Around one in three of the world’s beverage cans are produced by Ball Corporation. An astonishing 100 billion units a year filled with the likes of Coca-Cola, Coors and Carlsberg help to generate $9 billion in revenues. A simple product, an immense scale.
And it is this scale which places Ball at the heart of its clients’ own sustainability objectives. Packaging can account for anywhere up to 50 percent of a large drinks manufacturer’s carbon footprint, making cross-collaborative innovation between clients and Ball’s customer-focused team paramount to the success of the sustainable agenda.
For European Sustainability Manager Matthew Rowland-Jones, formulating how Ball can fulfil the sustainability objectives of clients is central to his work. And with new advances in the beverage can, it is the metal container which holds the greatest green potential of any drinks packaging.
Brewers are also buying into the quality. “One of things that is appealing about cans for the craft brewers as well as the larger brewers is that it is a 100 percent barrier to light and air, offering total protection to the product,” says Rowland-Jones, pointing to another industry trend which in itself presents a different challenge to Ball - the rise of craft. “The smaller scale does present some challenges to us in terms of production runs, and that is something we will work hard to accommodate. The growth is around micro-brewers and craft beer, albeit working from a small base.”
With the can becoming the container of choice for these brewers, there is huge opportunity for Ball to lead a sustainable charge in the industry. This is recognised by new Sustainability Director Ramon Arratia: “For me sustainability is a responsibility that we all have, whether that be business, government or society at large. Responsibility also comes with size, and Ball is a huge producer of packaging, even more so after the merger with Rexam, and wants to play a bigger role. Packaging offers a lot of opportunities and I think the superior performance aluminium can in particular has great potential.”
Arratia brings with him a renewed energy, born out of the massive sustainability strides taken under his tenure at global carpet manufacturer Interface.
“We want to push the company and the industry to be much more ambitious,” he says. “What I have seen in a short time so far is that the can is a gold mine for a sustainability professional. It is mono-material, and already has a pretty good recycling infrastructure surrounding it.”
At Interface the ceiling was removed in its entirety when it came to setting objectives, most notably to become carbon neutral by 2020. Whilst almost impossible to achieve, the desire to get there flowed through the veins of the organisation, and it is this can-do ethos which Arratia is looking to strengthen at Ball.
“With a bit of smart policy from government and heightened consumer awareness, along with some innovation on product design from our side, we could cut carbon emissions dramatically. I am very positive that this industry can deliver huge sustainable progress and this will be driven by the growth of the can as a form of packaging.”
It is not just carbon that Arratia is focussing on – for him it is about instilling a wider sustainable can-do culture covering all aspects of the business. He adds: “There are other areas such as use of chemicals and health and safety, and the industry can play a bigger role in the wider health agenda. It is about creating a culture which will deliver on these issues and increase the level of ambition.”
This is not to suggest that bold ambition was in any way lacking before Arratia arrived. Such boldness can already be seen in Ball’s 2016 sustainability report, which sets out 10 objectives across four key pillars – product stewardship, operational excellence, talent management and community ambassadors. Indeed, sustainable standards are a significant part of Ball’s Drive for 10 corporate vision, which aims at leveraging company strengths to achieve long term success.
The most eye-catching of these 10 goals is to develop science-based carbon targets, which Rowland-Jones says could look as far ahead as 2030. Central to this, he says, is driving up recycling rates and ensuring Ball’s products live multiple lives as cans or other metal items.
Ball has the perfect product to deliver this. Already 100 percent recyclable, the can already has the highest recycling rate of any beverage pack which stands at 70 percent globally. It is the other 30 percent which makes up Arratia’s gold mine.
With more than 18,000 employees staffing 100 locations around the world, the company is influencing lives in many communities; communities which form an integral part of Ball’s ongoing sustainability efforts, not least when it comes to reducing carbon footprints through recycling.
“This is a big challenge for us as a B2B business, a challenge that will require a lot of collaboration with customers and those in touch with end users,” says Rowland-Jones, who refers to two European programmes which demonstrate this in action, targeting consumers outside and inside the home.
“Our ‘Every Can Counts’ project is running in 12 European countries,” he explains. “We partner with events such as music festivals, shopping centres and sports organisations like the Le Mans 24 hour motorsport race to help engage with consumers who are drinking from cans on the go, raising awareness of recycling.”
The second example, Metal Matters, targets UK household recycling. Rowland-Jones continues: “This is revolved around educating householders about what they can put in their recycling collections in terms of metal packaging, not necessarily just beverage packaging. It is about the whole spectrum of metal packaging, from aerosols and foils to food and drink cans.”
Internally, Rowland-Jones is looking at how Ball Corporation in Europe can on a site-by-site basis inspire communities to recycle, at the same time showcasing the company as a great place to seek a career.
“It is about getting our plants to engage with their communities about recycling and can be a great success in terms of local PR and getting our plants connected with their local populations. It helps to inspire young people and spread the message that Ball is a great company to work for.”
Recyclability was a key factor in Ball’s Cradle-to-Cradle accreditation achieved alongside Carlsberg. Approached back in 2012/13, Ball has become an important part of the Danish brewer’s Circular Community of suppliers, working collectively to be the first beverage package certified to Cradle-to-Cradle standards.
The factors contributing towards the certification include the packaging’s recyclability, how manufacturers look at wider corporate responsibility regarding the recycling message, and work carried out in factories to reduce energy use.
“We achieved a bronze rating in early 2015,” Rowland-Jones adds. “It was a challenging framework for us to work towards, and has given us some ideas around an improvement plan to further improve the certification. There is more we can do, for example with renewables and encouraging consumers to recycle more.”
Arratia emphasises the need for joined up action between the industry and consumers further still, highlighting the responsibility for Ball to create the most recyclable packaging possible.
“One key message for us and for packaging is that it is so fast moving,” he says. “You buy the product and consume it quickly and want to dispose of it quickly as well. That means the biggest thing we can do is make sure that the packaging is designed in a way that means it can be recycled infinite times.
“It is like-for-like recycling, which is maintaining the same value of the material at the end of its life – it is not down-cycling or bringing waste back to life. If you design something that is going to last hundreds of years in its first use then it is not as a big an issue, but for something that is used and disposed of so quickly, it is so important. This is why the industry as a whole needs to look at the wider infrastructure in an innovative way. Programmes aimed at helping consumers and public legislation are certainly going to help, but the industry can be more creative as well.”
Ball is already leading the way when it comes to best practice. A member of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices, the company has been named industry leader for container and packaging businesses for four consecutive years. The same feat has been achieved with RobecoSAM’s Sustainability Yearbook.
In Europe, Rowland-Jones outlines how best practice is maintained: “We have carried out a lot of work around lean and six sigma processes, which involves work around processors and heat recovery in our operations. We will trial in one plant and then roll out best practice across all of our sites very quickly.”
The social side of sustainable best practice is also of critical importance, not least when looking to the future of the company. Employee welfare is underpinned by an exemplary health and safety record, while welfare of those in surrounding communities is also a priority, underlined by the Community Ambassador programme which Rowland-Jones is eager to import from the USA arm of the business.
This all adds to the equation which makes Ball Corporation an attractive proposition for potential employees. For Rowland-Jones, sustainability and continuity go hand-in-hand. He concludes: “In terms of succession planning, there are numerous studies pointing towards the desire for millennials and younger workers wanting to work for sustainable organisations. Ball must continue to be one of these organisations.”