Managing environmental sustainability

To improve the environmental performance of our products, we need to assess and improve their environmental impacts from the moment we begin to develop them. This means getting a clear understanding of the environmental life-cycle impacts of our products – from agricultural production and the sourcing of ingredients through to what happens at the end of a product’s life – across the value chain.

The environmental life cycle of products

Focusing on preserving water, using natural resources efficiently, conserving biodiversity, reducing air emissions, adapting to climate change and reducing waste, we use the scientific method known as life-cycle assessment (LCA) to help us understand the performance of our products along their value chain. This informs our decision making; helps us take actions to continuously improve our environmental performance; enables us to respond to stakeholders’ growing interest in the environmental performance of food and beverage products; and provides credible evidence to support specific environmental communications and claims.

We’ve completed LCAs for all our product categories. Recent examples include:

  • The eco-mode for our Nescafé Dolce Gusto Melody coffee machine enables auto-standby mode after 20 minutes. For a 120 ml cup, this helps consumers cut CO2eq emissions by 32%, fossil fuels by 41% and water use by 25%, compared to the first model launched in 2006;
  • The new Nestlé Infant Nutrition Ready-to-Feed plastic bottle produced in Germany has a better environment performance than the glass equivalent. Greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 19%, water withdrawal fell by 15% and ecosystems quality improved by 28%. The environmental savings on a 32-bottle pack in Germany are estimated to be 13 km of road travel avoided, 74 m2 of green space preserved and 37 litres of water saved; and
  • The new Nescafé refill pack in Italy has a better environment performance than the previous 150 g glass jar because it reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 79%, water withdrawal by 72% and resource consumption by 77% (taking into account packaging production and delivery, packaging, product distribution and end of life). More information about the pack and the Nescafé Plan for more responsible farming, production and consumption is available through the on-pack Quick Response (QR) code (see Going beyond the label).

  • All our new products undergo an environmental sustainability assessment, but identifying opportunities for eco-design using complex environmental information is challenging and time-consuming. Therefore, we have been pioneering new ways to help our R&D staff to do so.


    In 2013, we finalised the development and began the roll-out of EcodEX (Eco-design for Sustainable Product Development and Introduction), an LCA-based eco-design tool we co-created to enable product development teams to assess the environmental performance of a product faster and earlier in the design process. This was done in partnership with Selerant, an IT company based in Italy that specialises in product life cycle management and compliance solutions.

    Using five environmental impact indicators, EcodEX allows different scenarios to be compared using publicly available data specific to the food and beverage industry. Taking a value chain viewpoint, it can be used to assess the overall environmental impacts of a packed food product, from the contribution of agriculture, processing, packaging and distribution right through to end of life.

    Having introduced EcodEX to all 11 of our global Product Technology Centres and some R&D centres in 2013, we have now rolled out training on the packaging element across our entire research and development network, and piloted it in selected markets. We are using it to progressively replace our previous tool PIQET, which is focused only on the environmental performance of our packaging.

    EcodEX is being gradually introduced to ensure it is adopted effectively and to address the challenges raised by new users, such as getting used to interpreting the results. We are now focusing on enlarging the scope of the input data on agricultural raw materials, as they constitute the main environmental impact of many products.

    By the end of 2014, 5 742 projects representing more than 16 500 scenarios had been assessed using our PIQET and EcodEX ecodesign tools (2013: 5 200 projects and 15 500 scenarios). In 2014, the roll-out of the EcodEX ecodesign tool was carried out in 31 R&D locations, which is 100% of in-scope R&D locations (2013: 11 Product Technology Centres, 70% of in-scope R&D locations).

    We also ensured that EcodEX is commercially available to other consumer goods companies because we believe it adds significant value to our whole industry.

    Mandatory rating system

    We have been using a mandatory environmental rating system for all new product and process developments since 2012. This uses a five-point scale to evaluate potential impacts, both negative and positive. It is designed to inform decisions at the earliest possible stage, well before a project goes into development.

    Promoting access to data

    To make informed decisions, our teams require accurate data, and we continue to work with external collaborators to develop databases that benefit not only Nestlé but the LCA community at large.

    We are continuing to develop and improve EcodEX through a collaboration with CIRAIG, the Montreal-based Interuniversity Research Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services. During 2014, these improvements included a new methodology to take statistical uncertainty into account in simplified ecodesign tools. The research was presented at the World LCA Food Conference in San Francisco in October 2014 and we plan to incorporate it into EcodEX in 2015.

    We are also co-sponsoring the development of a World Food Life Cycle Assessment Database (WFLCA DB), coordinated by LCA consultancy Quantis and the Swiss Agricultural Research Institute Agroscope. In 2014, the second release of data (around 140 new datasets) was made available to project partners and during 2015, around 300 datasets will be added to EcodEX. This data will undergo a critical review before being incorporated into the publicly available LCA database Ecoinvent. Nestlé is also funding further data development, in collaboration with Quantis, to focus on ingredients not yet considered in major databases. This new data will also be submitted to Ecoinvent.

    To stay at the forefront of LCA and ecodesign, we continue to promote Sustainability by Design and provide our product development teams with opportunities for continuous learning and knowledge sharing. In addition to staff at our 34 R&D centres disseminating science, technology and engineering expertise throughout our R&D network and across our operations, we created a global Sustainability by Design Network, made up of experts responsible for building sustainability into the earliest phase of product development in our R&D centres. In 2014, we built on the momentum of this network by strengthening cross-fertilisation across business categories and by training our sustainability champions in the effective use of EcodEX.

  • Having carried out LCAs for all our main product categories, we share the data internally through the Nestlé Sustainability Category Profiles. These profiles summarise a category’s environmental ‘hotspots’ (areas of significant impact) and outline how we are addressing them to improve environmental performance – see the case study below.

    In 2013, we met our objective to identify and address sustainability hotspots in 12 product categories a year early and in 2014, we extended that to assessing hotspots in 13 product categories.

    Environmental hotspots in ambient culinary products


    Agriculture generates almost half (49%) of the most significant impacts in the ambient culinary product category. The production of ingredients particularly results in GHG emissions and a significant consumption of water for irrigating crops like tomatoes. Some of the actions we’ve taken to tackle these hotspots include:

    • Working with farmers in France and Spain to reduce emissions, preserve water and soil fertility;
    • Providing technical assistance to chilli growers in Malaysia and India; and
    • Helping beetroot farmers in Poland recycle by-products to reduce waste.

    Product use

    The next biggest impact area is linked to the consumption of our products (20%). Over a quarter (29%) of the GHG emissions associated with these products comes from energy and water used in the home for cooking and washing dishes. To help address these, we communicate with consumers about optimum product use via on-pack messaging and brand websites. We’re also developing innovations such as our Maggi So Juicy chicken recipe mixes, which contain a special cooking bag that reduces the amount of water needed for cleaning after cooking.

    Other stages in the life cycle

    In comparison with agriculture and product use, other stages in the product life cycle (manufacturing, packaging, distribution and end of life) have a smaller share of the overall impact. Nonetheless, we continually seek improvements in these areas, by recovering and reusing waste, water and energy in our factories; optimising the weight of our packaging; redesigning how Maggi bouillon cubes are put on pallets to make distribution more efficient; and encouraging consumers to recycle the cardboard packaging our products come in.

Related content


A project is a detailed description of all the different packaging system formats (or ‘scenarios’) used for packaging a product.

Each scenario is one individual packaging system format (e.g. aluminium can and corrugated board, glass bottle and shrink film, etc.) used for packaging a product.

This represents 96% of the whole R&D organisation.

Products that can be stored at room temperature.