Evian Goes After Full Circularity: Q&A with Shweta Harit

(Photo: The Evian-les-Bains site. Credit: Evian)

by | Jun 24, 2020

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Shweta Harit, Evian Evian’s existence hinges on sustainability. The Danone brand’s mineral water originates in the French Alps, taking years to travel through the rocks. Source-based water is the starting point, says Evian’s global vice president Shweta Harit.

“We owe everything to nature,” she said. “Taking care of the planet is critical because otherwise we won’t have a business.”

To that end, the brand has been working to protect the source’s natural surroundings for 25 years. Evian paired that effort with other environmental strategies. In April the Carbon Trust certified Evian as carbon neutral to the international standard PAS 2060.

This certification specification builds on the existing PAS 2050 environmental standard, and requires organizations to quantify and continuously reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Recently we caught up with Harit to learn more about Evian’s experience with the certification, and how it fits into the brand’s broader environmental targets.

What does carbon neutrality mean for Evian?

Our ultimate goal is to be fully circular — 100% circularity, which means the entire operations of the business and the brand should leave no trace on the planet. Carbon neutrality is a milestone, but not the final destination.

How did you achieve certification?

The first part is conception, the materials you use. We looked at lightweighting. Most consumers like heavy plastic because it doesn’t squish in the hand. How do we design a bottle that can actually have less plastic?

The use of recycled plastic helps tremendously because you can save up to 50% of your carbon emissions using recycled PET (rPET) versus a virgin plastic bottle.

There’s production. I always had the impression that factories would emit a lot of carbon, but we have a renewable energy-powered bottling facility. This is the biggest investment we made — over $280 million. Just by doing this, we were able to reduce our carbon footprint by 90%.

Then, how do we deliver this to our customers and eventually to our consumers? We own our own train line. Just by going from truck to train, you save a lot. It takes longer so you have to manage your supply chain, but by doing these three things, we were able to reduce our carbon footprint.

How did you reconcile lightweighting with consumer preferences?

We looked at home consumption and asked how light could we go with our plastic. We have an innovation called Re(new). It’s a 5-liter bottle that uses 66% less plastic than a 1.5-liter Evian bottle. The PET is called “skin” PET — it’s almost like carrying a baby.

Once you place it on the base then it can dispense water. As you dispense, it starts to collapse and takes all sorts of shapes. The pilot phase is over and we’re looking at getting into production.

What are some of the biggest challenges involved in the certification process?

There are challenges across the board when you talk about conception. You need to have the weight that consumers accept.

Investment is a challenge: What is the business case? Consumers want brands that are doing the right thing for the planet, but it’s a big marketing challenge to get them to pay for it because they expect good brands to do it anyway.

Recycled PET is available, but recycled PET that meets the Danone or the Evian standards is difficult to procure. There is a team continuously working on procuring the right recycled PET. One of our claims is that you can give this water to a baby of two days old. That’s a huge responsibility. Recycled PET needs to be tested like crazy.

Our latest challenge: We want to have more recycled PET than virgin PET, but during covid-19 a lot of recyclers were not able to recycle the material. At one point we had to go back to our customers and explain why we didn’t have the material.

What does Evian’s certification mean for Danone?

Evian plays a changemaker role internally so by being the first brand, I think we then inspire others. It creates a sense of responsibility within the team as well. Everything we do, we’ve got to see how we can reduce our overall footprint.

Do you have advice for fellow leaders in the beverage industry?

The challenge that we face as an industry is that people want us to get out of plastic. And plastic is one part, but there is also the carbon part. It’s important to look at the full picture.

For any other brand that wants to go down the same certification path, it’s important to know that you’ve got to keep at it. Every year you need to reduce your emissions and get re-certified.

Certification doesn’t happen overnight. We’re not just waking up and saying, “We’re going to be carbon neutral.” It’s just step one. The final destination is still circularity.

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