The Hershey Company announced in January 2020 that 100% of the cocoa sourced for its products was certified sustainable.
Now, the world's largest chocolate manufacturer has announced three target areas aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce the impact of climate change: investing in energy efficiency, advancing sustainable packaging solutions and ending deforestation by 2030.
"With more than 80 iconic brands and 17,000 employees around the world, we recognize the impact we can have by applying the scale and the full force of our business to drive climate action forward," says Jeff King, senior director of global sustainability and social impact.
The Pennsylvania-based company has a record of exceeding its sustainable packaging targets. In 2015, it committed to reducing packaging weight by 25 million pounds by 2025. The company met that goal in 2020 and has pledged to lower packaging weight by an additional 25 million pounds by 2030. Hershey's also expects 100% of its plastic packaging to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2030.
Hershey's approach to sustainability is outlined as part of its Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda, coinciding with a science-based target initiative that involves auditing operations to develop targets.
In a Q&A with Waste360, King explains the company's sustainability strategy and what Hershey is doing to reduce greenhouse (GHG) emissions.
Can you please explain how Hershey’s packaging has evolved since the company was first founded?
The original Hershey candy bar, introduced more than 100 years ago, had a foil inner wrapper and paper outer wrapper. Throughout the 1900s, The Hershey Company evolved its foil and paper wrapping several times. Finally, in 2003, we moved to plastic wrappers, which enhance the chocolate’s freshness and protect the candy from tampering.
What milestones in your sustainability strategy has Hershey already achieved?
We’re proud of the progress we’ve made in our global sustainability approach. In 2012, we made an ambitious commitment to reach 100 percent certified and sustainable cocoa by 2020. Last year, we fully met that commitment. In 2015, we committed to reducing our packaging weight by 25 million pounds by 2025 and successfully delivered on that promise in 2020 - five years ahead of schedule. And on our path to reducing and diverting waste from landfills, we’re making a conscious effort to recycle. In 2019, our plants had an average recycling rate of 86 percent. While are proud of where we’re headed, we recognize that continued bold, urgent action is necessary.
What challenges does Hershey face with converting its packaging to more sustainable solutions?
We’ve identified three main challenges that must be addressed when implementing sustainable packaging solutions: food safety and product quality, the ability to use existing machinery, and recyclability. Food safety and product quality are top considerations in packaging, which we will not compromise on as we explore new materials. In addition, we also consider whether or not we can use our existing machinery to implement new, sustainable packaging options. As much as possible, we want to utilize the technology we have invested in and trained employees on. Finally, there’s the role of recycling infrastructure. For a material to be considered recyclable, infrastructure must be in place, which varies by region. In the U.S., infrastructure must exist for at least 60% of the country. We continue to work with our suppliers to identify materials that can address these challenges.
Please explain how Hershey arrived at reducing its packaging weight five years ahead of schedule.
Hershey has a culture of continuous improvement. We are constantly looking for ways to decrease waste and drive efficiency. Across our packaging portfolio, and within our manufacturing environment, we are downgauging materials, reducing headspace and adopting reusable vs. disposable solutions for internal product moves.
Are there any plans to move away from plastic completely?
Currently, plastic does provide superior food safety and product quality vs. other available packaging material options. To ensure we are using plastic responsibly, we are exploring both recycled and recyclable materials to close the loop while ensuring all choices meet our high safety and quality standards. We recognize how important it is to balance sustainability with food quality and safety. As part of our pursuit for continuous improvement, we are committed to identifying alternative materials that meet a variety of needs.
When can consumers expect to see glimpses of the new packaging – what products will be receiving it first? At what phase of the development process is the company?
Consumers should expect to see our packaging continue to evolve in the years ahead. We’re excited about the developments we’re working on and look forward to hearing our customers’ feedback.
Can you please briefly explain the process you went through to achieve your SBT?
We’ve been developing our science-based targets for two years, engaging across Hershey to build an inventory and baseline of our GHG emissions—from farm to factory to end-use of our products. At the same time, we engaged deeply with those areas across the company that we knew had opportunities to significantly reduce GHG emissions. Working with those departments, we developed multi-year plans with specific project and programs by area. This includes eliminating deforestation in our supply chain, increasing renewable energy usage, reducing the amount of packaging materials we use, and more.
What specific targets is the company looking at reducing its greenhouse gas emissions?
Our target is aggressive: a 50 percent reduction across Scopes 1 & 2 and a 25 percent reduction on Scope 3. These targets align with 1.5°C temperature pathways, the most ambitious designation available through the SBTi process.
What opportunities will moving to more sustainable packaging provide to Hershey in the next 5-10 years?
First and foremost, moving to more sustainable packaging is a critical part of our strategy to reduce Hershey’s impact on the planet. We all have a role to play in combating climate change. Second, moving to more sustainable packaging allows us to engage with our consumers in more meaningful ways as they look to us to drive action on this important topic.
Details about The Hershey Co.'s sustainability strategy are available here.