June 5 is World Environment Day, in which about 150 countries participate. At Coca‑Cola HBC Switzerland, Monica Lehmann is responsible for ensuring that people think about the environment, not just one day out of the year, but every day.
Hi, Monica. Can you tell us what a National Environment Manager does?
My work is extremely varied. Listing everything I do would take all day. It often focuses on guidelines and certifications. For example, I headed the introduction of the European Water Stewardship standard (see video below) at our sites in Dietlikon and Vals. To conserve resources such as energy and water, we follow a large number of environmental guidelines, which we have to create and review on an ongoing basis. But one thing that is especially important to me personally is working with my colleagues. I often train and advise them on how they can implement ecological aspects and topics in their fields.
How does a person find their way into this career? What kind of degree do you have to have?
I studied food engineering at ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). After six years at a different company, I started out at Coca‑Cola HBC in quality management, where I worked for seven years. Then I got the opportunity to start working with the subject of the environment – I wanted to seize that opportunity, so I did a continuing education program in environmental system management.
What do you enjoy about your job, and what bothers you?
Working in the environmental field is an extremely meaningful and satisfying task, so enjoyment is definitely the main part of it. It’s very exciting to work on innovations that can help us reduce the environmental impact of our production activities. For example, we managed to increase the amount of recycled plastic used for our 0.5 l and 1.5 l PET bottles to 50% by working closely with suppliers. It’s nice to see how much support I get internally – no one can say no to environmental matters. I saw that when we were putting the solar power system in place in Vals: Everyone was on board, pulling in the same direction. Disappointments are few and far between, when projects don’t lead to the desired outcome as quickly as we might like. For example, we should further raise awareness of European Water Stewardship among consumers.
No one can say no to environmental matters
Where do you get your fascination with the environment? Was there a specific point in time when you realized that this was your calling?
When I was a student, job prospects in the environmental field weren’t as good as they are now, so I didn’t choose environmental studies as my major. That means I’m even happier I wound up in this field after all. I didn’t fully understand my fascination with the environment until my little nephew came to visit. At the time, he was living in a country where conserving resources was not something people worried about, but there were regular power outages, and getting drinking water was a laborious process. I explained the Swiss waste sorting and recycling system to him. He got it right away and started doing the same at home. That was when I knew I was on the right path.
So, what do you do on 5 June, on World Environment Day?
It’s a holiday here – Pentecost Monday. If possible, I’ll spend the day outdoors with my loved ones.
There’s a lot of concern about our environment. What is your personal take on the current situation and our planet’s future?
The best way to form an impression is to read the WWF Living Planet Report 2016. Scientists call the current geological era the Anthropocene – the Age of Man. That’s because humankind has risen above other life forms in a threatening way. We destroy habitats, use up 1.6 times the Earth’s resources, and in some cases, we even fall victim to the destruction of nature ourselves. We need to relearn how to understand connections. I share the WWF’s opinion: What we need is a transition to a new global economic system that focuses on preserving natural capital, a policy of fair and equitable resource allocation, redirecting financial streams, boosting the efficiency of production activities, more reasonable consumption and a path toward renewable sources of energy.
Switzerland can only do a part of what is needed to save our planet. Where are our country’s actions exemplary, and where can we get even better?
We do well in terms of pollution, including air pollution and noise pollution, where we have accomplished a lot and our laws are adjusted on an ongoing basis. In terms of resource consumption, though, Switzerland gets more of a mixed report card. It would take three planets to keep up with the average Swiss citizen’s consumption, something we see in things like the very high waste per capita. We need to produce more durable products, recycle more, and harness technology to combat pollution and other environmental impacts in areas like clean water and air. When it comes to biodiversity, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment has indicated that the situation is alarming: One-third of our species are threatened or endangered! We need things like more organic food and furniture made from certified wood. Climate change will also not stop at the Swiss border; it is a reality. Average temperatures are rising, glaciers are melting, and we have seen a rise in species that normally live in warmer areas. We absolutely have to reduce emissions. Everyone has to pitch in and do their part!
When it comes to biodiversity, the situation is alarming
What is Coca‑Cola HBC Switzerland doing to produce products in harmony with the environment?
There are a great many initiatives within the company to reduce environmental impact. Let me give you a few examples. We have set ambitious targets for reducing use of water and energy per liter of beverages produced at our production sites. By 2020, we plan to get all our energy from 100% renewable sources and to use 22% less energy per liter of beverage than we did in 2010. In terms of logistics, we are optimizing routes in various ways, including doing some of our transportation by rail to reduce CO2 emissions.
One last question. Can you give us a tip for what we in Switzerland should do to protect the environment?
Think about what you really need. Buy long-lasting products made from sustainable resources. Reduce waste, cut back on long-distance travel and use public transit or a bike to get around.