Why science, society and sustainability will matter more for business post-pandemic

Ball Corporation's President for Beverage Packaging Europe, Middle East & Africa, Ron Lewis outlines his thoughts on why sustainability will continue to be an important boardroom topic post-pandemic, and why a focus on society and the environment will be a focus moving forward.

Why science, society and sustainability will matter more for business post-pandemic

Lewis was speaking to edie as part of our ENGAGE week of content

There are ten years left to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) while global emissions need to be curbed by 45% to put the world on the path to deliver the Paris Agreement. 

It is a crucial decade of action that will require unprecedented transformation from the private sector that aligns operations and value chains with net-zero by 2050, transitions outputs to circular economy models, and alters their financial approach and re-define value itself in order to support all of these shifts. 

And yet, some are concerned that corporate sustainability and climate action are slipping down the agenda as businesses struggle financially amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Many CSR professionals and boardroom executives have reiterated that long-term sustainability agendas will not be dampened by a comparative short-term disruption. However, many believe that how sustainability integrates itself into the boardroom may evolve post-pandemic to enable businesses to focus more on long-term resiliency and sustainable and ideally green economic growth.

Those views are echoed by aluminium manufacturer Ball Corporation’s president of beverage packaging from the EMEA region, Ron Lewis. Speaking to edie, Lewis claimed that as businesses and society approach a new normal once the disruption from the coronavirus eases somewhat, more stakeholders will be much more engaged with the efforts of the sustainability team.

“Sustainability is already a really important lever for employee engagement, and I think it’ll grow,” Lewis told edie as part of ENGAGE 2020. “You want to work for a company that cares about the world we all live in, especially now. It’s the case for any company for any business that is leading on [sustainability], people become really proud of their organisation’s sustainability agenda.

“I’m hopeful that we as a society value environmental benefits even more, going forward. It does feel like all of us are going to make different choices after [the pandemic].”

Science-based rhetoric

One of the many teachings of this disastrous pandemic is the need to listen to the science; indeed, most government responses to the Covid-19 outbreak has been to follow the advice of scientific advisors.

Whatever ‘new normal’ that businesses find themselves in it is highly likely that those able to set themselves apart from other businesses when it comes to championing sustainability are the ones committing to science-based targets.

Lewis noted the importance of being able to align business practices to climate science in order to showcase demonstrable progress against the needs of the planet.

At a time where the plastics and fossil fuel industries are attempting to denounce science in order to profit from the coronavirus outbreak, many economists and health experts are now noting the need to listen to the advice of the scientific community. Businesses that can showcase verified reductions aligned to climate science will have an easier time of appeasing investor, employee, consumer and customer queries on due diligence going forward.

In 2018, Ball Corporation set new science-based targets within the company’s direct operations and across its supply chain to reduce its emissions intensity by 58% by 2030. The company has committed to reducing its Scope 1 and Scope 2 (direct) emissions by 27% by 2030, against a 2017 baseline of 1.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG). These goals were last month approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) as aligned to the 1.5C ambition of the Paris Agreement.

For Lewis, due diligence going forward can be viewed as a heightened understanding of sustainability risks beyond an organisation’s operations at a boardroom level.

Ball is sourcing 100% renewable electricity for beverage operations in the UK, EU and Serbia since the start of the year, for example, but is also focusing on decarbonising its value chain.

Ball’s science-based targets features a pledge to reduce Scope 3 (indirect) emissions by a quarter within the same timeline, after revealing that GHG emissions from its value chain totalled 13.2 million tonnes of CO2e last year. 85% of these emissions were accounted for by the processes of mining, refining, smelting, casting and rolling metals, as well as end-of-life recycling. 

Ball Corporation, which specialises in producing beverage and aerosol packaging across 236 countries, has also been certified to Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) standards for environmental, social and governance impacts. Ball is the first beverage can maker to achieve the ASI certification, which also covers Chain of Custody (CoC) Standard certifications for material produced and processed across its value chain.

Moving forward, Lewis believes that focus on value chains will become of paramount importance. It is apparent that for many organisations, the globalisation of manufacturing has created a scenario where supply chains are unprepared for disruption, whether that be pandemic or climate-related.

As such, Lewis envisions a time where supply chain resiliency and sustainability become a big focus area for boardroom decisions, which in turn gives the sustainability department a much bigger voice in shaping the long-term future of an organisation.

There’s a cost for not pursuing the sustainability agenda,” Lewis a former chief procurement officer at Coca-Cola and former senior vice president of supply chains at Coca-Cola European Partners added. “if you’re only striving to improve the efficiency of your operations and supply chains, you’ll be missing out on resiliency.

“Resiliency may be framed in the boardroom as an audit committee, or it’ll be wrapped up in a risk mindset, but it builds into sustainability. Proximity will trump distance and resiliency will trump efficiency more in the future, meaning that trying to squeeze the last penny out of far-flung supply chains isn’t going to be as important as maintaining the proof that you’re a good social operator. Investments in society and environment will matter more.”

edie’s Communications and Reporting online sessions

On Thursday 7 May, edie hosted three back-to-back online events on sustainability and reporting best-practice. Featuring speakers from Toast Ale, Capgemini, Innocent and others, the free events are perfect for those looking to revamp approaches to engagement during lockdown.

Watch the sessions here.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie