As we sharpen our lens on climate in advance of the COP21 Summit in Paris, we all await whether or not agreements reached will result in transformative changes and ultimately in how businesses operate. But some changes in business operations are already under way as companies are recognizing how responsible sourcing and renewable materials use can impact their carbon footprints.
Historically, climate negotiations have focused largely on addressing rising greenhouse gases through reduced energy intensity and cuts in carbon emissions. In the C-suite, as noted in the latest CEO Pulse on Climate Change from PWC, climate issues traditionally have been considered in the context of energy costs and the industrial management of energy.
But lately, the impact of climate is being looked at more broadly, beyond quarterly P&Ls to longer-term affects on the ultimate success of business enterprises. PWC’s report notes that “CEOs are also concerned about strategic issues such as the risk posed to their global supply chains by climate change (51%), and securing access to raw materials (49%).” These CEOs, PWC says, “are concerned with their whole value chain, from the supply of raw materials, to production and to the end customer.”
That might explain growing interest in the use of renewable materials across sectors — from the automobile industry to consumer packaged goods to the food and beverage industry. As we define it, “renewability” is about using a resource that can be regrown or replenished naturally with the passage of time, such as paperboard-based packaging made from trees and bioplastics made from sugar cane, cellulosic fibers made from plants, etc.
The use of renewable materials can play an important role in addressing global resource constraints and keeping the climate in balance. Our own life cycle analysis demonstrates that using renewable materials in packaging can provide a step change for positive results. For example, if 75 percent of a package’s weight is from renewable paperboard, that element of the package only contributes 20 percent of the carbon impact throughout the package life cycle.
A new briefing paper from Conservation International’s (CI’s) Business and Sustainability Council (BSC) takes a deeper look at the connection between renewable materials use and climate change. The paper, Exploring The Link Between Renewable Materials And Climate Change Mitigation inserts an important new theme into the climate conservation — specifically, that use of renewable materials offers a unique opportunity for companies to manage resource scarcity, protect natural capital and tackle climate change. And through this they are able to contribute to sustainable production and climate change solutions.
CI identified three important climate benefits associated with use of renewable materials:
- Increased natural carbon stock
- Reduced energy intensity
- More resilient landscapes
As noted in the paper, plant-based renewable materials, such as forests or sugarcane, are natural sinks for CO2 and they help keep earth’s natural ecosystems in balance. Perhaps one of the most significant attributes of renewable materials is that they provide a viable alternative to using unsustainable supplies of raw materials and carbon-intensive processes. And finally, critical to managing the climate issue is ensuring that landscapes can be resilient in the face of climate change impacts. Use of renewable materials and responsible sourcing helps to improve watershed and soil management, maintain or expand forest and ground cover, and contributes to other vital environmental benefits such as increased biodiversity. And this help keep the communities and geographies where companies operate strong.
As more companies view their climate strategies through a broader lens, the case for using renewable materials will become even more self-evident. Companies will gain more reliable supply chains and will be better able to manage costs and experience less price volatility. They will also be seen as responsive to changing consumer sentiment expressing concern about resource scarcity.
No one action alone will solve the climate issue or ensure a healthier planet. But bold corporate actors know that a holistic climate strategy that considers impacts throughout the life cycle is fundamentally the right and smart thing to do and will ultimately yield competitive, long-term result.
Elisabeth Comere is the director of environment and government affairs at Tetra Pak. She joined the company in 2006 as environment manager for Europe, where she helped define and drive Tetra Pak’s environmental strategy and contributed shaping recycling for cartons in Europe. Since 2010, she has been based in the United States, focusing on advancing the Tetra Pak’s commitment to sustainability in the US and Canada and is involved in various industry and customer packaging and sustainability initiatives. Prior to this, she served as a political adviser to a member of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, and headed the environment department of the Food & Drink Industry group in Europe. She is currently a member of the board for the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment (AMERIPEN) and is vice president for Government Affairs for the Carton Council. Comere currently resides in the Chicago area. For further environmental insights from her, visit www.doingwhatsgood.us.