Last year, Greif announced ambitious new sustainability targets for 2030. These include making 100% of the company’s products recyclable, having 97% of production facilities send zero-waste to landfills, and achieving global gender pay parity.
While the goals are rightfully ambitious, setting targets and issuing sustainability reports are almost the new normal for companies today. In 2020, 92% of Fortune 500 companies and 70% of Russel 1000 companies published sustainability reports. Given how “common” sustainability has become, it is easy to lose sight of all the work that goes into both setting and achieving these goals.
So, who is responsible for setting these goals at Greif?
While she will tell you it is a team effort, Aysu Katun – who currently serves as the Vice President of Sustainability – is the woman behind Greif’s goals. We sat down with Aysu to learn more about the process, the challenges, and how she and her team are working to build a more sustainable and equitable future.
Is there an unwritten rule that you must include a greenhouse gas emission reduction target in your sustainability plans? And why are these targets so important?
There should be!
The growing impacts of climate change and the alarming scientific projections suggest that companies should be setting greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) reduction targets and incorporating them into their overall sustainability strategies. Virtually every company has a carbon footprint, and each can help solve this global problem.
To answer your question – It’s simply the right thing to do. As a global company, we have a responsibility to our colleagues, customers, and communities to be as sustainable and efficient as possible. Greif’s goal of reducing our scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 28% is just one way we are taking our climate impact seriously and working to improve our operations.
Like other companies, we are taking actions to reduce our emissions and become more resilient to climate impacts. We are gaining a deeper understanding of the risks and opportunities of a changing climate and taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint.
Companies that strive to reduce their carbon footprint now will benefit in the future with cost savings, improved reputation, higher investor trust, less uncertainty, and new ideas that will create more opportunities for growth.
It sounds like there is a lot more to sustainability than just emissions reduction targets. What else are you excited to see gain traction and awareness in conversations about sustainability?
Circularity. Having been in the sustainability field for years, this is not a new concept, but it is something that I am really excited to see being talked about more. In its most simplified version, circularity for a product or material is looking at the full lifecycle and how we can find innovative or creative ways to extend it. In order to broaden our focus on advancing a circular economy, we rebranded our product circularity program to Life Cycle Services by Greif. This gave us an opportunity to combine all our circularity initiatives together to strengthen our commitment to giving our customers’ packaging new life – through recycling, upcycling, repairing, reconditioning, or finding alternative uses for it.
If you look at our goal of having 97% of Greif’s production facilities reaching zero-waste to landfill or making 100% of the company’s products recyclable or incorporating more recycled raw materials – this is what we’re talking about. As an industrial packaging manufacturer, we use – and create – a lot of material so our sustainability targets are hyper focused on how we can do that as sustainably and efficiently as possible.
You mentioned making 100% of your products recyclable by 2030, which sounds ambitious. What sort of challenges are associated with that?
The biggest challenge is identifying what is “recyclable” vs. what is actually “recycled”. This requires looking at existing infrastructure and capabilities and then digging into the practical, logistical, and economic reasons of why – or why not – something can be recycled.
Going back to the topic of circularity, to make sure a product can be recycled, you must make sure it is recyclable. Therefore, this goal is so important. It is the first step towards a larger push to product circularity.
Are there similar challenges to reaching the zero-waste to landfill goals?
Yes, and no. Like I said, sustainability is complex!
We currently have waste matrices for most of our production sites that show exactly what is happening with each waste stream (i.e., is it being recycled, sent to a landfill, or composted.) This is important for two reasons. First, it helps us break down our challenges and find vendors or partners that can help us address individual components. Second, this helps us establish a repeatable and scalable model across facilities around best practices.
A good example is around manufacturing residuals or waste byproducts like sawdust. Just because we do not have a current use for it does not mean it is useless or valueless. By finding partners that need or benefit from that “waste” we are extending its life and keeping it out of the landfill.
Just like our recyclability target, improving data collection, accuracy and clarity is going to be key to helping us achieve this.
Finally, I want to ask you about the global gender pay parity goal. What are the challenges associated with that and what is Greif currently doing to promote diversity and equity in a traditionally male-dominated industry?
This is a great question and one that I am glad to see in our 2030 roadmap. I think it is important to remember that when it comes to sustainability, there is no one person or team responsible for it. To be successful requires the entire company and all 12,000+ of our colleagues pulling in the same direction and doing their part.
When it comes to gender pay parity, our Human Resources team has taken the lead in understanding the opportunities and the challenges there. It is an incredibly important topic for Greif and for sustainability in general. I would encourage you to talk with the Greif HR team to answer this question in more depth!
We really appreciate your time for this interview, Aysu. Do you have any final comments or words of wisdom to share?
Greif is a small cog in a big wheel driving change for a more sustainable and equitable planet. We all play a critical role in doing our part to help achieve these ambitious goals. As a company – and as individuals – we need to keep pushing ourselves, holding ourselves accountable, and keep making incremental improvements and progress. If we do this, over time these small actions will add up to real change and meaningful progress.
Aysu Katun is the Vice President of Sustainability for Greif.