Coca-Cola System and Sustainable Manufacturing in Nigeria

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Ugo Aliogo writes on the Coca-Cola system sustainable manufacturing in Nigeria and its committed to minimizing its environmental footprint and enriching communities where it operates.

For many consumers, especially in developing countries, their interest in products lie primarily in the direct benefit the products avail them. Not many actually pay attention to the impact of their consumption on the environment in the short term and on the world we all live in, for the long term. This may be the reason why the manufacturing practices of many organizations in developing countries mirror the level of public interest in sustainable manufacturing.

But what really is sustainable manufacturing and why is it important? The US Department of Commerce’s ‘Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative defines the term as: “The creation of manufactured products that use processes that minimize negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees, communities, and consumers and are economically sound.”

In an article by Dr Nageswara Rao Posinasetti, a Professor at the Department of Technology, University of Northern Iowa, USA for industry.com, he defined Sustainable Manufacturing (SM) or green manufacturing as, “a method of manufacturing that minimizes waste and reduces the environmental impact.”

According to him, these goals are to be obtained mainly by adopting practices that will influence the product design, process design and operational principles.

In practice, the four focus areas for sustainable manufacturing are Energy use reduction, Water use reduction, Emissions reduction, and Waste generation reduction, and interestingly, the Coca-Cola system, a private sector player with extensive manufacturing operations in Nigeria, is leading the charge in these four areas.

The Coca-Cola system in Nigeria, which comprises Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited and Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC), has a rich heritage, spanning several decades of operations in the country. The system is celebrating its 70th year of operations in Nigeria this year and it is encouraging to see that as the system continues to seek channels to grow its business, it is doing so in ways that are future looking, and with consideration to the environment. In addition to the significant strides it has taken in the past, the system is implementing policies and setting up frameworks to ensure that its focus on sustainable manufacturing does not wane in the years to come.

For example, the manufacturing component of the Coke System in Nigeria, NBC, is part of the Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company group (CCHBC), which has committed to minimizing its environmental footprint and enriching communities where it operates. As part of this communicated strategy, CCHBC instigated 17 sustainability commitments ahead of 2025. These commitments address six major areas including the reduction of emissions, water use and stewardship, working towards a world without waste, ingredients sourcing, nutrition, people, and communities.

Even before the announcement of the CCHBC sustainability commitments in 2019, NBC had already begun its sustainable manufacturing journey.

Speaking on its water usage, National Environmental Manager at NBC, Temitope Ogunrinde, said, “Ensuring good quality safe water in sufficient quantities, as well as access to clean water and sanitation are essential to the health of people and ecosystems and vital for sustaining communities and supporting economic growth.

Therefore, we aim to be a good steward of water resources in our communities; by using water in socially equitable, environmentally sustainable, and economically beneficial ways. Our approach is to reduce our water consumption by about 20% in water priority plants from 2017 to 2025, reuse it, recycle wastewater to the levels supporting aquatic life and replenish water by restoring it.”

With regards to the environment, the company installed its first Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) in Benin Plant in 2002 long before improperly treated manufacturing wastewater became a regulatory concern in Nigeria. With the installation of ETPs in all its plants across the country, this ensures that the company’s manufacturing wastewater is fit for discharge back into the environment. One may be intrigued to find fishponds with large, thriving schools of fish tucked into one of the chambers of the ETP in its manufacturing plants nationwide. According to the company, the fish farms serve to ensure that water effluent from its operation is safe enough to support healthy plant and animal lives.

It therefore comes as no surprise that all NBC manufacturing plants have been presented with the prestigious Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) certification. The NBC Abuja manufacturing plant was the first bottler in Africa to be AWS certified, and shortly afterwards in 2019, the NBC Ikeja plant became the first bottler in Africa to receive the AWS Gold certification, which essentially means that the plant has met the highest global benchmark for responsible water stewardship. Port-Harcourt and Asejire Plants also earned gold certifications the same year. While Benin, Challawa and Abuja Plants have achieved the Core certification; Owerri and Maiduguri Plant in Nigeria’s North East have bagged the gold certification apiece.

According to the United Nations, with regards to the Sustainable Development Goal 12, which is ‘to ensure sustainable production and consumption patterns’, developing countries still have a vast potential for renewable energy.

In 2011, in what seems to be a demonstration of its commitment to optimizing its operations through technology, the Coke System also invested heavily in installing Combined Heat and Power Plants (CHP) at its manufacturing plants. This suite of technologies is currently running in its Port-Harcourt, Ikeja, Benin, Owerri and Asejire Plants, resulting in a significant reduction of its carbon footprints across the country.
By the end of 2020, across its production plants, the System had reduced its absolute carbon emissions for energy generation and use by 10,587 tonnes. This is in spite of a production volume increase of 66 per cent within the same period.

The company is also evolving all its manufacturing plants that are not on CHP to be powered in part by renewable energy, with the recent installation of photovoltaic or solar energy power equipment. This hybrid solution will enable the plants to switch from the national power grid and generator backups to the solar generated power, thereby reducing the consumption of power from less green sources. The preliminary phase of this initiative started last year at the manufacturing plants located in Maiduguri and Abuja, with photovoltaic cells delivering up to 1,700 KWP to the facilities. Further installations at its plants in Asejire and Challawa delivered a 950KWP solar power set up which is ensuring even more sustainable growth across the ecosystem. Together, they translate to an annual carbon footprint reduction of 1900 tons, with capacity for expansion in the future.

According to the Public Affairs and Communications Director at NBC, Ekuma Eze, “At NBC, we believe that a business can only be as sustainable as the communities in which it operates. We believe that our communities are the bedrock of our business. If our communities are healthy, prosperous, and sustainable, only then can our business become strong and grow. Over the many decades of our operations in Nigeria, sustainability has continued to be integrated into every aspect of our business, as we look to create and share value for all our stakeholders. We continuously invest in our communities, working together on key environmental and social issues.”

These efforts, Ekuma noted, reflect the strong commitment of the company to innovations that strengthen the sustainability of the environment. In 2010, the System launched its light-weighted packaging campaign. This was heralded by the roll-out of its innovative Ultra glass bottle, marking a major shift from the regular bottles. It has not only resulted in 16% weight reduction of its 50cl bottles and 14 per cent of the 35cl range, but it has also led to significant CO2 emission reduction.

This innovation has been extended to its PET packaging in recognition of the vital role of light-weighting and source reduction as key drivers of sustainable manufacturing. The System has been consciously reducing its packaging material usage rate, a move which has seen an annual plastic weight reduction of 2,000 metric tons and a corresponding CO2 emission reduction of 4,000 metric tons every year.

The area of product and equipment design has also been explored by the system as a means of leaving a greener environmental footprint. This is one of the ways through which Coca-Cola in Nigeria has mainstreamed sustainability into every aspect its business operations, from investing in chillers that are ozone friendly or forklifts and fleet that are environmentally compliant. Other efforts include initiatives such as light weighting of its product packaging, which places a reduced demand on fossil fuel consumption during transportation.

As the world’s population continues to grow, with human activities placing an increasing demand on the environment; it is very important that industries begin to take a more critical look at how their activities can be optimized to have the least possible negative impact on the environment. Apart from the benefits to the environment, improved manufacturing sustainability practices can also present a good number of benefits to companies who evolve to imbibe them.

For example, as with the case of NBC cited earlier, the introduction of Combined Heat and Power plants provided a means to save resources that would have been used to power other aspects of operations, thereby saving expenses. These practices can also boost the morale of employees within an organization, as employees deliver better results and are more engaged when they have pride for their place of work. This positive reputational impact further extends to an improved perception and support from host communities for environmentally responsible companies.

From setting up a modest bottling facility in Ebute-Metta, Lagos in the early 1950s to installing its high-speed canning line in Ikeja and its ultra-modern greenfield in Challawa, Kano State, in 2021, NBC has made relentless innovation a priority that continues to define its manufacturing operations. And by constantly retooling its production processes, adopting global best practices and leveraging new technology to optimize its operations, NBC continues to solidify its footing as a champion of sustainable manufacturing in Nigeria.