Carton giant Tetra Pak has much to be proud of, but fails to package its sustainability story as well as it should
“Packaging should save more money than it costs.” This was the mantra of Swedish Tetra Pak founder Reuben Rausing, one that was particularly poignant in post-war Europe. Decades later, the packaging giant is one of three companies that make up Tetra Laval group, a private company headquartered in Switzerland. Still run by the Rausing family, does today’s Tetra Pak uphold the same values and apply this concept of saving more than it costs to people and planet?
Tetra Pak’s tagline – “Protect what’s good”– suggests these values have carried through to its carton empire today. The company’s efforts in sustainability span a broad range of issues, with growth strategies in base-of-pyramid markets, a focus on educating consumers about recycling, and sourcing raw materials responsibly. Tetra Pak launched its first carton made from fully recycled material in 2015. Its reporting, however, is doing little justice to these efforts, and lacks a clear sense of ambition, with few clear targets or reporting against these.
At first glance, Tetra Pak’s 2015 sustainability report appears to cover a broad range of relevant content. The company places a strong emphasis on sustainability communications, so finding the report on the website is easy. “Sustainability” sits at the top navigation menu of the site and the pages themselves are extensive and comprehensive, covering most topics material to the packaging industry.
The report, like the website, is structured around three pillars: Food, People and Futures. “Food” covers the protection, availability and affordability of food, with the company boasting work on sustainable value chains in developing nations. It also profiles “deeper in the pyramid”, Tetra Pak’s expansion plan into base-of-pyramid markets. Despite the company’s “Protect what’s good” motto, the report fails to connect packaging with preventing food waste, an extremely relevant topic for this sector and arguably one of the biggest positive impacts it can make.
“People” covers the employee topics you would expect from any manufacturing company: health and safety, employee engagement, learning and development, diversity and community engagement. This section has the most data of all sections in the report.
“Futures” is a catch-all for the remaining topics. It includes customer focus, environmental innovation, responsible sourcing, managing environmental impacts and, last but not least, recycling. The recycling section comes too far back in the report for an issue that is so material to the business and one that the company has done much work on. For example, Tetra Pak works closely with municipalities to ensure they have the right equipment and processes in place to recycle the cartons.
Although the relevant topics are covered, the report lacks substance and can be frustrating in places. The reporting period is also unclear and inconsistent. It states within the “scope” that the report covers the calendar year January to December, but fails to mention that it is reporting on 2014 data despite being a 2015 report with 2015 stories, published in November.
Putting the company’s sustainability performance into context is challenging due to a lack of targets or baseline figures. With the exception of diversity and health and safety data, year-on-year figures are distinctly lacking. Goals and targets where they exist, are vague, placing the report at the opaque end of the transparency scale.
The report contains only two time-dependent targets, first to cap carbon emissions at 2010 levels by 2020, decoupled from expected year-on-year growth in sales. The other is to ensure 40% of cartons are recycled by 2020. Other goals are vague and lack any sense of urgency or deadlines – for example: “Our long-term goal is that all our packaging will be made from 100% renewable materials.” Some figures are reported without any context, such as that 651,000 tonnes of Tetra Pak beverage cartons were recycled globally, leaving the reader wondering what proportion this is of the total cartons produced.
The use of design, case studies and imagery illustrates Tetra Pak’s work well and in general the story-telling approach throughout its sustainability communications is commendable. The same goes for the use of stakeholder quotes, although they could be more critical.
All in all, the work Tetra Pak does in its value chains continues Reuben Rausing’s legacy, ensuring that packaging saves more than it costs. With a bit more attention to detail, goal-setting and greater transparency in reporting figures, its sustainability report would better reflect the work that Tetra Pak is doing to “protect what’s good”.
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