At 2015’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Carlsberg Group announced its intention to develop the first-ever biodegradable wood fiber bottle by 2018. It’s a serious initiative, involving a packaging firm, ecoXpac, and partners from Denmark’s education and innovation communities.
It’s about a lot more than sustainable innovation, too.
“When I first told the marketers that I wanted to talk about an innovation before we’d created it, they thought I was nuts,” said Simon Hoffmeyer Boas, Director of Sustainability at Carlsberg. “It didn’t help that our traditional core demographic probably values great taste and good times over sustainability as a purchase motivator.”
But the beer industry is changing, driven in large part by Millennials’ interest in how, where, and why products are made. Attributes from ingredients to locality have loomed large in the explosion of craft brands, and the Internet’s conversational media demand content beyond the aspirational messaging that once defined brands.
“We’re exploring new ways to engage with our external stakeholders, such as suppliers and consumers,” Boas explained. “The primary metrics for our innovation are increased sales and/or cost reduction, but we’re exploring whether we can prompt meaningful interest in sustainability-driven innovation among a variety of stakeholder groups, including consumers.”
“Already, many new potential partners who we wouldn’t have otherwise found have approached us with ideas that could help our business.”
The company completed its first sustainability innovation crowdsourcing campaign late last year, Cheers to Green Ideas, giving awards for a process using micro algae to produce biomass from waste water, which could potentially be used as fuel for Carlsberg’s trucks, and packaging concepts that included biodegradable and magnetic bottle caps as well as crates inspired by nature made from bio-based materials.
More importantly, Carlsberg collected 162 ideas from 33 countries, ranging from ways to repurpose brewing byproducts as materials, to edible beer packaging. It’s fair to assume that more than a few of those contributions came folks who drink its beers, too.
While both winners received cash prizes, it has committed to analyzing every idea for possible application to its operations.
“Sustainability is about doing the right things, which are also right for the business,” Boas said. “Every step of that process is an opportunity to share content with our employees, suppliers, and consumers.
So whether Carlsberg ever introduces wooden bottles at retail may be somewhat beside the point. Communicating its ongoing pursuit of such sustainable innovations informs the broader perspective of the company and its brands, contributing to its messaging while giving it ideas it can apply to its business in real-time.