• For many companies, the biggest net-zero challenge is the emissions generated by partners along the value chain.
  • The trust firms have built with their partners will be key to tackling this issue.
  • New partners with new ideas and approaches will also be needed – which will require a shift in mindset for many organisations.

COP26 saw world leaders seeking new ways of saving lives, livelihoods and habitats from the climate emergency we all face. We can debate the success or otherwise of the agreements reached, but what is clear is that governments need business to play a central role in driving down emissions. And if we are going to achieve our collective goal, we need to shift our mindset to ‘what’s possible’. This means embracing new technology and innovation, being open to new partnerships and trying new things.

In October 2021, we committed to reducing emissions across our entire value chain to net zero by 2040. It is no small undertaking and is the result of years of work. We were one of the first companies to commit to and deliver science-based targets, which have helped us to halve our direct emissions in the past decade, and our CO2 reduction plan to 2030 is already endorsed and approved on the 1.5˚C pathway.

But the most challenging aspect of our net-zero commitment is that 90% of our emissions are in our value chain, and therefore outside our control.

Therefore, achieving our goal is only possible with the trust we have in partnerships we have developed over many years. Some of our biggest supply chain partners have already set, or are in the process of setting, significant, science-based carbon reduction targets, which means we are in good company. But let me be clear: we can only work long-term with those who share the same vision.

We have many partnerships that target net zero. We partner with suppliers of renewable electricity and those producing energy-efficient beverage coolers, and we are pushing the light-weighting of all our PET, aluminium and glass packaging to the limit, using the least material currently possible whilst maintaining quality and safety.

At the same time, we are driving the use of recycled materials to create a circular economy for packaging and waste reduction, including using 100% recycled PET bottles. We have also invested in new technology in Poland that turns washed recycled PET flakes directly into food-grade preforms at our plant.

Partners in other areas help us to develop different technologies and solutions for packaging. Most of our European markets have now replaced plastic wrap on can multipacks with a KeelClip™ paperboard solution, and this year we will introduce our first paper-based carton for PET multipacks in Austria, marking a further step in plastic reduction. And we are working constantly with ingredient and packaging materials suppliers, energy efficiency and green fleet providers to find better solutions.

We have undertaken some world-first innovations. In Switzerland, we are working with Climeworks to take CO2 from the air at our plant in Hinwil, refining it to food-grade and using it to carbonate our sparkling water. It is one of those things you see for the first time and think; it’s so simple, why haven’t we been doing it for years?

Of course, these technologies come with cost considerations that mean they are not always scalable to our larger plants, but they are opening new possibilities and new emission-free ways of working. Additionally, we are supporting the regeneration of waterways, woodlands and wetlands across our territories to support natural carbon capture.

But we need new partners in areas in which we have little or no experience. That’s a challenge, but it’s also exciting.

It means taking some calculated risks and embracing disruption. It also means engaging with companies that are yet to establish their full business case. For a business focused on reliability, quality, and delivering our commitments, that requires a huge mindset shift. There is an entire industry being created to support the development of innovative, sustainable packaging and collection solutions and we are ready to embrace it.

We have just launched a €100,000 startup challenge with Rainmaking, an international accelerator that helps founders grow their ideas and businesses. The intention is to find the next viable, scaleable packaging and packaging collection technologies that appeal to, and are accessible for, consumers. I can’t wait to see the innovative ideas that come from this.

We have a strong track record and robust roadmap, but we don’t yet have all the answers – and that’s OK. I trust in the partnerships we have and am excited about the new collaborations we are exploring with businesses and academia, along with the power of innovation and technology to ensure we reach our 2040 destination.

Our company celebrated its 70th anniversary last year. Looking back at the old photographs of the first bottling operation in the basement of a hotel in Lagos, Nigeria, the progress is staggering. Today we have automation, big data, advanced analytics and virtual reality helping customers to have the right beverage in the right pack in their stores, apps that encourage recycling and augmented reality glasses to drive accuracy in warehouse picking. And this is just the start. I believe that the continuation of this journey will change the way people buy and consume beverages – whether this is in paper packages, new biodegradable packages, or no packages at all.

The key is to create economic value for all as a key factor and accelerator of partnership. Our commitment to achieving net zero is integral to every business decision we take and every partnership we make. And we need everyone in our value chain to bring forward ideas that support emissions reduction at work and at home.

Tens of thousands of our people, millions of customers, billions of consumers, and countless ideas yet to be realised – these are the numbers in which I put my trust on our road to net zero. The journey will be one of our greatest tests yet, but it’s essential to all our futures and one that I’m convinced will showcase the very essence of partnership and trust.