Sustainability a competitive advantage for business, says Nespresso boss

EXCLUSIVE: Businesses aiming to become sustainability leaders cannot ignore approaches to communication in an age where consumers and stakeholders are actively engaged on corporate approaches to societal and environmental needs, the chief executive of Nespresso has claimed.

Companies like Mars, Carlsberg and Unilever all have chief executives willing to promote, share and inspire eager audiences on sustainability. It reflects a heightened awareness amongst the private sector that a top-down approach to sustainability reflects that efforts to improve the environment aren’t viewed as an add-on.

Nespresso is another company that has evolved into an industry leader for sustainability. The company has far-reaching goals to source 100% of its Grand Cru coffee range from sustainable sources, alongside an aim to expand a capacity to collect used aluminium capsules to 100% wherever the company does business.

For the company’s chief executive Jean-Marc Duvoisin, leadership in sustainability has evolved as consumer awareness and demand for ethically-orientated products and services increases. The chief executive now believes that communicating a strategy externally is key to driving progress across entire industries.

“Nespresso wants to have a leadership role, and this role is on sustainability,” Duvoisin told edie at the Economist Sustainability Summit in London. “To create a healthy business and to have a positive impact through doing things correctly. The industry is always looking at its competitors and they’ll try to catch up and follow.

“However, you need to be sure that consumers and governments recognise your work. If there is no recognition, the other players in the industry are less inclined to move. If you’re not communicating, then you’re not leading and you’re not doing things that will give you a competitive advantage.”

Nespresso has tweaked its communications approach in recent years to bring sustainability to consumers through a range of adverts, including celebrity backing from George Clooney.

Duvoisin believes that sustainability can act as a differentiator in today’s market. Current pledges to reduce plastic waste mirror Nespresso’s move to improve the recyclability of its aluminium coffee capsules more than two decades ago. The goal was born from a realisation that consumers were disgruntled about how they had to discard the capsules.

The UK, for example, consumes more than 340 million coffee capsules a year, but most of these pods cannot be recycled at the kerbside. Last year, Nespresso teamed up the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to provide a kerbside collection service for Nespresso Club members, who receive purple bags to place alongside other recycling bins.

That trial came seven years after Nespresso set up its own dedicated recycling network, which allows customers to request a collection for used capsules or drop them off at collection points across the country.

Globally, Nespresso set up the world’s first capsule recycling system in Switzerland in 1991. By 2015 the company has since reached 86% global recycling capacity, through 14,000 capsule collection points.

For Duvoisin, the recycling network, which does still struggle to reach more rural areas, is an example of how leading an approach to to societal demands can “establish movements as a sector-wide approach to sustainability”.

Nespresso are driving this collaborative approach through Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI), a global, multi-stakeholder, standards and certification organisation. Nespresso’s global head of corporate affairs, Daniel Weston, acts as chair of the ASI.

Boardroom backing

Of course, rolling out these innovative types of systems requires buy-in from the board. Duvoisin noted that sustainability professionals should make any project engaging from a financial or consumer point of view if they want to make sustainability resonate with the board.

“The board shouldn’t see investment into sustainability as a waste,” he added. “It needs to be embedded across all companies, otherwise the sector is exposed to a risk of image. Sustainability is in every decision we make.

“But that requires someone to sell the vision to the board. Of course, you have to make it convincing from a financial point of view. For that you need to demonstrate that consumers want it, because if they do, then it becomes a competitive advantage to pursue it. You need to give a positive commercial aspect to sustainability.”

Matt Mace

Comments (1)

  1. Ian Byrne says:

    I wonder what the life-cycle impacts of the capsules are, even if they use the kerbside collection service? The plastic bags they are collected in, the physical moving around of the collection vehicles, etc.? Somehow I suspect that it’s not at all good.

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