Carlsberg faces up to ‘tough’ circular economy changes

The uptake of a circular economy business model at Carlsberg has been admittedly difficult as the brewing company battles the perfect storm of poor government engagement, a lack of industry collaboration and in-house habitual change.

The Carlsberg Circular Community (CCC) scheme has seen the group take the lead on resource effectiveness and the circular economy; using a ‘Cradle-to-Cradle’ design framework to partner with suppliers, create clean material streams optimised for reuse and recycling, and support the sharing of sustainable innovations between companies – all in pursuit of zero-waste.

But, 10 months on from the initiative’s launch, the group’s senior vice-president of communications and corporate social responsibility, Anne-Marie Skov, admits the process of incorporating a long-term sustainability strategy within a large, continually expanding company has been a challenge.

Speaking exclusively to edie, Skov said: “I am an optimist and things are moving in the right direction but saying it’s not been tough would be a lie.

“It’s been particularly hard to change old habits at Carlsberg. Internally in the business, there has been a lot of debate around the issue of changing what we’ve been so used to doing for many years.

“Like any company, we are focused on growing our business and so we inevitably have the issue of short-term thinking versus long-term thinking. Some solutions, such as a circular economy model, will have a longer payback.

“The initial analysis of how we can upcycle certain products has been tough work – there can often be complexity in the process. But it is my job to argue why this is a good idea for the longer term. If you have a leader in your company that understands exactly what you want to do then that really helps.”

Old habits

In a recent blog about the transition to a circular economy, Skov wrote that “Sometimes it can seem that the world is paralysed”. She echoed this point to edie, highlighting inter-industry collaboration and governmental support as two key challenges.

“We need more business partnerships and we need politicians and governments engaging with us,” she said. “I do believe a transition to the circular economy is possible – even for a company as big as Carlsberg – but many governments are reacting by putting tax on waste and landfill. To me, the circular economy is about not looking at waste as ‘waste’ at all, but as a ‘resource’.

“Governments are doing what they are used to doing; they are stuck in old habits. We would much rather have dialogue around creative ways of recycling waste – being part of that dialogue with policymakers is key to us.

“Collaboration is also very important. With the CCC initiative, we have been successfully co-operating with suppliers. And in other areas such as responsible drinking we are definitely collaborating with other businesses. I don’t see why we cannot collaborate on the circular economy in a similar fashion. The alternative would be to say we will brand ourselves by being the ‘pioneer’, but in the end we need to do it together.”

Impact assessment

Skov, who who heads the Corporate Affairs department for Carlsberg Group, is pleased with how well the CCC initiative has been received externally. The Danish brewer intends to widen the Community beyond the eight existing members to 15 by 2016, supported by the technical expertise of the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA) – the leading scientific authority on Cradle-to-Cradle models.

“Our initial objective was to actually measure the ‘input KPIs’ – to work out what our realistic targets can be – and we’ve done that,” Skov said. “Within the first three years of this programme, we want to have three really innovative product solutions that are Cradle-to-Cradle certified, so that we are actually upcycling products.

“Around 42% of our total CO2 footprint comes from packaging – from bottles and cans to shrink-wrap. That was what inspired us to begin looking at things from a circular point of view. We’ve recently acquired new breweries and new companies in china, so it’s difficult to continually measure our CO2 impact, but in Western Europe our carbon footprint has gone down significantly, so the CCC scheme is already having a positive effect.”

Luke Nicholls

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