Taking impactful and beneficial action on climate is a key ambition for companies worldwide.
In a complex and ever-changing economic environment, however, it is not clear how companies large and small can do this in practice – and in tandem with others in the national and global markets. Terms like ‘greenwashing’ are rightly growing in usage, as organizations struggle to manage reputation alongside business growth.
In Finland, a country known for its ambitious climate targets (it plans to be carbon neutral by 2035) and breadth of companies operating in climate-adjacent industries such as energy and material production, the focus seems to be on inter-company collaboration and whole value-chain impact.
Climate Leadership Coalition (CLC) is the largest non-profit climate business network in Europe, with 94 organizational members mostly from Finland, employing over half a million people. This network molds the business environment in order to benefit companies that are leading in climate action and working on policies in partnership with governments and supranational institutions.
Huhtamaki, a global Finnish food packaging company that has been in operation for over a century, has set ambitious climate targets and committed to work with suppliers that have signed up to the Science Based Targets by 2026. With over 20,000 suppliers, the company plays a key role in the food value chain.
POLITICO Studio speaks to Thomasine Kamerling, Executive Vice President of sustainability and communications at Huhtamaki, and Tuuli Kaskinen, CEO of CLC, about sustainability in the food packaging sector.
POLITICO STUDIO: What is the context of packaging in the food value chain, and what is the industry’s role in reducing carbon emissions?
Thomasine Kamerling: Food packaging plays an instrumental role because it protects food, and we know that food waste is a huge issue. Of all food produced, one third is wasted – that’s 931 million tons worldwide per year.
There’s a societal concern in terms of access to food that is safe and hygienic, and reducing food waste so more people have access to it, but there’s also concern in terms of the impact of the food system on global greenhouse gas emissions. 30 percent of today’s greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the food system, and 80 percent of that is driven by food production. Food packaging is attributed only 5 percent of emissions by comparison – and it can reduce the overall tally by protecting food and preventing waste.
PS: The CLC has come up with the concept of a ‘carbon handprint’ – actions with a positive impact on the climate. Can you tell me about carbon handprints with respect to the CLC and Huhtamaki?
Tuuli Kaskinen: A big section of the Finnish industry is creating climate solutions that reduce emissions of others. There was a need to describe the positive impact with a method detailing businesses’ ability to create value chain-wide emission reductions. We created the concept together with VTT, which is the technical research center of Finland, and LUT University. The idea is that you take a new product and compare its carbon emissions with that of an average product in the market. This allows us to assess the reduction in emissions made possible by this new product. That’s the carbon handprint: it’s a positive measure to show a company’s ability to help others to reduce their environmental impact.
Kamerling: At Huhtamaki, that’s one of our aspirations – to get to net positive impact across the entire value chain. When we talk about our sustainability ambitions, the carbon handprint is only one part We’re also looking at supply due diligence or responsible sourcing across that whole value chain.
PS: What role do businesses have in the fight against climate change?
Kaskinen: Politicians and businesses know that something must be done. The regulatory framework makes sure that the change happens in all fields of society. But when we look at who’s proposing solutions and who is able to scale them, that’s the private sector. It’s new businesses like start-ups who create new solutions, and it’s legacy businesses who can reach out to millions of consumers around the world. The fact of the matter is that we need huge investments into the green transition, and they have to be ramped up – about 3 to 4 percent of GDP should be used in this transformation, and 70 percent of the money should come from the private sector.
PS: Sustainability goes far beyond climate change. How do you define sustainability, and what measures are you implementing to ensure it ?
Kamerling: We believe we have a role to play in delivering accessible, affordable, hygienic and safe food for people everywhere in the world. How do you do that in a sustainable manner? Science comes into play. For instance, what you need for food storage in Finland is different to what you need in a warm, humid environment such as India. We drive forward the research and technology to be able to develop packaging that is smarter and uses the right materials for the right functionality. It’s also about fair wages, good working conditions, diversity, inclusion – they’re all components of the sustainability agenda. We’re taking this very holistic approach to be a sustainable business. If we want our innovations to be sustainable, all these different factors have a part to play in terms of our being able to say that our products have a net positive impact.
PS: Tuuli, you will be speaking at COP27 in Egypt. What will you be touching upon, and with what purpose?
Kaskinen: There are two main topics. The first is carbon pricing. The research tells us that carbon pricing has been a very efficient tool, especially in the context of Europe, and the same can now be seen in several other parts of the world. Currently, however, only one-quarter of global emissions are under some kind of carbon pricing system. We work together with international organizations and governments to implement carbon pricing so that it supports the best climate solutions in the market.
The other topic is this carbon handprint concept. It is a key climate impact indicator that demonstrates how a product or service reduces carbon footprint – and being able to bring the carbon handprint concept into the global context and include it in existing certificates and measurement methods is an important theme.
PS: Thomasine, as EVP of sustainability and communications at Huhtamaki, how can you bring the company and the employees along on sustainability journey?
Kamerling: One of my roles is driving forward very clear targets. CLC’s handprint concept, for instance, is clear and proactive, and it gives consumers a better understanding of what sustainability is. We have set this ambition and we share our achievements and shortcomings with our investors.
Another one of my roles is to call out where there are gaps in the system. Today, recycling is an enormous issue because it’s not happening at the scale we need. To address the problem at an industrial scale, partners across the value chain need to come together. This ties into another role, of finding ways of helping others to learn from what we’re seeing, and from working collaboratively. We need to incentivize people to make a difference. The agenda is a transformative one for all our industries. The clearer we are, the more we can work with others, and that’s how we can make an actual difference.