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Associate Feature: Journey to Net Zero

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Associate Feature: Journey to Net Zero

There was a collective exhalation of relief across much of the business community at the beginning of January. After facing the unparalleled challenge of Covid-19, followed by recent and rampant inflationary pressures, a rally in the retail sector took the FTSE to a six-month high, indicating a welcome rise in consumer confidence. 

 “Every business has gone through a tremendous amount of turmoil over the last two years,” concedes Jim Fox, Head of Public Affairs for Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) GB – though he’s satisfied with the way the company has managed its business through those very difficult times – and indeed made it stronger. 

 “We have robust plans in place to navigate the hurdles 2023 may bring. In the past two years we kept our staff safe and gave many of our customers special help, while continuing to innovate and keep our teams on-track to deliver a net zero carbon business by 2040, which is currently our primary focus,” he adds, pointing to CCEP’s commitment to making a 30 per cent reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, while helping its suppliers set out their own science-based net zero targets by 2023. 

It’s a big undertaking. CCEP is the world’s largest Coca-Cola bottler, making and selling soft drinks from Iceland to New Zealand and directly employing more than 3,500 people in England, Scotland, and Wales, and selling more than four billion bottles and cans of its market-leading brands in Great Britain every year.

“Preserving and enhancing reputation is a major challenge for a consumer-facing, global business– and much of that reputation relies on us delivering a net zero business,” he says. 

Reducing the impact of packaging, which represents some 40 per cent of carbon emission in the business, is a large part of this: “We’ve removed some packaging entirely, moved to better packaging where possible through swapping shrink wrap for cardboard across our multi-packs for example, lightened our bottles and cans and now use 100 per cent recycled material in our 500ml plastic bottles across our portfolio,” says Fox. 

“We have plans to collect the equivalent of 100 per cent of the packaging we put on to the market, and to reuse that material to make new packs – which is why we are a keen supporter of well-designed deposit return systems and are exploring package-less retail solutions.”

While this will remain a priority for us over the next year and beyond,  responsible water use is an important global area of focus for businesses such as CCEP, which has already trialled water replenishment projects at its sites in England to form the base of any future projects at its Scottish site in East Kilbride, one of the company’s five high-tech factories in Britain that have introduced some of the UK’s most innovative sustainability initiatives.

East Kilbride recently became the first site to manufacture 1.5-litre bottles of Coca-Cola Original Taste and Diet Coke with attached caps, meaning the lid remains attached to its bottle, which prevents it from being discarded or thrown away separately and ensuring that as much plastic as possible is recycled and that no caps get left behind as litter. Starting there, the full transition is set to be complete for all plastic bottles manufactured across CCEP’s sites in Great Britain by the end of 2024.

At a UK policy level, we continue to support the introduction of DRS across the UK, and in Scotland. For us, that means consistency throughout the various schemes in the year to come
-Jim Fox, Head of Public Affairs,  Coca-Cola Europacific Partners

The company is also encouraging third-party partners to transition to lower-carbon solutions and is working with supply chain partners to increase the volume of product transported by rail to reduce carbon emissions.

“The move from road to rail forms an important part of our ‘This is Forward’ sustainability strategy, which is our overall roadmap to net zero and means we can continue to meet demand for our soft drinks in a way that has less impact on the environment,” says Fox.

When running at full capacity, the change will see up to 18,000 loads of CCEP’s products – some 2.5 million cans and bottles – delivered by rail per day, reducing carbon emissions by nearly 50 per cent compared to previous road operations.

The company is a strong advocate of the first deposit return scheme (DRS) in the UK, which is expected to roll out in Scotland in the summer of 2023. “We know that’s the optimal way to retrieve packaging for recycling and are working with the scheme administrator, Circularity Scotland, to support its introduction from August 2023.”

He stresses that 2023 is a crucial year for DRS: “Its success will help us move toward a more circular packaging economy. This is the first step in a much bigger, UK wide change and getting the implementation right here is important. There will be challenges of course – but it’s the right thing to do if we’re going to reach net zero as an industry and at CCEP we have the experience and credentials to help lead the way.’’

“At a UK policy level, we continue to support the introduction of DRS across the UK, and in Scotland. For us, that means consistency throughout the various schemes in the year to come – so we hope to see a more unified UK DRS rollout, with England and Wales implementing their own schemes in late 2024. A truly effective DRS will only work well if we implement a consistent approach and if the schemes are fully interoperable,” he says.

Though many of us immediately associate Coca-Cola products with rows of supermarket shelves, the hospitality industry is of course another major destination for the company’s several brands. 

“Pubs and clubs have also come through an extremely difficult time and asking them to achieve ambitious net zero goals could almost seem like a step too far at this stage – but they are very keen not only to bring their businesses back to profitability but also about taking on their responsibility regarding the drive toward sustainability,” Fox explains. 

He highlights the Net Zero Pubs, Bars and Restaurants initiative in partnership with Net Zero Now and Pernod Ricard UK, an ongoing industry collaboration which offers a four-step process designed to help pub, bars and restaurants calculate their greenhouse gas emissions to develop a plan to help reduce them, and give operators credible ways to compensate for any emissions that cannot be removed, ahead of certifying the business as on the journey to net zero or net zero.” 

The response has been encouraging: 2,500 venues have signed up to the initiative, representing 40 diverse customers across quick-service restaurants, restaurants, pubs and bars and of these, 30 venues have already greenhouse gas reduction targets and are taking action to achieve these.

“Nearly 200 pubs, bars and restaurants have downloaded the Net Zero Now climate actions playbook and in collaboration with the initiative’s development partners, we’re aiming to recruit 200 businesses and more than 5,000 sites by the end of 2023’’, he says. 

None of that can be achieved without a significant degree of cooperation between the company, its supply chain and customers. “We rely on them to improve so that we can improve as well.”

While committed to its drive toward sustainability, CCEP is keenly aware of changing consumer preferences and has reduced the sugar content in its drinks. “Since 2010 we’ve launched 100 new low or no sugar soft drinks and reformulated 47 of our products to contain less sugar. Since 2015 we have reduced our overall sugar use by 25 per cent and nearly all our brands now offer low or zero sugar variants alongside the great tasting original versions so the choice we are offering to the consumer is really expanding.”

Though it is the world’s largest Coca-Cola bottler, CCEP is also committed to its local sites and this year welcomed some key stakeholders to East Kilbride, including Secretary of State for Scotland, the Rt Honourable Alister Jack, and Cabinet Secretary, Mairi Gougeon MSP, allowing them to see the impact of the company’s investment.

East Kilbride is also home to this year’s Scottish Apprentice of the Year, Jennifer Kolonko, who is just one of its apprentices in Scotland helping to pioneer innovative solutions in its everyday operations.

And CCEP is also sensitive to the ongoing – and serious – cost-of-living crisis. “We’ll continue support our retail customers with ongoing marketing investment, insight and expertise to help them maximise sales, and we continue to innovate to help customers attract new shoppers, even when household budgets are under pressure. It’s important to stress that retail prices are set at the discretion of our customers.”

The company, he says, is also actively supporting its communities during these turbulent times. “All our sites work to donate surplus stock to those in need through our partnership with FareShare, and before Christmas 2022, we also donated 125,000 bottles of drinks to Company Shop Group to support their efforts to help families in hardship.”

Despite testing economic times, Fox believes that 2023 will be a good year for CCEP. “We’ve successfully overcome the recent challenges of Brexit and Covid and while facing packaging challenges in terms of inflationary pressures we are hoping to see effective regulation regarding that. It’s a strongly competitive sector but one in which we’ve thrived for many years. 

“We’ll continue to improve in the ways in which we address the forthcoming challenges and will get better faster and more versatile in doing so in 2023.”  


This article is sponsored by Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP).

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