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Sustainability: What It Takes
To Get It Right

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Peter Marshall (PM): Petra, it is widely acknowledged that there are 3 key pillars to sustainability: economic viability, environmental protection and social justice. The greatest challenge is in achieving a balanced treatment of each. Where does a company start?

Petra Grasbeck (PG): Well it might be worth retelling our own history of development as some sort of benchmark, although we recognise that every company’s approach will be different.

Ten years ago, Anora started strongly with the environmental part. We have been working with that area for over a decade already, building our entire production at Koskenkorva Distillery in Finland around circular economy and building our own bio-power plant to the distillery. The work has been highly successful, and we have managed to decrease our CO2 emissions by 58% compared to 2014 and reached a 69% self-sufficiency in steam production. We also have an impressive 99.5% recycling and recovery rate at our production plants. 90% of our entire operations in Norway at Gjelleråsen, where we produce aquavits, is run by geothermal and renewable green energy.

So I would say we are rather good at the environmental part.

Social justice is another important area. It covers both safety at our own production as well as fair working conditions and human rights in the countries we source raw material from. We source wine from all around the world and we have close relations and regular discussions about social responsibility with a network of partners, including responsible drinking culture. We are also a part of amfori BSCI and do regular audits in risk countries in terms of working conditions.  

Economic viability is of course also important. In the Nordic countries we pay a high amount of excise duty for alcohol and we are also a big employer. To our shareholders we are a stable company paying good dividends.  

PM: What do you see as the main challenges? 

PG: Probably one of the biggest challenges, which is interlinked with climate warming, is biodiversity. The loss of species and lack of biodiversity is an alarming problem. We are working with biodiversity in two ways. At the location of our bottling plant, we have protected a forest and groundwater area corresponding to 1,500 football fields and with our forest management practices, we aim to grow the biodiversity of that area. We also support and educate our barley farmers in regenerative farming, which both binds carbon to the soil but also increases biodiversity in the fields. 

PM:  Looking specifically at Travel Retail, which areas here could be significantly improved to make a difference? How much can be gained from carbon-neutral production and climate-smart packaging?

We can gain a lot with climate-smart packaging in Travel Retail. Climate-smart packaging types create less CO₂ emissions during the travel and transport due to lower weight. Bag-in-box has 80% lower CO₂ footprint and PET bottle over 60% lower CO₂ footprint than that of a traditional glass bottle. 

And of course, aiming for carbon neutral production is a goal we are working really hard to reach already in the coming years. 

PM:  The problem, we know, is essentially all about cost. There still appears to be something missing from retailers. Most talk the talk on sustainability, but they don’t walk it, because they are simply not prepared to accept or pay the price. What can you do to change the current mindset? Do you think it will be external media combined with consumers increasing demands, so a reactive and reluctant acceptance by retailers to change their game, or can they start the process now by addressing key areas of concern and taking a lead? 

You are absolutely right – many operators communicate their sustainability targets and ambitions, which is important as the topic stays on the agenda. But when sitting down with many retailers, it often comes down to price in the end. 

We do, however, also see a change in the retailer environment with new developed concepts and offers targeting more sustainable products and brands, and a more transparent communication towards end consumers from both suppliers and trade. At the end of the day, it is the consumers that decide which brands they want to buy and support, especially in the younger target groups where sustainability is high on their decision scale – and we all need to respond to this. 

Also, sometimes sustainability goes hand in hand with efficiency, which also has an outcome of lower costs in some cases. Sustainability work usually means the use of less water and less energy and re-utilization of waste and all side-streams in production. For example, lower-weight packaging also means lower transport costs. I think that today all the parties – consumers, customers, governments and producers – know for a fact that we are in a hurry to make changes and cut emissions. I believe that everyone is pushing in the right direction. Also, having this burning platform forces us to innovate and create new solutions, which is always beneficial.

PM:  Anora wants to be seen to be industry sustainability leaders.  Sustainability is clearly an integral part of your DNA. So what criteria do you use when working with your business partners/stakeholders that the industry can learn from? 

PG: All our work in sustainability is done in collaboration with different partners: customers, packaging producers, wine houses, logistic companies etc. We want to share the same passion of leading the industry in sustainability efforts and quickly reducing CO₂ emissions to mitigate climate warming. Our partners also share our respect for human rights and workers’ rights. Sustainability needs collaboration, sharing of information and sharing the knowledge that we cannot wait any longer to cut emissions radically. 

PM: Do you see any material changes in drinking culture?

PG: Drinking culture has changed for good and for the better. In the last decade, for example, the consumption of alcohol has decreased in all the Nordic countries. A wave of a healthy lifestyle has swept over our consumers in all age groups. People want to enjoy life, but in a balanced way. In drinks, this means quality over quantity and the rise of low and non-alcoholic drinks. Our most concrete way of supporting this positive development is to decrease the alcohol content of our products and to develop new innovative, interesting, and low-alcoholic drinks. Last year, Anora launched 55 non or low alc. novelties. We also support the super interesting mocktail culture.

PM:  I want to go back to your positioning as industry sustainability leader. Perhaps you can expand on what you do with the Baltic Sea Action Group.

PG: We have worked with Baltic Sea Action Group (BSAG) for seven years. BSAG in an independent, non-profit organization working to find solutions to restore the good ecological balance of the Baltic Sea. As part of the commitment Anora will provide training in regenerative farming practices to all its contract farmers. Anora is a major buyer of barley in Finland and with this commitment Anora wants to support the adoption of more environmentally friendly farming practices.

Q7. One last question, Petra. if there were three things you could advise the Travel Retail industry on regarding actionable – and affordable – sustainability, what would they be? 

I think we must work on all fronts. We want to enjoy life and preserve our planet for the coming generations to enjoy at the same time. To make our businesses future-proof means cutting emissions, using cautiously virgin materials, recycling, reusing, going towards climate-smart packaging but also creating a responsible, healthy drinking culture.

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