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This Is Forward: Inside sustainability at Coca-Cola European Partners

Coca-Cola

Following the creation of Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) in 2016, the organisation now has 24,000 employees across 14 countries with a diverse network of 20,000 suppliers.

“Around 300mn people enjoy our drinks in Western Europe every year and this gives us the strength and opportunity to make a positive difference,” believes the group’s Vice-President of Sustainability, Joe Franses.

This Is Forward marks a considered response by the group to its stakeholders who have voiced their need to understand the role Coca-Cola can play in helping to address many of the key societal issues people are most concerned about today by targeting a series of achievable goals by 2025. These include action on: drinks (to reduce sugar content), climate (to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50%), supply chain (to make sure 100% of agricultural ingredients come from sustainable sources), society (to foster a diverse and inclusive culture in the workplace and support local community partnerships), water (to protect the sustainability of sources for future generations) and packaging (to make sure 100% of packaging is reusable or recyclable).

The action plan has been developed following a year of consultation with more than 100 key stakeholders including governments, NGOs, customers and suppliers - as well as 12,000 consumers across six countries and over 1,000 employees.

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“We asked them what they expect of us and the role they expect us to play and the feedback we heard was clear,” explains Franses. “They want us to use our position as an industry leader as a force for good to meet complex global challenges. We are acting on this feedback and taking steps to ensure we have a positive impact wherever we sell our drinks. We are also making ambitious commitments on issues including health and nutrition, packaging and recycling, economic development, water scarcity and climate change.”

Although the vast majority of Coca Cola’s bottles and cans are 100% recyclable, they don’t always end up being recycled, admits Franses. So, how does he plan to achieve an ambitious 100% collection target? “We need to continue to collaborate with many different partners, including packaging recovery organisations, local municipalities and industry bodies in all of our markets. We are determined to do more and lead the way towards a circular economy,” he insists. “One where 100% of our packaging can be collected, reused or recycled, and where none of it ends up as litter or in the oceans.”

A cornerstone of the action plan is to ensure 100% of packaging is recyclable or reusable by 2025. “The vast majority of our cans and bottles are already 100% recyclable. We are going one step further and, by 2025, we’ll also ensure all our primary packaging materials, including the cartons and pouches we use for some of our drinks, will also be fully recyclable and compatible with local packaging recovery infrastructure,” affirms Franses. “This is aligned with The Coca-Cola Company’s global pledge to use 100% reusable or recyclable packaging made in October 2017 as part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative.”

CCEP will also continue to work with its suppliers and invest in the recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) value chain, including PET collection and reprocessing infrastructure, to meet the allied goal of using at least 50% recycled PET in its bottles by 2025. “We’ll continue to innovate by looking at all aspects of packaging from the design of our packs, to the use of both recycled and renewable packaging materials,” says Franses.

Innovation lies at the heart of CCEP’s plan to meet its goals. After leading the way with the introduction of recycled PET into packaging and bringing PlantBottle (the first fully recyclable PET plastic beverage bottle made partially from plants) to market with over 40bn bottles in use worldwide, it aims to go further to find new ways to reduce the need for packaging and minimise waste.

“In the UK, we have recently partnered with the University of Reading to reduce packaging on their campus,” reveals Franses. “Students and staff can purchase bespoke refillable bottles which can be used to access refills from ‘freestyle machines’ that have been installed across the campus. Each bottle contains RFID (radio frequency identification) technology that enables us to track how many times the bottle is used. Seven machines have been installed and over 1,500 refillable bottles were in use within the first week of the programme. We are monitoring the impact of the scheme and will be using these insights to help shape our future plans.”

Beyond recyclable PET, the latest significant packaging advancement is the lightweight redesigned bottle for the Abbey Well spring water brand. “The ‘twistable’ design uses up to 32% less plastic and carries a prominent ‘Recycle Me’ message to remind consumers the bottle is fully recyclable,” says Franses. “Its design also makes it easy for consumers to crumple down before disposal.”

As CCEP aims to make further inroads towards a circular economy, Franses views it as an opportunity rather than a challenge. “It’s a different way of thinking and it’s about educating consumers to understand the role they can play, alongside the action taken by businesses,” he says, citing CCEP’s responsibility to inspire everyone to recycle, with an important part of this process educating consumers to understand what happens to their bottles and cans when they go into a recycling bin. “We already support consumer recycling and anti-litter campaigns across our markets,” he adds. “We will continue to use our brands to inform and encourage consumers to recycle. Our recent ‘A Bottle Love Story’ advertisement in the UK is a great example of this.”

CCEP is continuously trying to engage the market to become actively involved in the big issues facing our society – and that includes packaging. “We have heard from consumers as to what they expect us to communicate about; with a third saying brands like Coca-Cola should help to inspire and encourage people to recycle,” says Franses. “This campaign is the first in a series of activities which aim to influence consumer behaviour around recycling.” The reaction to This Is Forward has been positive, with many stakeholders expressing their support for the commitments CCEP have set out. “We’ll continue to listen and talk to our stakeholders as we work towards our ambitions, using our business and our brands to build a better future,” confirms Franses.

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