As we approach Earth Day, green practices seem to be on everyone’s mind. SmartBrief interviewed Kate Krebs, senior environmental policy adviser for the American Beverage Association, about what the beverage industry is doing to observe Earth Day 2012 and how beverage companies are promoting sustainable practices — from recycling to responsible water use — all year long.
About 1 billion people around the world are expected to commemorate Earth Day with environmental events and calls for greater sustainability. How is your industry planning to mark the day?
For decades, ABA members have led the race to the top across multiple environmental disciplines, turning environmental challenges into rewarding and game-changing business practices. Establishing best in class water use practices, deploying hybrid vehicle fleets, installing renewable and alternative energy systems, designing lightweight packaging that is 100% recyclable — our member companies demonstrate strong, sound commitment to environmental sustainability. And we strive to be leaders of innovation and public policy development to improve environmental sustainability.
Special events, employee engagement in local environmental projects, messaging via social media platforms along with grant funding for environmental initiatives will be a part of how our industry recognizes and celebrates Earth Day. Our member companies also have established partnerships with environmental organizations, delivered on environmental commitments and promoted widespread, increased consumer engagement in recycling and other environmental efforts.
What do you see as your customers’ biggest sustainability concerns and how is your industry addressing them?
Each of our member companies directly engage with their customers on a wide variety of sustainability issues. As an industry, we recognize that comprehensive recycling programs are the most cost-efficient and effective way to recycle all recyclables, not just beverage containers. So, while our industry works to minimize packaging and support access to recycling programs, we also encourage consumers can do their part to “Think Inside the Bin” by putting their empty 100% recyclable bottles and cans in a recycling bin. And those recyclables can then be broken down and turned into something else — like reusable packaging or even clothing like T-shirts. Tips on sustainable living are incorporated into our member companies’ social-messaging platforms, helping consumers gain significant awareness and exposure to eco-friendly lifestyles.
What have been the beverage industry’s greatest accomplishments in the area of sustainability since the first Earth Day in 1970?
Think about beverage containers and packaging in 1970 as compared to today. The stark contrast in progress is amazing! The beverage industry has been a beacon for innovative technologies that embolden environmental sustainability. A key industry accomplishment that changed the thinking about packaging was designing the manufacturing technique to incorporate recycled plastic and plant-based materials into new beverage containers. Package focus then moved to lightweighting techniques that further minimized the environmental footprint of beverage containers. These types of package innovations have significantly reduced the energy and raw materials needed to make new packaging and demonstrated that our industry’s ingenuity is good for the environment and the economy.
What role has the beverage industry played in promoting recycling efforts?
The beverage industry has been at the forefront of promoting recycling — as individual member companies and by coming together through ABA. As companies, many promote recycling and the significant environmental benefits of recycling cans and bottles with package labels, point of sale materials and advertising underscoring the need to recycle our industry 100% recyclable containers once empty. As an industry, we are increasing use of post-consumer recycled materials in our packaging. We support recycling initiatives in communities across the country, which help bring beverage containers full circle. ABA member companies are expanding their delivery fleets to include hybrid vehicles and lower cooler emissions. They are also building new recycling facilities and LEED-certified buildings, providing green jobs for the construction industry.
Aluminum and glass recycling has grown substantially. Where is the industry in terms of promoting PET-recycling efforts?
Our member companies encourage consumers to recycle and support the adoption of comprehensive recycling programs in communities across the country, as well as a wide variety of public space recycling efforts in parks, beaches and sporting venues. In working with the mayors of cities like Knoxville, Tenn., and Hartford, Conn., on comprehensive curbside recycling programs, our industry has been instrumental in increasing recycling rates. We can now take best practices from those communities and help other cities across the country implement such programs. Driving increased recycling needs a concerted effort on everyone’s part — motivating consumers to recycle is essential. So, to continue to raise awareness of the most efficient and effective recycling systems, ABA also launched Recycle Together.
Besides recycling, water use is a key issue on the environmental sustainability front, especially as the global population grows and companies expand production facilities to more parts of the world. How are beverage companies working to reduce water use as they grow?
The beverage industry is at the forefront of water sustainability efforts around the globe. Our member companies have incorporated best practices for water use and preservation at every bottling facility, supported the critical need to provide broad-based financing for aging municipal water infrastructures and developed innovative techniques to reduce the ratio of water use per liter of product. At the same time, many beverage companies partner with environmental organizations to preserve and protect environmentally significant watersheds, rivers and waterways.