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Sustainability in the Supply Chain: Insight from a top responder to the CDP

We interviewed Jenny Wassenaar, Chief Sustainability Officer at Trivium Packaging. Trivium Packaging is a global provider of recyclable metal packaging that is leading in sustainability. Trivium Packaging scored A- in both Climate Change and Water Security CDP questionnaires. It also earned its place on the supplier engagement leader board by CDP.

Can you give us a brief summary of your professional background and what led you to take a role in sustainability?

My background is quite diverse which I think is very helpful when you want to work in a field like sustainability because you have to be able to understand different areas of the business and how to make an impact in every part of your organisation. I studied Industrial Engineering and Psychology and then went on to work for Shell. I initially worked in the supply chain function and then later in procurement.

I then moved to Avery Dennison, where I also worked in procurement. After, I was in a business where I led one of their businesses as a general manager. I found that sustainability was always my Friday-afternoon-activity. Besides my day-to-day work, the actions that I took were always related to social responsibility and sustainability. I organised fairs and activities to collect waste and things like that. I realised that this was going to become far too important to just do on a Friday afternoon. I then became the Sustainability Director at Avery Dennison.

Almost exactly two years ago, I joined Trivium Packaging. The main reason for moving was because metal packaging is infinitely recyclable. To me, it’s extremely important not to use single-use materials.

“We have future generations to take care of and we have to make sure that resources will be available to them.”

Back then I was investigating companies and I chose Trivium Packaging because it's a new organisation. Of course, it's a big organisation with over 7000 employees and 52 production locations globally. It’s a merger between two large metal organisations. However, we act as a start-up in that we are going through a transformation as an organisation to define a new way of working all together. That's actually bringing me a lot of joy day-to-day because you can really make a difference here.

Trivium Packaging aims to be a global leader in sustainable packaging, what does being a global leader entail?

For me, when I look at sustainability it's making sure that on a day-to-day basis everyone is working towards a more sustainable future. Every department and every person in Trivium should be thinking about sustainability on a day-to-day basis, starting with very simple tasks like switching off a light when you leave a room to “what can I design as the next product while considering sustainability in every design step?”

Another way for us is to measure our sustainability, or at least our ESG practices through all kinds of rating agencies, which is what we're participating in.

 “We also validate where we stand as an organisation in our journey, and what the next step would be to further improve because sustainability is not an end game.”

An organisation can continuously improve its sustainability and continuously adjust to new settings and find new objectives that are important. Trivium has identified sustainability objectives around the Science Based Targets Initiative, but we’ve also set targets regarding water and waste reduction. We have our own programme already identified but we also want to make sure that we follow the best standards that are available.

How do you engage with your suppliers to make sure they are on the same sustainability journey?

We interview our suppliers on a yearly basis around their sustainability objectives to understand their current standing as well as their objectives. We also validate their sustainability rankings via external third-party sites. If they already participate in a scoring process, we ask them to share those results for our validation. Depending on the business of the supplier, different ranking agencies are applicable and more relevant than others.

“Besides asking our suppliers for information, we also set up innovation sessions and sustainability meetings with our suppliers on a yearly basis. On top of that, our generic meetings with suppliers include the sustainability angle so that it is always part of the discussion. We ask ourselves questions such as: What can we do next? What would be the next opportunity that we can further evaluate?”

We also train our procurement team on a yearly basis. Everybody goes through sustainability training in order to keep up-to-date with the latest standards and targets. Having sustainability scorecards available for suppliers is good for their understanding and allows them to have their own discussions with their suppliers.

The difficulty for my role is that I cannot be in all sustainability meetings with customers and suppliers. I see my role as a sort of conductor of an orchestra, I train the people and hope that everyone is making their own ‘sustainability music’. I imagine that procurement could be the drums, supply chain could be the violins and so on.

You provide an annual supplier ESG questionnaire, is this tailored to your specific company or would other companies be able to adopt the same questionnaire?

We’ve made our own bespoke questionnaire. We choose questions that are relevant to our business, our business opportunities and our different suppliers. This year, we’re giving our suppliers the choice between answering our questionnaire that we made ourselves, or to participate in an external supply chain assessment; they must disclose to one. Our standard questionnaire very closely follows the ISO 14001.

There are different people participating in making the questionnaire such as the Sustainability Team, but also several people from the procurement team to make sure that it's all linked. Then we have people from Health and Safety as well as the Operations Team adding questions.

Scope 3 is more challenging for companies to get data on, but it’s also a huge factor in emissions. Can you speak to the importance of supplier engagement in addressing these issues?

For us, scope 3 is a significant part of our carbon footprint, it’s actually over 80% of our footprint and is mainly in raw materials. With our suppliers, we have meetings and ask for their information. They need to find this data in their own organisation but sometimes it is not readily available. We set up meetings with our main suppliers, such as with our strategic sustainability suppliers. These are our bigger material suppliers from whom we purchase steel and aluminium and they contribute largely to our scope 3.

“We first researched where in our supply chain the majority of our carbon emissions can be found. From there, we worked with those suppliers to identify their scope 3.”

The information shared with us from our suppliers is then validated via a third-party. Another important thing for us is benchmarking the data against what is typical of the location from where we are purchasing. For example, the carbon emissions will be different if we purchase steel and aluminium from Europe compared to if we purchased the same materials from Asia or Latin America. It is then validated again via a different third-party.

We either accept the information from our suppliers (which must be validated first) or we rely on the industry standard where information may be missing. This is how we might address any doubts, this is important because this is a new area for most.

Our suppliers are also learning and evolving very quickly and I really appreciate that. But it also means that sometimes the data that we receive one year might look a bit different from the data that we received the previous year. That’s why it’s so important to get data validated so that we feel comfortable and confident with the data that we receive. Sustainability in itself is evolving and so is the quality of the data. The quality of data is extremely important when making better decisions in the future. Me and my team are really working on ensuring we have the best standard that is currently available. With this standard, we guide our suppliers in their understanding of what their data should look like and on how to improve.

Can you talk about Trivium’s disclosure to CDP?  What are your tips for other companies who are new responders to CDP?

Trivium Packaging scored an A- for both the CDP Climate Change and Water Security questionnaires. CDP also awarded us with a Supplier Engagement Rating meaning we are recognised as a Supplier Engagement Leader. We decided to participate in CDP because it is very close to our heart and connected to the Science Based Targets Initiative. Being validated on your information every year, really helps us to think about our next steps.

When it comes to advising other participating companies, I would suggest making sure you have targets and processes in place. But also make sure you have the full commitment from your organisation, this is extremely important because the CDP cannot solely be completed by the sustainability experts within the organisation.

Within Trivium Packaging, I initiated a cross-functional group to help me identify all the opportunities and business developments throughout the year that are related to sustainability. The group consists of people who are champions within their function and we meet every month. It’s really important to have a cross functional team in place to identify your company’s risks and opportunities for CDP reporting. We identify the projects that are big enough to make a significant impact and that will be disclosed to CDP. Because for CDP disclosure you should highlight your flagship projects.

“Numbers are an important part of CDP disclosure. You have to be confident about your information especially for scopes 1, 2, and 3 as well as making sure that it’s externally validated.”

What is the future for Trivium Packaging?

The future is bright. We see a significant focus on infinitely recyclable materials, not only by us, but our customers and our customers' customers. Our customers are big organisations who buy different types of packaging for their products, but in the end, the consumer decides. Through research for our annual ‘Buying Green Report’, we found that the end-consumers consider themselves to be very sustainable. 67% of the end-consumers interviewed consider themselves to be ‘environmentally aware’. 73% of the end-consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.

In the younger generations certainly, I see that there’s this growth in eagerness whereby they look for sustainability information on packaging when making their decisions. They don't want to use materials that can only be used a single time and they are looking for ways that we can maintain a healthy planet for generations to come. This is exactly what Trivium Packaging is about because we make sure that we only work with materials that can be used over and over again. The advantage of aluminium and steel is when you recycle it, you actually only need between 5 and 10% of the energy that you use the first time, to make it. Therefore, even when the material is infinitely recyclable by itself, the energy used is also significantly lower when you recycle it. We’re hitting the criteria that these end-consumers are looking for.

What do you think one of the biggest challenges is for companies on their sustainability journey?

The biggest challenge is that we have to work together through the supply chain. It's not that it's a challenge because nobody wants to do it, it’s more about the challenge of where to start and what the right steps are. We’ve approached this challenge by having mapped out all our strategic sustainability suppliers and strategic sustainability customers. We try to create links because we alone cannot work on sustainability, we have to go beyond our company borders. 

Everybody gets so excited about sustainability which is great, but there is a risk that everyone takes their own approach. It’s important to set clear directions and goals whereby everyone in the supply chain can be aligned. Otherwise, our different efforts may not make the biggest impact.

Finally, what excites you most about ESG?

I really appreciate that people are super excited and enthusiastic about ESG. Everybody understands the impact that we have to make as an organisation and this goes beyond just selling products. It’s not just about selling products, this is selling a concept that will set us up for the future. I like that it’s split between E, S and G because it sets a basic foundation for every organisation to recognise their part. Now that sustainability is here to stay, it's going to be one of the most important business functions. I really hope that we hit our carbon targets, but it won’t stop there because we need continuous improvements to maintain sustainability.

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