Utz Group partner portrait: Comprehensive climate strategy with myclimate

Georg Utz Holding AG, a leading manufacturer in the packaging industry, has been working intensively with myclimate for years. This has enabled the Swiss-based packaging manufacturer to continuously reduce its ecological footprint. The climate strategy developed with myclimate makes it possible to pinpoint and realise potential savings and implement circular approaches and innovative improvements. In an interview, the CEOs of Utz, Axel Ritzberger, and myclimate, Stephen Neff, talk about the successful cooperation.

myclimate: What are the sustainability goals and aspirations of Utz?

Axel Ritzberger: In our mission statement, we focus on the people in the company and, in addition to the ensuring company’s economic independence, have stated that we want to offer only sustainable reusable packaging.

What do the “Utz principle” and the Utz climate strategy entail?

Axel Ritzberger: The Utz principle is our principle of sustainability. The careful use of all resources is firmly anchored in the Utz Group’s mission statement. By producing locally, we ensure short transport routes on three continents. For us, reusable logistics means optimally using our products, all of which are designed for long-term use.
The Utz climate strategy is currently being developed in cooperation with the Foundation myclimate. It shows us the way to become climate neutral in the long term. We have developed five main areas of action and will implement them step by step. All stakeholders of the Utz Group are enthusiastic about this and urge us to act swiftly.

What specific measures have been/will be implemented with myclimate?

Axel Ritzberger:

  • Joint development of a climate strategy: together with the myclimate experts, we have determined the current state, used it to define a strategy for reducing emissions and have introduced effective operational measures. All this with the aim of becoming climate-neutral as a company in the long term.
  • The potential of the secondary material UIC (Utz Industrial Compound), an increase in energy efficiency and the utilisation of renewable energies were determined and implemented, among other things.
  • Life cycle assessments were performed at product level to enable comparisons between normal and UIC (Utz Industrial Compound) containers.
  • An offsetting programme was developed for climate-neutral reusable packaging.
  • Together with myclimate, we have promoted communication assistance, market communication, marketing of the new strategy and sustainability efforts.
  • With the support of myclimate, we have prepared corporate balance sheets at eight locations. These meet the requirements of the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).

The two CEOs in conversation

What are the mutual benefits of the cooperation between Utz and myclimate?

Axel Ritzberger: We have found the ideal partner in myclimate. The foundation boasts the scientific expertise, is established in the industry as a brand worldwide and convinces with its strong service orientation and impartiality.

Stephen Neff: It’s genuine win-win-win situation, for both organisations but also for climate protection. Utz is committed not only to determining its carbon footprint, but also to integrating measures for reduction into its overall corporate strategy. This commitment goes beyond mere reduction and offsetting measures, but avoids emissions at source.

What does an all-encompassing, holistic climate strategy look like for the two CEOs?

Axel Ritzberger: At Utz, we want to be truly climate-neutral across the board and are not content with the climate neutrality of industrial processes. The customer should receive climate-neutral products and we at Utz take them back at the end of the useful life. Recycling is an important principle in holistic climate protection and, in the case of plastic products, the only way to be able to use this material sustainably.

Stephen Neff: The climate strategy actually involves an all-encompassing approach to reducing emissions across scopes 1, 2 and 3. Utz’s climate strategy, however, goes beyond the technical aspects addressed in the SBTi and also integrates the social dimension by promoting educational projects and raising employee awareness. This is done not only internally at Utz, but also at its customers and partners.

What do Axel Ritzberger and Stephen Neff think about “CEO4Climate”?

Axel Ritzberger: I am a member and at the same time politically active as a member of the Green Liberal Party of Switzerland. CEOs have a role model function and must position themselves clearly on the climate issue. CEOs can really make a difference in the economy and their stance gives politicians clear indications as to what framework conditions the economy wants. This initiative also makes it clear that a climate-neutral economy is possible.

Stephen Neff: I completely agree with Axel Ritzberger’s position! I was also one of the first signatories of the open letter of “CEO4Climate” to the Swiss Parliament. As CEOs, we are the ones who can steer and make decisions. The climate cannot afford to wait until the “Fridays for future” generation become CEOs and thereby gain the power to implement changes that are urgently needed now. Time is running out. So it is imperative to understand that the onus is on the current board members and C-level executives to make and implement the right decisions, just as Utz is doing now, and set an example.

Pointing the way to the future

What potential opportunities and risks will the packaging industry face in the future? Will there be regulations?

Axel Ritzberger: Regulations will exist and will be necessary. Without rules there will be no rapid change towards climate-neutral packaging. In future, plastic should only be allowed to be used in the cradle-to-cradle cycle. Disposable packaging represents the biggest challenge for the packaging industry. In this field, it must be carefully elaborated which plastic packaging can be replaced. 

What will the packaging industry look like in 10, 20 or 50 years? What role will plastic and synthetics play then?

Axel Ritzberger: Used correctly, plastic is a sustainable high-tech material. Efficient consumer goods, building materials, reusable packaging, car parts, etc. will still be made of plastic in 50 years’ time. The big difference compared to today, however, is that the products will then probably consist to a large extent of high-quality recyclates and also of innovative carbon neutral plastics.

What are the benefits of secondary raw materials and reusable packaging such as UIC (Utz Industrial Compound)?

Axel Ritzberger: The benefits are striking. Compared to the use of virgin material, the carbon footprint of an Utz product made of UIC is more than 60 per cent lower. Since it can be recycled multiple times, the CO2 content is constantly reduced. Provided that it is not mixed with other materials, almost 100 per cent recycling is possible. Utz products are designed for several hundred logistics cycles and have proven lifetimes of up to 20 years in practice.

How do you communicate sustainability to your employees? How can it be effectively incorporated into the corporate culture?

Axel Ritzberger: As I said, the issue has been a fundamental part of our culture at Utz since the company was founded. Our current activities for formulating the climate strategy only serves as a booster. We communicate regularly and at the appropriate levels. Key channels include the internet, our intranet and the employee magazine, which is published at least three times a year. The motto for the anniversary year 2022, in which our company will be 75 years old, is “Utz is sustainable”.

For all of us at Utz, sustainability has been a matter of the heart for three generations. We are proud of the fact that we can actively contribute to climate protection with our products. However, we want more and are working with myclimate to further reduce our carbon footprint.

Michael Utz, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors Georg Utz Holding AG

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