Foundation Earth, supporting research into methodologies in the UK and on the Continent.estlé aims to cut through the plethora of eco labels emerging, to support a harmonised system in Europe. Part of the effort involves its partnership with
Johannes Weber, Nestlé’s European Affairs manager, says the ambition is to develop one system for use across the UK and EU, based on the EU Product Environmental Footprint – PEF methodology.
“We’re confident our Foundation Earth partnership will have a major impact on environmental footprinting. We would like to help develop a system for everyone and everywhere across Europe,” he says.
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“The idea is to use an environmental footprint throughout our product portfolio, eventually. Already internally we have a tool to check the environmental impact before we put a product on the market – to see along the chain how all the packaging, manufacturing and ingredients will behave.
“The next step is to do this for external audiences. Our ambition is for full transparency so you can see the holistic environmental impact combined with the nutritional aspects of the product.”
This full transparency is a part of Nestlé’s global plan, published December, to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 – which includes spending £1 billion on regenerative agriculture.
“Seventy per cent of the GHG emissions we are responsible for come from our agriculture supply chain. This is the major GHG emission intervention we need to focus on,” Johannes Weber explains.
“There’s a huge opportunity now to invest in the circular economy”
“We need to convince our farming sector suppliers. How can we make sure we’re both lowering emissions? How can we regenerate farming land and make sure soil health is getting better, storing more carbon, through investing in low emission dairy farms and agroforestry, for example?
“There’s a huge opportunity now to invest in the circular economy, asking how we can use resources more efficiently, trying to keep them in a loop and not extracting more and more natural resources.
“You have policy makers, broader society, industry, investors working together for sustainability and climate change mitigation.
“If you have a clear label this leads to an additional innovation boost within the company. Because obviously we would like to improve the score and you can only do that if you have good interventions throughout the entire lifecycle of a product.
“It starts with the farmer, the agricultural sourcing, then goes on to manufacturing, packaging, transport, and the full end of life phase of the product – and of course consumption is another element.”
“Individual product assessment using primary data is considered crucial to sustainable innovation”
The Foundation Earth pilot combines a method by Oxford University and Mondra, using data from the academic paper Poore & Nemecek (2018), with a system by the EU-funded EIT Food consortium of Belgium’s Leuven University and Spanish research agency AZTI.
The project aims to develop individual product assessment, using primary data, which is considered crucial to sustainable innovation in the food supply chain.
“The consumer in the supermarket takes maybe three seconds to decide on this product versus another product. We will try to condense this huge amount of information, from an environmental footprint assessment, into something easy to use and meaningful,” Johannes Weber says.
In addition to this, harmonisation is essential. “Today you have more than 400 different eco labels,” he says.
“Even in Europe you have more than 200. It would be good for this to be streamlined and based on one methodology, such as PEF. If everybody uses their own methodology and labelling, this is really difficult for the consumer.
“It’s very much in the interest of the consumer and society to be better informed about sustainability”
“Carbon has been the starting point for us but we’d also like to see the impact of land use, biodiversity and water consumption. There’s a whole list of environmental impact areas. The European Union PEF model has 16 indicators.
“We would like to capture the holistic view and not say we are doing well on the carbon side but we use a lot of water. Those trade-offs should be covered so we have a good balance when it comes to carbon and the other environmental areas.
“There is strong internal motivation at Nestlé for this. But also, the consumer is becoming more sensitive and interested in the environmental balance or environmental impact of the product.
“Our colleagues in Nestlé Germany did a study back in May where they saw consumers would appreciate a climate label. It’s very much in the interest of the consumer and society to be better informed about sustainability and the recyclability of packaging.
“We are at moment where industry, civil society, consumers, policy makers are coming together”
“Also with policy makers. There is a lot of European legislation looking into environmental sustainability, packaging, circular economy, climate.
“We are really at moment where industry, civil society, consumers, policy makers are coming together to create a positive impact.
“Our role through our brands is to make the consumer aware, inform the consumer, make the consumer more sensitive about issues like climate change, water reduction, biodiversity issues, recyclability.
“This should be our role as a big brand owner but also for smaller companies.
“Packaging is an essential element in our climate roadmap. It contributes some 11 per cent of our global GHG emissions.
“For us using recycled material is the symbol of circularity”
“We have launched the Smarties brand fully in paper now. But paper might not be the solution for everything and everywhere.
“For us using recycled material is the symbol of circularity. You need to have a good packaging design and also the infrastructure to collect and recycle, so the material stays in a loop.
“So, we support good infrastructure for waste management, for collection, sorting and recycling in all the markets where we operate. This means for some countries or regions in the world, building infrastructure where there’s little or nothing when it comes to professional waste management.
“For the European countries, we’re trying to boost the existing infrastructure to be sure the system catches small items, difficult to recycle items. We are looking into chemical recycling, extending the mechanical recycling possibilities. And we have to make sure the consumer is aware and interested in circularity and knows which bin to use for their right packaging disposal.
“Imagine, we put a Smarties paper tube in one EU market where this is accepted by the recyclers, but this might not be accepted by another EU country recyclers. Then we have obviously an extremely serious European Single Market issue. Harmonisation of infrastructure would be very helpful.
“We have great possibilities for a Green Recovery in Europe, why should we invest in technologies of the past?”
“Then when it comes to the sorting label across Europe, it also would be beneficial to have it harmonised. The same or similar instructions for an Italian consumer, a German consumer, and a Czech consumer for instance. If you have to adapt or read a full leaflet about disposal of used packaging every time you travel, this is a bit of a stretch for the citizen.
“Just a couple of months ago we supported a flexible plastic packaging fund launched in the UK where a big group of actors are coming together to try and increase the circularity, collecting and recycling flexible plastic packaging, because this is a major challenge for us.
“Plastic bottles (PET) are collected and recycled at a high rate in most European countries, but we still have issues with the small, the flexible materials like a KitKat wrapper or a pet food pouch.
“In the end the consumer or society will judge us and hold us to account on the bottles and sachets that have been littered. Hopefully very soon they will not end up in the environment anymore.
“It only makes sense if you have the whole of industry going together”
“We have great possibilities for a Green Recovery because in Europe there are public funds for investment, and why should we invest in technologies of the past?
“Now we have a moment in time where we can say we would like to invest in recycling infrastructure, in a circular economy. Now we would like to invest in cleaner factories and regenerative agriculture. How can we make sure we have better fuels and modes of transport to lower GHG emissions?
“It only makes sense if you have the whole of industry, everyone going together. What is the impact if Nestlé says we have a great climate roadmap, but we go alone and nobody else is following us? This is useless.
“It’s good to have maybe a couple of front runners who are ambitious, but the others need to follow.
“What’s also crucially important is having a combination of regulatory interventions, from, say, European policy makers, and also voluntary multi-stakeholder initiatives, where platforms or groups say they would like to go beyond, like the plastics pacts, for example.”