10 October 2020 – As the climate crisis reaches critical levels, environmental sustainability is more than just another corporate social investment, but a fully integrated part of doing business.
In early 2020, an Oxford BioScience Journal article endorsed by 11 000 scientists from around the world, declared that the Earth is facing a climate emergency that is accelerating faster than what most expected. The study noted that the rapid expansion of air transport, meat production and global population growth is driving an equally sharp spike in carbon dioxide emissions, methane and the average surface temperature. Furthermore, sea levels are rising, ice caps are melting, and extreme weather is increasing in severity across the globe.
Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) Manufacturing and Technical director Henry Peek says the company’s efforts to be more sustainable calls for a special mindset and dedication from each person in the business.
“Reducing our ecological footprint requires process precision and consistency and, at some point, a lot of capital,” he says. “In the current economic and social reality, we have to be very smart with the allocation of resources and investment to strike a balance between the many needs of the stakeholders that depend on us or influence the way we operate, in our business, as well as government and society.”
Peek oversees all the manufacturing and technical functions at CCBSA, which encompasses 14 production facilities and 44 packing lines across the country, including quality and engineering.
His responsibilities also entail capital expenditure, planning and execution, as well as the corporate risk, health and safety functions.
These 14 sites employ over 2000 employees directly, plus additional frontline associates in logistics and sales. This massive operation calls for careful management of resources and seamless integration of new innovations into existing processes to ensure that customers and consumers continue receiving the service and product they expect. Throughout, the requirements of additional stakeholders, such as Government, suppliers and shareholders are taken into account.
In recent years, CCBSA has invested in water and energy infrastructure to boost efficiency while reducing consumption and carbon footprint.
The company has ramped up its solar power generation capacity, with seven manufacturing facilities now using solar power around the country, as at the end of August. The target is to install solar power in 12 of its plants by the end of 2020, with the aim to produce 11% of the company’s total energy requirements from solar power.
“Further changes in energy usage will come from modernising our production lines as new technology becomes available,” Peek says. “We have focused significantly on reducing our water consumption by reducing wastage, as well as deploying new technologies to reduce our consumption and reuse wastewater.
“In Polokwane, which is situated in our most water stressed region, we reduced net water consumption by 60% over the past three years, and many of our facilities are now among the leaders in Africa, in terms of water and energy efficiency,” he adds.
In 2018, The Coca-Cola Company launched its global World Without Waste vision 2030, with the simple goal of playing a significant role in reducing waste that contributes towards environmental degradation and destined for landfills. This vision is underpinned by three fundamental targets:
- To make 100% of its packaging recyclable by 2025 (coupled with using at least 50% of recycled material in its packaging by 2030),
- To collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one it sells by 2030, and
- To partner with like-minded organisations and communities and work together to support a healthy, debris-free environment.
In effort to reach this vision, CCBSA has launched a 2-litre returnable PET plastic bottle in November 2019, followed by two other launches in townships in Limpopo, Gauteng and Free State provinces. The RefPET can be used for as long as the product quality standards allows before it needs to be recycled. This refillable, refundable bottle offers consumers value-for-money while also integrating consumers in the waste management value chain.
Also, in 2019 CCBSA’s Bonaqua launched the country’s first water bottle made entirely out of recycled PET plastic. This lighter bottle is fully recyclable and more sustainable.
Over the years, the company has consistently reduced the total resin content in its preforms. Additionally, through its partnership with Mpact Recycling, the 500ml and 2L clear PET packaging contains more than 10% recycled PET.
“We also implemented low pressure blowing technology on our PET lines reducing our energy consumption by more than 10%,” Peek says. “To date, we have reduced the material used in our PET packaging by up to 25% through innovative pre-form design, resulting in what we consider the perfect pallet footprint, and the consumption of less fuel to transport its products. The aim is to grow the company’s returnable packaging to 40% of total sales within the next few years, which will significantly reduce our use of single-use plastics and our carbon footprint.”
In 2005, Coca-Cola had teamed up with industry partners to form the PET Recycling Company (PETCO) in South Africa with the aim to collect, in association with its partners, 170 000 tons of PET by 2022.
“There are many perceived and real challenges and obstacles to overcome as we look to further our sustainability objectives,” Peek says. “The availability of and allocation of resources are the only real constraints we have. While this doesn’t really affect what we will do, it does impact the pace at which we accomplish our objectives, as the needs of all stakeholders have to align to our longer-term sustainability objectives.”