The Business of Renewable Resources

September's UN Climate Summit 2014 in New York City--the largest-ever--brought welcome momentum and renewed ambition to our quest to transition to a lower carbon society. The 310,000 participants who took to the streets, staging a historic People's Climate March, proved there is more support for change than ever. A comment on CNN from one protester--"we want to get to a 100 percent clean energy power society and economy"--became a compelling mantra.

Today, the 20th session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is taking place in Peru until Dec. 12--and not a moment too soon. On Nov. 21, the World Meteorological Organization reported that the global average temperature over land and ocean surfaces from January-October 2014 was the highest since records began in 1880.

Many hope the Peru session will yield specific outcomes based on eight key action items developed at the September Climate Summit:

  • Food security;
  • The role of cities in reducing emissions;
  • Doubling rates of energy efficiency and use of renewable energy;
  • Scaling up public and private investments to meet growing climate change challenges;
  • New mechanisms for pricing carbon;
  • Actions to combat deforestation;
  • Reductions in industrial climate pollutants; and
  • Enhancing developing countries' capacity to meet climate challenges.

This is an ambitious agenda. And as the World Resources Institute noted, "Announcements of important new partnerships, financial pledges and commitments by leaders set the foundation for greater ambition for climate action at all levels of society... The next step is for governments and business actors to follow through and implement the actions announced."

Consider the following: A contributing factor to the climate challenge has been the continued strain on our planet's natural resources required to meet a growing global population and increasing demand for more packaged products and goods. Diminishing resources require more energy to extract and in turn generate more carbon emissions. Depleted natural resources further lead to erosion of natural habitats within which the delicate natural carbon offsets occur.

While solutions to the eight macro issues noted above will require steady innovation and a long-term perspective, we already have some answers and know-how to address resource scarcity by increasing our acceptance and use of sustainable sourcing and renewable materials--those that can be regrown or refurbished naturally over time, such as paperboard-based packaging or and bio-based plastics made from sugar cane.

Until recently, renewable energy sources held center stage in discussions of environmental recovery. But for businesses today, when improving the bottom line is a requisite, embracing renewable sourcing of raw materials offers clear and tangible benefits--as it helps to align the goals of environmental protection and economic growth.

This can help alleviate climate change, facilitate carbon sinks, help preserve local ecosystems and protect biodiversity. Furthermore, embracing renewable resources will lead to a less volatile supply chain. This is critically important as decreasing physical availability and urgent geopolitical issues make our supply of natural resources increasingly insecure.

If businesses adopt a circular paradigm that tracks the environmental impacts of their products throughout their entire lifecycles, we can help alleviate climate change and ensure we have enough natural resources to use in perpetuity.

At Tetra Pak, sustainable sourcing of raw materials has long been one of our top priorities. Our packaging is designed to use the minimum amount of materials--without compromising product protection--and renewable materials are utilized wherever possible. As a result, environmental impact throughout the packaged product's lifecycle is significantly reduced.

Today our cartons are made on average of 70 percent renewable paperboard--and we are aiming for 100 percent. We have already launched bio-based plastic caps and packaging coating made from polyethylene from sugar cane.

Recycling is a great start, but by itself it does not result in a complete, long-term solution as industries consume finite natural resources to feed, clothe, house, educate and sustain humanity. Supplies of clean air and water are already under pressure, and oil, natural gas and minerals are expected to run out by the end of this century.

The time to act is now. We must focus on sustainable sourcing and increase use of sustainable raw materials and renewable resources. We do this not only for the future of our society, but also for the future success of our businesses.

Tetra Pak has made its commitment to sustainable raw materials a cornerstone of our social responsibility with our Moving to the Front campaign, intended to spark dialogue and drive action within our industry and to increase understanding about the importance of addressing resource scarcity. We have authored a white paper on this topic in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which is available for download here.

Join the conversation, support our campaign and start Moving to the Front to help protect our society and businesses for future generations.