The Importance of a Product Sustainability Program

The global population is expected to be over nine billion by mid-century. Feeding that many people without “exceeding ecological and social limits” presents the food and beverage industry with “unique challenges,” proclaims a recently released report on the food and beverage industry by the sustainability consulting firm, Pure Strategies. 

There is something that can help companies meet the challenges of an expanding global population, and that something is product sustainability advances. More and more companies understand the need for product sustainability. The report is based on a 2015 survey which found that many food and beverage companies are developing product sustainability programs. 

Tim Greiner, Pure Strategies Co-Founder and Managing Director, told JustMeans “it’s critical” for companies to develop product sustainability programs. “The vast majority of sustainability impacts for nearly all food companies lie in their value chains,” he explained.

Pure Strategies surveyed 57 food and beverage companies involved in product sustainability. One of the key discoveries of the survey is that 100 percent of the companies surveyed have product sustainability goals in 2015, an increase from 82 percent in 2013. Greiner attributed several factors to the increase in companies with product sustainability goals. One of them is the “visibility of notable risks in the supply chain such as water scarcity,” he said. The California drought serves as an example. 

Another factor cited by Greiner is “greater collaboration with cross-industry efforts such as the Consumer Goods Forum and Field-to-Market.” The Consumer Goods Forum brings together goods manufacturers and retailers to help each other engage in better business practices. Field-to-Market is an an alliance that works to bring positive changes to the agricultural supply chain. 

Leadership engagement is crucial

Leadership engagement is crucial to product sustainability. The survey found that 83 percent of food and beverage companies have a high or very high level of product sustainability integration with executives and administration. Or as Greiner pointed out, firms “with the most successful product sustainability programs have strong leadership engagement.” He cited tying executive compensation to performance against the sustainability program’s goals as one way companies can achieve success in product sustainability. 

Greiner cites Unilever because its executive team is involved in both determining and tracking priorities to drive sustainable growth. Unilever’s executive team “helps set and track priorities to drive sustainable growth,” he said. Both the CEO and the leadership team at Unilever have their compensation and incentives linked to program performance.

Packaging is a key focus area

Packaging is often a focus area of companies because it represents an area where sustainability can be embedded in. Nestle is an example, too, as the report highlights, because the company encourages its packaging designers to think about sustainability from the very beginning of the development process. Nestle’s approach is called “Sustainability by Design” and through it, “packaging designers consider the full life cycle of a package from the impact of the sourced material to its end of life recycling or disposal,” Nestle told JustMeans.

Nestle uses both eco-design and life cycle assessments (LCA) both “assess and reduce environmental impacts of our products and packaging,” the company stated. Nestle has an LCA design tool called EcodEX that enables designers to compare different types of packaging to figure out which one has an “overall better environmental profile while still offering the needed product protection,” according to Nestle.

Photo: Nestle