The concept of “corporate sustainability” has been around for some time. The World Commission for Environment and Development coined the term in 1987. However, some of us are more practiced in the concept than others are. For Tetra Pak, an international food packaging and processing company based in Sweden, sustainability has been a part of its culture ever since it started storing cream in its iconic tetrahedral cartons back in 1952.
More than 60 years later, it’s still an enthusiastic standard-bearer for the value of sustainable practices. This past July, Tetra Pak released “Embracing Value From Natural Capital: Advancing Packaging Solutions That Consumers Want and Companies Can Provide.” It’s a report on how renewable materials can transform the economy and the environment.
Prior to the report’s release, gyro had the opportunity to interview Elisabeth Comere, director of environment and governmental affairs for Tetra Pak U.S. and Canada, on how the company maintains a strong commitment to sustainability and why other companies should, too.
Why is sustainability a core principle at your company?
ELISABETH: At Tetra Pak, our approach to sustainability is shaped by our brand promise: Protects What’s Good. From the start, we have recognized that the environment, people and business depend on one another for mutual success. So, in order to secure our long-term business growth – and protect the planet for future generations – we recognize that the environment must be held in the same esteem as other business imperatives like innovations and growth.
“In order to secure our long-term business growth – and protect the planet for future generations – we recognize that the environment must be held in the same esteem as other business imperatives like innovations and growth.”
– ELISABETH COMERE, TETRA PAK
Is it costly to create a business model around sustainability?
ELISABETH: The business case for implementing sustainable practices is clear: Population growth and climate change are straining our natural resources and, if left unchecked, will result in costly consequences like supply-chain disruptions and enhanced regulations. Today, many companies are shifting to more sustainable business models to not only protect the planet but also to realize cost savings and to support future business growth.
Does a commitment to sustainability make you a more attractive business partner to customers?
ELISABETH: When it comes to environmental stewardship, consumers are demanding more and more of the products they purchase. This in turn drives our customers – food and beverage brands and manufacturers – to demand more from their suppliers.
For us, our current and prospective customers appreciate our full value-chain approach to the environment and our constant efforts to leverage our sustainability offerings to deliver further value to them.
How do you make sustainability a part of your culture?
ELISABETH: Sustainability is at the core of everything we do at Tetra Pak. It’s not something we merely pay lip service to. Of course, it’s not enough to simply say sustainability is a priority, as leaders at all levels must be committed to driving environmental excellence. Our commitment to protecting the planet for future generations is a source of pride that’s shared not only among leadership but also throughout our diverse workforce.
“Of course, it’s not enough to simply say sustainability is a priority, as leaders at all levels must be committed to driving environmental excellence.”
– ELISABETH COMERE, TETRA PAK
What tips do you have for other companies that want to incorporate sustainability into their business operations and culture?
ELISABETH: Building sustainability into a company’s core starts with like-minded thinking and concerted action at all levels of the organization. The CEO and the executive management team set the tone for the entire business, encouraging buy-in by translating environmental initiatives into real business benefits. To foster commitment, key environmental priorities must be aligned across all functions.
Throughout the process, leaders should encourage engagement and collaboration by maintaining open channels of communication with employees. Employees need an opportunity to ask questions, share feedback and contribute their ideas.
For more of gyro’s thinking on sustainability, read “Five Reasons Why Our Advertising Industry Needs Sustainability Czars.”