Blog : Sustainability is at Local Bottling Company's Core

By Craig | Dec 31, 2014 | in

You may have seen your name on a can or bottle of Coca-Cola. It's part of the company's Share a Coke campaign. And during the holidays, those familiar polar bears are on television screens and aluminum cans across the globe. But what happens to those bottles and cans once they're empty? For its part here in New Hampshire, Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England (CCNNE), an independent bottler, ensures they're doing more than just talking about recycling programs.

CCNNE's sustainability manager, Ray Dube, knows what you're going to say about the brand before you do. He's heard it all before; that some people have a perception that Coca-Cola is harmful to the planet because of the plastic it manufactures, or all the water used in the bottling plants, or the emissions given off by delivery trucks. But Dube doesn't shy away from those perceptions. He recognizes that yes, as a large manufacturing company, CCNNE is responsible for having an impact on the environment. That's why Dube travels across the region to schools, college campuses, public events and various conferences to educate people about the many sustainable initiatives CCNNE has taken to counter that impact over the last 18 years.

"We were sustainable before people realized what sustainability was," said Dube. "It was just the culture of the company that started back in the seventies."

"We are a company that uses a lot of resources, a lot of water, a lot of fuel for shipping and a lot of electricity. And like other businesses we have the same cost pressures as everyone else," said Mike Elmer, CCNNE's director of capabilities. "The more we can reduce our dependence on any of those resources, it's very good for the community and the environment and for our ability to operate long term."

As a New Hampshire business operating in the state for over 40 years, and employing over 900 local workers, Elmer says CCNNE's recycling programs and awareness have a real practical benefit in reducing operating expenses each year.

"We want to be around for a long time, so inherently it makes sense for us to do things that are long-term focused, like switching from wooden pallets to plastic reusable pallets," said Elmer. "It's more of an investment up front, but it pays us back over time and we’re using a lot less resources."

Dube, who has worked with a branch of New Hampshire's Coca-Cola bottling extension since high school, first came across the company's recycling program through the accounting department, reconciling billings for bottle redemptions. Over a five-year period, as Dube worked in this area, he started asking why, if the company was involved in such extensive recycling practices, weren't they talking about it publicly.

"It was one of those crazy things where you ask a question about something and it just kind of blew up into this huge problem, but also an opportunity," said Dube.

That question snowballed into a new career for Dube that's taken him from delivery truck driver to the passenger seat, going from middle schools, to colleges and farmer's markets talking about CCNNE's recycling sustainable initiatives.

At the Londonderry facility alone, CCNNE has reduced solid waste by 80 percent over the last six years that includes PET plastics, shrink wrap and aluminum. The facility receives 6,000 tractor-trailer loads of material each year and their solid waste dumpster only needs to be emptied nine times in a one year period. But CCNNE's sustainability efforts aren't confined to their facility. The company's Energy Management System coolers used in convenience stores, delis, restaurants and other shops that sell Coke products, reduce that clientele's energy costs an average of 35 percent.

In 2013 the Coca-Cola Company, reported 1.9 billion servings of their product. Though not all of those servings were plastic bottle and aluminum can delivered, that still indicates a large amount of packaging was used to move the product. Locally, CCNNE does their part to recoup that material.

"We have six million pounds of PET bottles that we processed in 2013, four plus million pounds of aluminum cans; all of our cardboard and all of our shrink wrap. We've been recycling these for 30 plus years," Dube said.

Those materials are then sold to companies like Foss Manufacturing and Polartec then resold to companies like The North Face and Patagonia to make their popular fleece jackets.

Coca-Cola is an iconic brand that has dominated the carbonated beverage market since its introduction in 1886. With its red and white label, Coca-Cola is easily recognizable and, as some might see it, tied to American culture. Though the soda is easily recognizable for its appearance, it has also been a hotly debated topic regarding health and sustainability almost since it was first introduced.

It is one of the biggest challenges that still stands in the way of both CCNNE and The Coca-Cola company - its outward perception as large conglomerate that doesn't stand for environmental issues. Dube said that this false perception of CCNNE, a separate conversation from that of the ingredients used in the parent company's products, is part of the challenge and the fun of educating the public.

"It's a conversation we should be having with the public," said Dube. "They should know about our commitment to offsetting our carbon footprint."

CCNNE is also a supporter of New Hampshire the Beautiful, a nonprofit founded in 1983, which strives to combat litter issues, recycling challenges, environmental awareness and education. The bottling company has also partnered with the Green Alliance, a union of local, sustainable businesses and community members working to unite the local green community and make better consumer decisions. Though Dube never saw himself as an educator, he is more than happy to take on the role it appears he was meant to fill.

"Five years ago I would've thought no way and today I love it," said Dube. "I love teaching kids and adults. Thankfully I've been in the right place at the right time. I never would've thought this is where I would've ended up, but I'm happy to be here."

Green Alliance members receive access to all different events where CCNNE is active spreading their message of sustainability. Not a member? Join here!