Implementing Life Cycle Thinking in the Business at Nestlé
Life cycle assessment has proven very useful to evaluate and improve the environmental performance of food and drink products, and is today widely used in industry. We illustrate how life cycle thinking is made even more impactful using three case studies: First, we illustrate how LCA metrics are communicated along value chain partners and to consumers. Then, we explore how social aspects can be addressed under an LCA perspective, in a simplified manner suited for business decision making. Finally, we address packaging waste, which is perceived as a key environmental impact in the public, but rarely identified as a hotspot in LCA.
Environmental LCA indicates that the agricultural supply chain usually is the most impactful phase in food products. In 2016, Nestlé’s agricultural advisors have been working with more than 360’000 farmers to improve the quality and yield of their products, and to protect water and the environment. We have developed specific tools that measure environmental parameters at farm level. This enables agricultural advisors to also consider environmental parameters in the advice they provide to farmers. One example is the Nespresso coffee supply chain, where relevant parameters contributing to coffee farm GHG emissions are tracked over time. The Nestlé booth in the main conference area illustrates how interactive computer screens can show live information on coffee farms that have recently been visited by agricultural advisors, including the parameters that have been measured.
Nestlé has implemented an LCA based, simplified eco-design process (Espinoza-Orias et al, 2016) in the R&D organization. Ecodesign is today used routinely for any new product development or modification. To address other important aspects of sustainability, we are now extending the approach to also consider social sustainability aspects. To that end, we have developed a three-tiered approach: at the first tier (which is compulsory for any product development or modification), a qualitative questionnaire evaluates whether social opportunities or issues might appear during a product development. If such issues or opportunities are identified, a second tier process using social input/output methods (see Weidema, 2016) allows quantifying hotspots. Finally, in collaboration with the Roundtable on Social Product Metrics, we have developed a method to comprehensively assess social impacts (Fontes, 2016), in particular among smallholder farmers that are of key importance for many Nestlé supply chains.
The Circular Economy thinking has highlighted the importance of plastic waste in the environment. Nestlé is using a significant amount of plastic, allowing for cost effective, lightweight packaging with high functionality, respecting quality and safety standards and reducing food losses and waste. We are committed to addressing the root cause of littering by improving packaging waste management, in particular in countries that contribute strongly to marine littering (see for instance Jambeck et al, 2015). Therefore, we have initiated a pilot study in Indonesia helping us better understand how much and through which flows packaging waste from our products ends up in oceans. This will allow us to reduce marine littering, for instance by creating economically viable solutions to recycling and valorizing packaging material in a controlled way.
Espinoza-Orias et al, 2016. Document Eco-design shapes product innovation and development. Food Science and Technology 30 (2) p. 26-28.
Fontes, 2016. Handbook for Product Social Impact Assessment. Pré Sustainability.
Jambeck et al, 2015. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347(6223) p. 768-771.
Weidema, 2016. The social footprint—a practical approach to comprehensive and consistent social LCA. Int. J. LCA, in press.
Urs Schenker is a sustainability expert at the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, in a team that is responsible for Sustainability and Novel Packaging. He is driving the use of Life Cycle Assessment and ecodesign at Nestlé, and is developing and implementing simplified tools and processes for sustainability evaluations in agriculture, processing, with consumers, and at food system level. He works with international sustainability initiatives such as the Life Cycle Initiative, WBCSD, and the EU Food Sustainable Consumption and Production Roundtable and the 10 Year Framework Programme on Sustainable Food Systems.