What’s the connection between a six-pack of beer and sustainability? You might think the beer itself, organic or local, would be key, but Heineken offers another answer. As part of its effort to become the greenest brewer in the world, Heineken is taking a broader look at the ways to make beer packaging more sustainable. In what seems to become a common practice lately, Heineken doesn’t leave the challenge to its R&D people, but invites everyone to give it a try on Ideas Brewery, an open-innovation platform, offering $10,000 to the best idea.
The goal of Heineken’s contest is to find innovative ideas ranging from sustainable materials, sustainable transportation and recycling and re-use. Like GE Heineken makes all the idea submissions public (interestingly, the submissions in Unilever‘s recent campaign are private).
In Heineken’s contest, not only can everyone access ideas like the Space Saver, a new multipack with stackable bottle, but they can also vote for their favorite ideas. Participants are also encouraged to promote their ideas via social networks, as number of votes is factored in to which ideas win the contest. This marketing-oriented approach makes you wonder – is this American Idol style of crowdsourcing a better way to generate new ideas or just a marketing gimmick?
That depends on the company behind the campaign and how seriously it takes sustainability. Heineken is passing this test with a very high score, which is pretty impressive given that it’s not a small brewery. Heineken is actually the world’s second largest by revenue with more than 250 international brands of beers and ciders. In 2010, Heineken made a substantial step forward in its commitment to sustainability, launching Brewing a Better Future, a 10-year sustainability roadmap focusing on three imperatives: improving the environmental impact of Heineken’s brands and business, empowering employees and the communities in which it operates and positively impacting the role of beer in society.
Packaging plays an important role in Heineken’s efforts to improve its environmental footprint. Take for example carbon emissions. Heineken’s goal to reduce its carbon footprint significantly by 2020 led the company to focus on three core areas: packaging, cooling and distribution. These three areas make up about 2/3 of the company’s total carbon footprint.
By applying life cycle assessment-based ecological design principles, in 2010 Heineken developed a new packaging policy focused on weight reduction, recycled content, carbon footprint, efficient sourcing and the optimization of the new packaging during its design phase. The policy was approved by Heineken’s executive board and is planned to be implemented across all regions in the second quarter of 2012.
One thing Heineken knew for sure is that it can’t improve its packaging all by itself. In its policy, the company makes it clear that this effort will include packaging suppliers committed to make beer packaging more sustainable, as well as customers and consumers. This type of collaboration with stakeholders is not unique to packaging, it can also be found in other parts of Heineken’s program. “Innovation and co-operation with consumers and suppliers are the axes of our commercial sustainability drive,” Alexis Nasard, Heineken’s Chief Commercial Officer explains.
All this background suggests that Heineken’s Ideas Brewery is part of the company’s strategic move to develop greener packaging. That is to say, it’s no marketing gimmick. Nevertheless, Heineken certainly uses some gimmicks to get the word out on the new platform. For example, the project kicked off last week with a live-stream 48-hour challenge: Janne Kyttanen, industrial designer and pioneer of 3d prototyping, as well as one of the judges in the contest, was locked-up for 48 hours developing potential solutions to Heineken’s challenge.
So far 20 ideas have been submitted to the contest, and currently the most popular among them are a new bottle format eliminating inefficiencies in transportation (38 votes) and another efficient bottle design, this time with a molding process eliminating the need for secondary labels (9 votes). As you can see from the number of votes, the contest still doesn’t get too much attention, although there are still four weeks for the end of the first stage of the contest, so it’s still too early to judge it.
It’s also going to be interesting to see if this process generates eventually better results than an innovation platform, where submissions are not available for the public and the screening is done only by professionals. Both processes have their pros and cons, but in times where the popularity of using crowdsourcing for developing new products is growing companies will surely be happy to know which one can better help them create the sustainable solutions of the future. Maybe the answer will be hidden in a six pack of beer. We’ll see about that.
[Image credit: Heineken]
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Department of Business Administration, CUNY and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.