• Innovation, Business

To bring sustainability to the core of strategy, rethink leadership and organization – “For Huhtamaki, sustainability is an investment in the future”

Teija Sarajärvi, EVP, Human Resources and Safety at Huhtamaki, sheds light on how the company is transforming to make sure sustainability is extensively and systematically embedded in everything the company does.

In 2020, Huhtamaki celebrated its centennial and renewed its strategy, with sustainability at the core. According to Teija Sarajärvi, EVP, Human Resources and Safety, transforming how sustainability work is led in an organization the size of Huhtamaki is a major task, one that can’t be completed overnight. Nonetheless, the company sees it as a competitive advantage that’s worth the investment.

A holistic change

“Huhtamaki has had a Corporate Responsibility team for several years already, and it has had KPIs, roadmaps and reporting. However, as the company’s strategy was revised, we identified sustainability as a competitive advantage that merits enough investments to make its impact clearly visible,” Sarajärvi says.

Along with the strategy, the company’s values and ambition were renewed. A new model for leading sustainability was created, sustainability was allocated more resources, the organization was restructured, and new roles with a focus on sustainability were created. The new strategy and the increased role of sustainability were made visible in many ways, both internally and externally.

“For Huhtamaki, sustainability is a competitive advantage that merits enough investments to make its impact clearly visible.”

“We set ambitious targets that run through Huhtamaki’s operations. They include a transition to renewable energy, the use of renewable and recycled materials, and lowering emissions, for example. We monitor performance internally on a quarterly basis and also communicate about our goals externally. We’re also reviewing site-specific development needs and creating roadmaps for all our sites, of which we have more than 80 around the world. All white-collar employees have at least one designated target related to sustainability. Teams that have succeeded at sustainability initiatives are given recognition awards.”

An innovative corporate culture generates sustainable solutions

Fresh thinking and innovation are needed when sustainability is promoted to being a driver for business. When it comes to Finnish companies looking to grow globally, like Huhtamaki, Sarajärvi thinks they generally have the know-how for producing innovations, but courage is also needed.

“Innovativeness can present itself in many ways: there are the small yet important improvements that make a difference in your day-to-day life, and there are the major, disruptive and transformative product and service innovations. One way of boosting fresh thinking is hiring people with the kind of experience and background you wouldn’t expect, even if it feels like a risky decision. You should also pay attention to decision-making and hierarchies: how much of a say do specialists get compared to directors? In a big organization, hierarchies are needed to some extent so that it’s clear who is responsible for what, but usually hierarchy increases distance between people. How do people react to errors? Do they learn from them? Are new ideas made visible so that others can learn from and be inspired by them?”

Collaborating to create societal impact where it matters most

In addition to internal changes, Huhtamaki kicked off several collaborative projects with non-profit organizations across the globe during its centennial year. The projects contribute to creating a circular economy and sustainable innovations, and develop waste management solutions in developing countries.

“In India, for example, we’re helping to clean the Mithi River together with a local environmental movement called Earth5R. The project also encompasses waste management training and developing livelihoods based on circular economy. Through collaborative projects like this, Huhtamaki is aiming to build a sustainable value chain and create value for local communities in places where investments make the biggest impact,” Sarajärvi explains.

Moreover, Huhtamaki has taken on a more active role within the packaging industry to facilitate finding new, resourceful solutions together.

“There is a particular paradox related to food packaging: Packaging is vital for people and the environment because it protects food from spoilage and helps food maintain its high quality, therefore contributing to health and wellbeing and preventing food waste. At the same time, packaging creates an enormous amount of waste globally. In communities with insufficient waste management systems and infrastructure, packaging waste can easily end up in the wrong places. This is a problem that companies, consumers and legislators need to solve together. Huhtamaki wants to be an active player and part of the solution.”

This article is part of a series where different stakeholders discuss how Global Finland can be future-proofed and what role Finnish companies play in creating sustainable societies globally. The articles are published ahead of our virtual roundtable.

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