consumer. In our factory, for instance, we use much less water and energy that it translates to a reduced energy bill.
For big corporations, it can be a big step to take – it’s normal to struggle with the transition. It’s also normal to have to experiment with different solutions before the right one is found. In the end, the benefits that come with switching to sustainable solutions will be apparent.
IP: Many consumers express scepticism toward corporate sustainability promises.
JvD: It’s a big issue and widely talked about. However, many do not really understand the complexity behind making the change to a more sustainable solution. Many consumers see statements as bold and unreachable goals, but then don’t look at the steps required to reach that level of sustainability.
Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure on corporations to come out with more sustainable solutions. I could be sceptical and say “companies are only sustainable to get rid of criticisms”, but I don’t think that’s always true.
Sustainability is achieved through taking steps; you see what works and then take the next step. Change can’t be made in one day – it’s an iterative process. As long as companies remain communicative with the public and transparent, that’s how sustainability can be best achieved. A little transparency goes a long way.
In my opinion, transparency is needed more in the corporate world. Companies need to tell consumers: “We are working on a solution, but we are not there yet.” They need to be aware of their mistakes and share those mistakes too, because everyone in the industry can learn from these efforts.
I think that transparency is something that Innocent does well. Innocent is very good at highlighting elements in the supply chain that are still a concern and addressing how they are being worked on. Part of the transparency is admitting that we’re not perfect; It’ll take time to master. But, we’re taking steps every day towards achieving the best.
IP: Can you share an example?
JvD: Innocent has done a lot of work recently on the ingredients side, in getting all suppliers to be part of the ‘Sustainable Agriculture Initiative’ platform. A large part of our carbon footprint comes from fruit farms – that’s why Innocent is building this carbon-neutral factory. This is a first for Innocent. It’s a risk to do something never done before, but there are a lot of benefits behind doing so.
The factory will show that we can actually run our bottling operations sustainably with a reduced water footprint. Another reason is to create an environment that is nice for people to work in. The factory also makes good business sense: It’ll generate more revenue, which can then be invested in further sustainability efforts.
We’re also working on other innovations, for example, aiming for zero-emission transportation and partnering with our suppliers to reduce road miles. It’s a long road ahead of us, but this factory is the first step.
The future for Innocent is to get this factory fine-tuned and to show the world that sustainable manufacturing is possible.