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Insight: improving our products’ environmental performance along the value chain

Nestlé factory worker in York
Claus ConzelmannBy Claus Conzelmann, Nestlé’s Global Head of Safety, Health and Environmental Sustainability

The food production chain uses a large share of the world’s limited resources, which is why as the world’s leading food and beverage company we recognise our position brings responsibilities as well as opportunities.

At Nestlé our goal is to produce products that are not only tastier and healthier, but also better for the environment. It’s a challenge we approach by looking at every stage of production, from farm to fork, and targeting areas for improvement.

We’ve already made significant progress, initially focusing mainly on our own direct operations. Since 2002, we’ve halved our water withdrawal and direct greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) per tonne of product.

This was possible because over the last ten years we set ourselves tangible continuous improvement goals for which we could be held accountable.

We’ve embraced new technologies, such as using spent coffee grounds as a clean source of renewable energy and advanced filtration to recycle water within our factories, especially in regions where water is scarce.

Switching to cleaner energy

Climate change may exacerbate environmental challenges such as the availability of clean water, which in turn will directly affect the long-term availability of the raw materials from which we make our products.

In Mexico, we have an agreement with a wind energy company that has led to 85% of the total electricity consumed by our factories in the country now being supplied by wind power.  Our estimates show this will reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 39,000 small cars off the road annually.

In France, our factories in Challerange, Rosières and Herta St Pol have all installed wood-fired boilers that use woodchips from certified forests. The factory in Challerange is meeting 96% of its fuel needs with its boiler, saving about 8,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

In total, the three boilers will reduce Nestlé France’s annual CO2 emissions by a quarter.

Smarter distribution

More than 125,000 tonnes of Nestlé products are transported to customers from our factories and distribution centres every day.

We’ve found that smarter route planning and shifting to different modes of transport can have a marked positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions, noise and road congestion.

In Poland we managed to decrease GHG emissions by a fifth last year by relocating one of our distribution centres. The move also lowered distribution costs by a quarter and cut 60 km off each domestic delivery journey.

Across Europe in 2011 we achieved a reduction of more than 5,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions by switching from long-distance road transportation to either rail or short-sea shipping.

Optimising packaging

In the United Kingdom, we expect to halve the number of lorries used to distribute Nescafé by introducing new lighter-weight coffee refill packs.

The new packs are made from a combination of aluminium-foil and plastic film. They use more than a third fewer packaging materials than before but still hold the same amount of coffee.

This means we can double the volume of coffee packs on a pallet, using fewer lorries and reducing GHG emissions from product distribution by more than a third.

The new packs also require less water and energy to manufacture compared with the previous refill pack. Their compact size makes them easier for retailers to stack on shelves and for shoppers to carry and store at home.

Eliminating waste

Reducing waste helps to conserve natural resources. Since 2002, we’ve reduced the amount of waste for disposal we generate in our factories by almost half per tonne of product. Last year, 39 of our factories achieved zero waste for disposal.

The factories process by-products from the manufacturing process for use in farm animal feed, composting or making biogas. Leftover metals, plastics, paper, cans and cardboard are processed by our contractors and become raw materials that can be used for new purposes.

Further up the value chain, we’re training farmers to improve crop quality and storage to reduce food losses in agriculture and post-harvesting, and to foster more sustainable farming practices in general.

Helping consumers

At the same time we’re helping consumers to improve their own environmental impact, such as cutting down on the amount of food they throw away by providing various portion size options, clear portion guidance and preparation instructions.

For example, did you know that boiling the water for a cup of Nescafé is the most resource intensive step in the whole value chain?

Many people tend to boil more water than needed. Individually, this may seem negligible, but if all 5,500 people who prepare a cup of Nescafé every second boiled the correct amount of water, it would save more energy than that used by all 27 of our Nescafé factories.

Product life cycle assessments we’ve conducted show that thanks to the efficiency of our high-tech industrial coffee machines in these factories, producing a cup of Nescafé uses only half the total resources required to produce a traditional cup of filter coffee.

Our commitments

Although we’ve done a lot to improve our products’ environmental performance, there is always more to do.

This is why we’re sharing publicly for the first time a set of commitments to society and on environmental sustainability we want to achieve by 2020 or earlier.

While we believe all parts of society share responsibility for the environment, our company policy on environmental sustainability reflects our determination to play a leading role in our sphere of influence. It is our ambition that our products will not only be tastier and healthier but also better for the environment along their value chain.

Making our products more environmentally sustainable gives consumers another reason to prefer them. More importantly, it is the right thing to do.