Nestlé cuts landfill waste, but grows emissions and water use

Nestlé cuts landfill waste, but grows emissions and water use

Food and beverage giant Nestlé (NASDAQ: NESN) cut its water intensity by nearly 2 percent per ton of products -- although its overall water use grew -- and diverted 80 percent of its waste from landfills to animal feeding, composting and recycling, according to the company’s 2011 sustainability report released Tuesday.

The Swiss company behind many well-known brands, such as Lean Cuisine and Nesquik, also reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 38 percent since 2008.

But for 2011, Nestlé reported an increase in its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 3.1 percent. The amount dropped, though, by nearly 7 percent when measured per ton of product. 

The Creating Shared Value report, named after Nestlé’s corporate and social responsibility strategy, highlighted the company’s achievements in the United States from 2010 to 2011 in the areas of sustainability, nutrition and community development.

Nestlé’s U.S. operations are made up of five businesses: Nestlé USA, Nestlé Purina PetCare Company, Nestlé Waters North America, Nestlé Nutrition and Nestlé Professional.

Heidi Paul, vice president of corporate affairs for Nestlé Waters North America, said the company’s green accomplishments were largely due to teamwork and cooperation between the different businesses.

“These efficiencies come through many systems, small and large,” Paul said. “By working together and learning from each other, we can go further and faster on this continuum.”

The company reduced its per product water use by 1.8 percent, from 2.04 cubic meters per ton of product in 2010 to 2.01 cubic meters in 2011. Overall annual water use, however, jumped by 11 percent due to Nestlé manufacturing more products.

The increase illustrates the challenge faced by many companies today -- how to remain sustainable while expanding operations.

For Nestlé, it’s about focusing on annual improvements, however incremental they might be.

“It's harder and harder to get the big wins,” Paul said. “It's a process of looking at year-and-year reductions.” 

Photo of water provided by Tischenko Irina via Shutterstock

Nestlé did cut its annual water use in a few areas. At its wet pet food plants, the company reduced its consumption by more than 46 million gallons in 2010 while maintaining a similar production volume. And at a factory in Madison, Fla., Nestlé used wastewater to irrigate neighboring farms, potentially saving 55 million gallons of water from being withdrawn from the local aquifer.

The company also made gains as part of its Zero Waste to Landfill Initiative, diverting 80 percent of total waste from landfill to other uses, up from 74 percent in 2010.

Nestlé is working to hard to revamp its image after drawing heavy criticism from environmental activists in 2010 over its purchases of palm oil for use in KitKat chocolate bars and other products. Activists launched scathing social media campaigns against Nestlé, accusing the company of contributing to the destruction of rain forests in Indonesia.

The sustainability report also highlighted Nestlé’s social responsibility efforts, including the launch of Recycle-Bowl, the first nationwide recycling competition for school kids. Nestlé Waters North America was also recognized by AmeriCares for donating more than one million bottles of water to survivors of disasters in the U.S. in 2011.

The Creating Shared Value concept, developed in 2008, is based on the notion that for a business to prosper, it must be of value to its consumers, shareholders and the community.

“It’s recognizing that our stakeholders need to see value for Nestlé’s operations,” Paul said. “We try to show that value in many ways, both how we operate and what we stand for.” 

The company recently received the stamp of approval for the transparency of its 2011 report. As Nestlé’s vice president and global head of public affairs Janet Voute wrote in a recent GreenBiz column, Nestlé received an A + in April from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) for the quality of the report.

The company is the first to reach this level for a global food and beverage sustainability report.