SEA circular met Stuart Hawkins, Director of Public Affairs and Sustainability, Coca-Cola ASEAN, to discuss his personal motivations to tackle plastic pollution and protect the oceans – and how the private sector can take the lead in promoting a more circular economy.
What motivates and inspires you to do what you do?
I’ve always loved being involved in the field of social impact and sustainability partnerships. I believe – and have seen time and time again – that the private sector can play a significant positive role in tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues.
One of the most urgent issues confronting the world today is plastic pollution and there’s obviously been growing awareness in this region about the implications.
The turning point for me personally was attending the World Ocean Summit 2017 held in Indonesia. Those two days – packed with speakers and organizations from across the world – really opened my eyes to the depth and breadth of the issue and convinced me that we all need to step up our efforts and move fast on solutions. People throughout our organization were also coming inexorably to the same conclusion.
“The private sector can play a significant positive role in tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues.”
That year I joined a group of more than 30 people around the world tasked by our senior leadership with taking a fresh look at the issue and putting together a much bolder strategy for The Coca-Cola Company. The resulting strategy “World Without Waste” was announced in January 2018.
Our overarching goal with World Without Waste is to collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell by 2030. It’s a massive undertaking, something that we care about and a goal that motivates us. Clearly there’s a lot to do and my colleagues and I are committed and enthusiastic about the journey ahead in Southeast Asia.
“Our overarching goal with World Without Waste is to help collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell by 2030”
What was your personal journey that led you towards your work in sustainability for Coca-Cola?
I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on sustainability topics since I joined the Asia Pacific public affairs team of Coca-Cola in 1998 based in Hong Kong. I’ve had the chance to work on many programs and public-private partnerships across Asia. I even had an entrée into the world of the UN and the world of development when I was seconded to the UNDP Regional Center for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok for a year to lead a water and sanitation partnership project across several tsunami-hit countries. In 2007, I joined Coca-Cola Thailand and had the privilege of launching with the team our RAKNAM community water partnership platform as well as a new disaster preparedness and relief collaboration with the Thai Red Cross Society. These projects continue to this day. Then, in 2009, I had the great opportunity to lead our company’s regional sustainability and social impact strategy and engagement across South East Asia.
What achievement are you most proud of in working with Coca-Cola on sustainability?
I’m most proud of our company’s achievement on water stewardship. Water is essential to life and essential to the sustainability of our business. Without water, we don’t have a business. Back in 2007, we announced an aspirational global goal of replenishing – or balancing – all the water we use to make our beverages. At the time, the goal was something of a leap of faith but it galvanized our global system and we actually managed to meet and exceed it in 2015, five years ahead of target. Today we continue to return to communities and nature more water than we use in our global sales volume.
“Our company’s leadership and impact on water replenishment gives me confidence we can do the same in helping to tackle plastic pollution.”
I’ve been very involved in this work since the early days and have seen our community water programs significantly improve the quality of life for individuals and families in South East Asia and across the world. This couldn’t happen without a host of incredible partners. In Thailand, for example, we’ve been partnering with the Hydro Informatics Institute and the Water Foundation of Thailand (Utokapat Foundation) under the Royal Patronage of His Majesty the King for more than a decade to support water-stressed communities in accessing water for household and agricultural use. Over the years, I’ve seen the life-changing impact of this work in the community and it’s been really gratifying. Our company’s leadership and impact on water replenishment gives me confidence we can do the same in helping to tackle plastic pollution.
What’s next for you in plastic pollution reduction? What are you working on right now and who are you collaborating with?
We’ve got a lot of exciting work underway in South East Asia as we move quickly from global commitments to local action. From a design perspective, we’re getting focused on using more and more recycled plastic in our packaging. Our team in the Philippines, for example, has just launched the country’s first beverage bottle made from 100 percent recycled PET plastic. The team in Manila has also announced plans to invest in a state-of-the-art bottle-to-bottle recycling facility that will begin operations next year. This will be our first such facility in ASEAN and an important step as we think about how to ‘close the loop’ and make old bottles into new ones in support of a true circular economy for PET plastic packaging in the region.
Collecting post-consumer material is obviously key to all of this and another important pillar of our World Without Waste strategy. The good news is that we’re not starting from scratch. Plastic PET bottles are 100 percent recyclable and have worth as a high-value plastic. Collection rates for PET are therefore already quite high in many ASEAN cities, driven by an active informal sector that makes its livelihood from collecting cans and bottles.
We’re committed to helping drive up these rates further through collaborative, long-term recycling initiatives with other industry players. For example, we’ve played an active role this year in launching Viet Nam’s first Packaging Recycling Organisation (PRO Viet Nam) and we’re now focused on getting these types of PROs off the ground with industry partners in other ASEAN markets. One of the good things when you work in a global company like Coca-Cola is that you get to see what works in other parts of the world. We’ve already been able to apply a number of lessons from successful industry-led programs in South Africa and Mexico to these early-stage PROs in ASEAN.
From Jakarta to Bangkok to Yangon, we’re also partnering with an amazing group of NGOs, social enterprises, start-ups and retailers to engage consumers, customers and communities in driving collective action.
Catalytic capital is going to be crucially important and we’re also investing US$15 million in Circulate Capital an investment management firm dedicated to incubating and financing companies and infrastructure that prevent the flow of ocean plastic waste with priority focus on South East Asia and India.
From Jakarta to Bangkok to Yangon, we’re also partnering with NGOs, social enterprises and start-ups to engage consumers, customers and communities in driving collective action.
There’s a real opportunity as well for global collaboration and scale and to that end we’re partnering with the World Economic Forum’s newly-formed Global Plastic Action Partnership the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Ocean Conservancy (with whom we’ve been working since the mid-1990s) and the Trash Free Seas Alliance. UN Environment Programme have also been fantastic partners as we advance this work.