Top Food and Beverage Companies: Leaders in Sustainability

How big food and beverage companies and small ones are protecting the planet and their bottom lines.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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-Paul Studebaker, Editor in Chief, Sustainable Plant (

Key areas for Nestle are water, nutrition and rural development.

Nestlé was crowned winner of the 27th World Environment Center (WEC) Gold Medal award, presented annually to a global company that demonstrates a unique example of sustainability in business practice. In accepting the award, Bulcke said, "In committing to long-term sustainable practices which are integral to our business, for example, we have built approximately 290 water treatment plants to date – significantly in developing countries where national and municipal waste water treatment infrastructure does not exist, or does not yet meet the international environmental standards that Nestlé supports."

Water is Nestlé's major environmental challenge, both in its own direct operations and in its value chain. But the company has reduced water consumption over the past decade by 33 percent, while increasing its food and beverage production volume by 63 percent, or a reduction of 59 percent per kilogram of product. In the same time period, it has reduced the quantity of water discharged from its factories into the ecosystem – after treatment and removal of pollutants – by 42 percent, or 65 percent per kilo of product.

In June of this year, Nestlé was awarded another prize -- the 2011 Stockholm Industry Water Award for improving water management in its supply chain. The Stockholm International Water Institute also praised Nestlé's work with farmers. Nestlé employs 1,000 agronomists and water experts who work directly with farmers to help them reduce their water requirements, increase crop yields and minimize pollution.

Nestle purchases most of its dairy, coffee and cocoa directly from more than 660,000 suppliers. Taking intermediaries out of the picture results in financial benefits, better traceability and enhanced long-term security of supplies, according to the company, and improves Nestlé's ability to influence suppliers' farming practices and working conditions.

The company works with partners such as the Rainforest Alliance and national authorities on improving farmers' use of water resources and on strengthening rural access to clean water and sanitation.

Nestlé launched The Cocoa Plan in Indonesia in 2009, as part of its commitment to a sustainable supply chain for cocoa production. The project will impact the lives of 10,000 Indonesian cocoa farmers and their communities by 2015 and increase cocoa productivity at farmer level by 30 percent.

Indonesia is the third largest cocoa producing country in the world, and Nestle plans to invest $4 million over four years to train farmers, provide plant expertise, and support supply chain transparency. Led by Nestlé Indonesia and backed by the Nestlé Research and Development Center in Tours, France, the launch is in collaboration with the provincial Government of West Sulawesi and South Sulawesi in Indonesia, Petra Foods Ltd., and the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute.

Nestlé is also increasing the proportion of energy derived from renewable resources by recycling coffee grounds as fuel. At its Bugalagrande factory in Colombia, a boiler uses spent coffee grounds as fuel. It provides 13 percent of the total energy required in the factory and has 95 percent lower CO2 emissions than the fossil fuel it replaces. Nestlé has implemented this technology for the past 30 years, and 21 of its 27 coffee factories are equipped with the technology.

Reincarnated and Naked

You don't have to be a multibillion-dollar multinational to help save the Earth. But when your marketing strategy is all-natural products, your target audience expects sustainability. Naked Juice Co., Monrovia, Calif, announced last November it would start filling its 10-, 15.2- and 64-oz. juice and juice smoothies into the reNEWabottle, which is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET).

The bottle is used, recycled and reincarnated, so to speak, into a new bottle. According to the company, switching to rPET bottles will reduce Naked Juice's virgin plastic consumption by 7.4 million lbs. per year, save more than 12,000 cubic meters of space in landfills and reduce the company's packaging-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 35 percent.

In contrast to the old, opaque HDPE bottles, the rPET bottles offer a clear view of the brightly colored Naked Juice products. The company prides itself on being "transparent" about the ingredients it uses in its products, and the high-clarity bottle reinforces that message. Using rPET packaging also aligns well with the company's brand mission of making superior products while minimizing environmental impact.

Although it traces its history back to 1963, Sunny Delight Beverages Co. (SDBC) was re-created in 2004 when it was bought by a private equity firm from Procter & Gamble. With a recent emphasis on single-serve bottles, sustainability became Committed to sustainable development, transparent communication and accountability, Chief Sustainability Officer Ellen Iobst and the company's Sustainability Steering Team focused the company's approach to sustainability over the past three years.

By early 2010, all six of Sunny Delight's manufacturing sites achieved their goal of zero waste to landfill -- three years ahead of what the company anticipated. During the past three years, the sites diverted 26 million lbs of waste from landfills. The amount of plastic and packaging of company's products has been reduced by 10 million lbs., and more than 90 percent of its volume is shipped in full truckloads to reduce its carbon footprint.

Earlier this year, the company designed and introduced the more environmentally friendly one-gallon Quad SunnyD square bottle. "Our new one-gallon packaging is a more environmentally friendly square bottle versus SunnyD's iconic round bottle," said Iobst. "We hope to prove that it's 'hip to be square' because this new bottle is manufactured and distributed using less corrugateD, energy, water and waste. It even fits better on store shelves and refrigerator doors and it is easier to pour. It represents a win-win for everyone."

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