Carlsberg: Business-led circular economy can thrive without regulators

EXCLUSIVE: The private sector has the "agility" to push the circular economy agenda without the need for government intervention, by incentivising innovators and disruptive start-ups to produce closed-loop products that appeal to wider audiences and push out unsustainable alternatives.

That is the view of Carlsberg’s sustainability director Simon Boas Hoffmeyer, who believes businesses now have the power and freedom to experiment with circular economy principles and drive closed-loop practice by engaging with start-ups rather than regulators.

Speaking exclusively to edie at the Climate Innovation Summit in Frankfurt this week, Hoffmeyer said: “In general, innovation within business models or materials and products is the more productive way to achieve more circularity in terms of products.

“From my perspective, the carrot is more powerful than the stick. Funding innovations and start-ups is key to actually getting more circular products on the market. I believe that businesses will achieve more, faster, by doing it themselves and without waiting on legislation to be incurred on them. I think it’s been proven, many times over history, that the agility to act is really there from businesses.

“Right now, there is a whole discussion around the circular economy and climate change. I believe that companies are actually moving faster than many governments and this is the power that businesses have, the power to move fast on agendas where it might take a little bit longer for other entities to actually start moving.”

Hoffmeyer welcomed the work form the likes of Climate-KIC – the organisation that was hosting the event, and had previously claimed that a social movement to combat climate change was underway – in placing the spotlight on innovators.


Carlsberg is no stranger to working with smaller companies and start-ups in order to strengthen its own circular economy credentials. The company has established the Carlsberg Circular Community (CCC), which promotes collaboration with can and glass suppliers including Ball – formerly known as Rexam – Petainer, O-I and EcoXpac among others.

The CCC was developed with the Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) Products Innovation Institute’s framework acting as the bedrock for all product developments. The C2C certification framework assesses products through a “continual improvement process” that analyses material health and reuses, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness.

Carlsberg has already had two of its CCC-derived products accredited with C2C bronze certification – categories develop from basic, bronze, silver, gold and platinum. In 2014, Carlsberg and Summersby cans produced by Ball, became the first aluminium beverage cans to meet C2C standards.

On Thursday (10 November), it was also announced that Carlsberg had become the first company in the world to be accredited with a C2C bronze certification for a glass beverage packaging – for its Kronenbourg 1664 bottle produced by O-I.

For Hoffmeyer, these two landmark achievements couldn’t be reached without branching out to work with full value chains. With packaging accounting for around 45% of the company’s carbon footprint, Hoffmeyer claimed it was essential to work with specialists that knew the products and materials “very intimately”.

While the circular economy approach has ultimately been introduced at Carlsberg to “eliminate waste”, Hoffmeyer also revealed that consumers were beginning to take notice of the products and engage with the company over future innovations.

If Carlsberg did festivals

Hoffmeyer revealed that a lot of Carlsberg customers usually interact with the glass and aluminium products during events such as festivals, where they don’t want to have “too many worries” about their actions.

Inevitably, Hoffermeyer suggested, waste will occur, which places Carlsberg’s brand reputation at risk. In order to engage with the festival-goers, the company has introduced “fun” measures.

“As with anything, you have to target your message to your audience. That’s basic,” Hoffmeyer said. “For us, it’s more a matter of taking the discussions into the right channels to engage the younger consumers. I do think that this light-hearted approach is incredibly important in getting the message through. It has to be through humour.”

Hoffmeyer noted that, at Carlsberg-sponsored festivals in the UK and France, the company was working with consumers to dispose of products correctly. The means to achieve this vary from volunteer engagement to reverse vending machines that offer incentives for those that dispose waste correctly.

One product that is really beginning to raise engagement with consumers is the anticipated introduction of the world’s first fully biodegradable wood-fibre beer bottle.  

The Danish brewing firm has initiated a three-year project with packaging company ecoXpac and enlisted the expertise of Innovation Fund Denmark and the Technical University of Denmark to develop a biodegradable and bio-based bottle made from sustainably-sourced wood-fibre, to be known as the ‘Green Fibre Bottle’.

According to Hoffmeyer, the bottle could be on the market by 2018, but already consumers – especially those aged 20-28 – were engaging with the concept through Carlsberg’s social media pages.

“We’re really trying to translate our abilities within marketing because that’s the way you can get people to listen,” Hoffmeyer added. “I would say our consumers are more prone to listen when there is a sustainability angle. They want to engage because it’s very top of mind for that generation.

“One thing that we’ve been extremely surprised about with the green fibre bottle is how much engagement that people from 20-28 are bringing with the promise of this bottle. They want to discuss it and understand how it is sustainable and what the credentials are – there are discussions happening on our Facebook feeds and what material is more sustainable. Our consumers want an engaged conversation around this.”

Matt Mace

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