‘Customer, planet, people’ – Jenny Wassenaar on Trivium’s holistic approach to sustainable packaging
Trivium Chief Sustainability Officer opens up on the company’s policies, as well as their plans for the future
Our understanding of, and thinking on, sustainability often comes down to carbon emissions – or, more specifically, how to cut down on them. The 2015 Paris Agreement sought to cap the rise in the global mean temperature to ideally 1.5° Celsius – and certainly no more than 2° – above pre-industrial levels, though even this target remains in the balance. However, for Jenny Wassenaar, Chief Sustainability Officer at Trivium, ‘only looking at the CO2 footprint is, unfortunately, not enough – certainly not if you’re looking at a lifecycle assessment.’ So, how can packaging companies boost their efforts to become fully sustainable?
Infinitely recyclable materials
Trivium’s packaging is focused on metals – specifically aluminium and steel – which are infinitely recyclable. This was just the first step in a company-wide sustainability strategy, which includes re-examining product designs to make their packaging as eco-friendly as possible. Trivium have also taken steps to reduce the resources used to produce their materials, and to increase the percentage of recycled content in every region they supply.
Jenny states that the company’s sustainability strategy is focused as follows: ‘Our customer, our planet, and our people’. This three-pronged approach is reflected in Trivium’s name and allows them to promote their philosophy at both local and international levels, from initiatives such as ‘World Clean-up Day’ to the company’s efforts to reduce their energy consumption across their 52 sites globally. Furthermore, Trivium have subscribed to the Science Based Targets Initiative, which encourages businesses to align their sustainability goals with the 1.5° target. ‘That means we have to take action on a day-to-day basis,’ Jenny notes. ‘And this has been accelerated.' Research & Development, meanwhile, plays a large part in Trivium’s customer strategy. ‘We cannot just sit still and relax,’ Jenny says. ‘We have to keep on innovating.’
The timing of our interview with Jenny was apt: world leaders and delegates were taking part in COP27 in Cairo as we spoke. Jenny is frank about her wish for future COP conferences ‘to accelerate the focus on sustainability […] from a holistic approach’. Jenny notes that our thinking on lifecycle assessments still dates from last century – a world that focused on a linear economy. ‘Now that we’re transitioning to the circular economy, we also have to adapt our tools and our ways of measuring’, she says. This means examining in-depth just where your recycling goes, and the process that goes into it.
What does the future hold?
What does sustainable packaging look like in the year 2040? It’s hard to predict. 2040 might seem far away, but Jenny is quick to note that it’s much closer than we realise. The Paris Agreement was almost 10 years ago – ‘and where are we now?’, she asks. ‘What kind of steps have we really made as an industry?’
Approximately 80% of all the metal ever produced is still in use today, and recycling a metal package requires just 5% of the energy needed to create it. Furthermore, the metal industry (including packaging) has the highest collection rate for reuse; roughly 60% of all metal packages worldwide are recycled. These remarkable statistics underline metal’s importance in sustainable packaging.
However, Jenny concedes that, unfortunately, non-metal packaging that is marked as recyclable is often not as reusable as its label might suggest. She wishes and hopes that, in 18 years, ‘everything is recycled, and everything is recyclable […] Realistically, where do I really think we will end up by 2040? That’s maybe a little bit different.’
There is still progress to be made – as well as cause for optimism
The pace of decision-making and collective agreements around this complex subject mean that recycling is not as advanced and prevalent on a global level as Jenny would like. While she is sceptical about the chances of the packaging industry being fully recyclable by 2040, Jenny notes that ‘when you work with metal packaging, you’re at least hitting your targets on recyclability very quickly’.
It is heartening to see companies like Trivium commit to sustainable, environmentally friendly business models. We need as many businesses as possible to follow suit – not least when collective action on the climate crisis is required more urgently than ever.
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