Chastity McLeod is the Director of Technical Packaging at Nestlé USA and the Packaging Sustainability Network Lead for Nestlé’s North America zone, where she is responsible for coordinating packaging sustainability efforts across five operating companies to deliver on Nestlé’s global packaging ambitions. Chastity has more than 17 years of experience in package development, product development, innovation and sustainability, both domestically and internationally. She first joined Nestlé in 2005 as a packaging engineer and is based out of Solon, Ohio.
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John: Welcome to another edition of The Impact podcast. This is a very special edition. We’ve got Chastity McLeod with us. She’s the director of technical packaging at Nestlé USA. And packaging and sustainability network lead for Nestlé North America. Welcome to The Impact podcast Chastity.
Chastity McLeod: Thank you, John. Thanks so much for having me, so pleased to be here.
John: Well, it’s a real honor, and before we get talking about all the great work that you and your colleagues at Nestlé you’re doing in the sustainability and circular economy space, let’s talk a little bit about Chastity. Where did you grow up? And how did you even get here to this very important role that you have in Nestlé?
Chastity: Well, thanks, John. It’s been a little bit of a winding road that got me here. I actually grew up in South Carolina. I’m the youngest of 11 kids. First, to go to college and when I graduated, I entered the field of packaging in Ohio. Worked for a company there and then about 2 years after that, I joined Nestlé, so I’ve been here for about 17 years. I started my career as a technical packaging engineer here in the US and about 4 or 5 years into my career, I had the awesome opportunity to move to Europe. I lived in Germany for almost 3 years and to be honest, that was about 10 or 12 years ago, but it was a really eye-opening experience when it came to like how the Europeans treat waste, and quite frankly having grown up in the US and when I grew up, I didn’t even have recycling in my small town. It was really eye-opening, so I came back to the US. I headed up technical packaging for frozen and chilled globally for a while. I did a stint in product development and a few years later, I ended up in packaging. Well, this is not a new thing for Nestlé. Obviously, our sustainability ambitions have been communicated in 2018 and it was just a great opportunity for me to step into a space that I really loved and had a lot of passion and a lot of energy for, throughout my career, and all the moves are described. I did a lot of work in sustainability. I started to build up some good industry connections there and so, when I took this role in 2019, it was a great chance for me to kind of start driving that actually ambitions around sustainability.
John: Chastity, you bring up a good point about eye-opening because when I’ve gone to Europe as well on stainability and circular economy issues, it’s been eye-opening for me. Eye-opening for you because they were so far ahead of us when it came to circular economy and sustainability, DNA, and working towards those goals already ahead of us in the US?
Chastity: Yeah. That’s much ahead of the goals but just in terms of how they manage their waste, right? It was almost like a national pastime, the management of waste, right? Every day, here in the US, we have a day where they come to pick up our trash, there, it was different days for different things. Black for everything that was recyclable that might be incinerated or landfill, blues is for cartons, [inaudible] which is yellow. It was everything plastic. And plastic, you wait a month. You actually filed that up in your garage and wait a month until they came and picked it up. We were responsible for our own glass. We had to take our glasses to different bins so that they would be sorted into brown, white, and green. And this was 10-12 years ago, right? And it was just a completely different way of living your life when it came to the end use of materials that I just never had experienced before, so I was really kind of energized by that and the fact that we could do a lot more in the US.
John: Chastity, the truth is none of us in the US were even ever exposed to that before because that didn’t fit. I grew up in New York City. We didn’t have that in New York just like you didn’t have that in South Carolina, so Europe was far ahead of us in terms of those issues. The separation and as you say managing their trash and a great way of putting it. For our listeners and viewers to find you and all your great colleagues and all the great work you’re doing at Nestlé, they could go to nestleusa.com. It’s such an honor to have you Chastity because growing up in the United States, Nestlé is a comfort brand. It’s a brand that’s iconic and we’re so proud of it. And 97% or more of our households in the United States have Nestlé products in our household. It’s a brand that matters to all of us. It’s not just some of us. With that in mind, can you talk a little bit about some of the great important work that your team is doing in packaging and sustainability at Nestlé?
Chastity: Yeah, be my pleasure and I want to start off by saying, I don’t just say this because I work for Nestlé because I work very hard, and a lot of people across our company work very hard to hold us accountable day in and day out. Sustainability might be the buzzword right now. It’s not a new thing for Nestlé, right? For years and years, we have been working to drive the waste out of our processes to leave our communities better than we found them. We’ve had our CSV strategy in place for years, ahead of this and I’m just so glad that the notion of packaging and sustainability is getting the attention that it deserves because it’s a really important matter and Nestlé is really working hard to do its part in this space. We have delivered our Ambitions in 2018 that all of our packaging will be reusable and recyclable by 2025. And we are working feverishly to make that happen. It is a multi-faceted approach that we’re taking, John. It is not a simple solution, so there are lots of different approaches. One of which is really focusing on our materials and trying to make sure that they are actually designed through the process to be recycled, so you’ll hear us talk about the notion of design for recycling, which means that we are actually designing materials that can be recycled from the inception.
John: Give us an example of what it was and where you’re going.
Chastity: Great example, it will be, in the past, if we launched a new product, that product might have a coloring in it because black is a historically been a symbol of premium. Today, we have golden design rules that we follow internally that say. We have to eliminate carbon black from our portfolio. And so, minimizing the use of pigments that keep things from being accepted into the recycling stream is a great example of the thing that we would do today that we might not have done in the past or that was a part of our packaging in the past and were eliminated going forward.
John: Understood. I’m so glad you said at the top of the conversation that sustainability even though, yes, it’s a buzzword and the great thing is that we are truly moving from a linear to a circular economy now and there seems to be no going back. It’s an unstoppable trend that Nestlé’s been really doing for much longer than just recent times. This has been a DNA issue there and that’s why I really started this show 15 or 16 years ago, Chastity, because what I realized back then even was that unfortunately, mainstream media doesn’t really cover the great stories of our important and iconic brands that are truly moving the needle on critical issues. They’re focusing more on the more catastrophic fire type of issues that catch our attention more but good news, unfortunately, doesn’t sell so and doesn’t sell advertising, so it’s so great to be able to have you on to share the good news. That means so much to me and to our listeners and it’s important that they know all the great work that Nestlé’s doing. Thank you for sharing that and giving us a little perspective. It’s really important, Chastity.
Chastity: Yeah. It is my pleasure. As I said, I mean, there are things that we’ve been doing for a very long time. It’s our job to get the work done, right? And ever since I’ve been in this job, we’ve been doing things like making our packaging fit for purpose, right? Which is when we say that what we mean is that we are using packaging, that has the bare minimum of packaging that we need in place to protect our product, and make sure the quality of the ingredients stays where they are, but we’re using a little material as we can and then to your point about circularity, making sure that we put PCR and other post-consumer recycled materials back into our packaging to move that end of life from linear to circular. And so, all of those things are things that we’re doing to help make our packaging more sustainable.
John: What are some of the challenges, you stepped into this role and if we know anything about sustainability, it’s a journey. We are never at the finish line. We can always be doing more as just people in our households, as single human beings as families, and as organizations and corporations go. It’s a journey. Where do you believe when you took this very important role at Nestlé? Where were you on the journey and how’s it been going since you took this role?
Chastity: Since I took this role, I would say I’m very excited about all the progress we’ve made, right? We committed to transitioning our portfolio from eliminating things that can’t be recycled to being fully recyclable by 2025 and that’s a huge ambition. And there’s a lot of work to be done, so we’ve been very busy with that business. At the end of the day, I think there are a lot of positive things happening. There are some challenges as you asked, one of which is we have a pre-fragmented infrastructure here in the US. Our recycling infrastructure varies from state to state. And so, we tried to do is just invest in the general infrastructure itself and trying to make sure that material recovery facilities that are out there. We are starting to invest in those to help them be more efficient, collect more, and be as effective as we can, to help draw a circularity. The fragmented and nature of the recycling industry is an ever a present issue not just for Nestlé but also for anybody who’s trying to drive recyclability across the industry, but we have to work with folks. We have to work with a credible coalition, people that are doing great work in this space and it’s our responsibility to help and invest in those material recovery facilities and partner with the people who are trying to advance circularity as much as we are.
John: You make a great point about the patchwork quilt of the laws across the different states. Imagine we’re here, doing this conversation together in 2022, Chastity, and imagine how much we know about the importance of responsible recycling but only 11 states have even a bottle redemption law and that makes no sense to me, that just shows you in that industry, how fragmented things are on a state-by-state basis. With regards to your very ambitious goals of 2025, how hard is it to go back to your packaging manufacturers and ask them to create new products that disrupt the legacy products they’ve been making for you for all these years, so that way you could hit your goals? Is that a constant give and take and collaboration that’s an ongoing journey together?
Chastity: Absolutely. It’s a journey but sustainability is good for business and I think people have to remember that, right? Sustainability does not have to be counter to your business ambitions. Our suppliers, a lot of them, we’ve been doing business with them for many years and they understand our ambitions and our objectives and our goals, and they’re not dissimilar from their ambitions, objectives, and their goals because they also want to do the right thing for the environment. And so, I found that we work together. When we were very clear about what our emissions are, they partner with us to find the solutions that we need. Some even go out and acquire technologies and businesses, a matter of even made counter theirs because they want to help us and deliver their ambitions while they deliver theirs and do the right thing for our consumers, customers, and the planet.
John: For our listeners and viewers, we got Chastity McLeod with us today. She’s the director of technical packaging Nestlé USA and packaging sustainability network lead for Nestlé North America. To find Chastity and her colleagues, you can go to nestleusa.com.
Let’s break down your title because this is really important. You’re the director of technical packaging for Nestlé USA but the packaging sustainability network lead for Nestlé North America. Now, you mentioned your great experiences in Europe, Chastity. Now, I assume as the packaging sustainability of network lead for North America, there’s a packaging and sustainability on network lead for different regions around the world. How often do you meet and share best practices, and best supplier information so this way the ocean is rising together at Nestlé across the whole planet? How does that work? It would be fascinating to understand that.
Chastity: We have global packaging sustainability who kind of coordinates with folks who, as I said, I’d do this for Nestlé North America. I have colleagues who do this and other parts of the world, and we meet weekly depending on, so it’s very difficult for China to meet at the same time as the US, so we have to work across time zones and things, but at the end of the day, we’re in constant contact with each other and sharing best practices and initiatives that we have whether it be investment opportunities and infrastructure or work that we’re doing with new technologies that are coming about. We share those things really frequently with each other. And then, even here within the US, we have different operating companies for Nestlé and so, when I say network lead, that means I’m pulling together those operating companies that we can continue to share best practices and even talent, right? Because the people who helped us advance this internally are just as important as the initiatives that were tackling. It’s my role to make sure I’m keeping us connected both here in the US and across North America, as well as with our Global colleagues who are also doing awesome work in their businesses.
John: I think that’s so interesting and wonderful because what most people don’t really understand if they’re not in the business that you are and I am is that it’s truly one environment and one world. If there’s a catastrophic environmental experience in Japan, it affects all of us in the world. If there’s a catastrophic event in the United States, it affects all of us. It’s really just one environment and one world. It goes across borders, so working across borders, and collaboratively makes so much sense to come up with the best solutions. I just love that.
Talk about some of the challenges that you face or things that keep you up at night. You have very ambitious goals, you’re only 3 years away from them, are you going to get them? What hurdles do you still have to overcome?
Chastity: The biggest hurdles we have are just making sure that one, we have the materials that we need to be circular, right? We made strong commitments around the usage of PCR in our materials. We want to make sure we have access to those. That goes hand in hand with our investment and with our Closed Loop Leadership Fund, which I’m sure, if you’re not aware of, John, we’ve invested $30 million in our Closed Loop Leadership Fund, which is a group that’s really focused on upgrading recycling, infrastructure, bolstering the packaging materials, collection process, and securing access to food grade materials that we can then use in our packaging. And so, relationships like that really help us drive our ambitions and partners like Closed Loop are just great for the industry at large and it is pre-competitive, right? We have folks like Unilever and PepsiCo who are all in there. And when we invested in Closed Loop, we did it for a couple of reasons. One is, obviously, the drive circularity but the other ambition of Nestlé is to make sure that is catalytic, right? No one person can solve this problem alone and so, the hope was that by investing in something like Closed Loop, others will invest as well and we will infuse as much capital as we can until these materials recovery facilities, so they can be as efficient as possible.
John: Well, I have to tell you a little bit of the truth about advertising. Ron Gonen the founder of Closed Loop is 17 years a good friend of mine and Closed Loop is an investor in our company. I’m really proud of that because it’s really great that Nestlé made a $30 million investment. We all know and if we don’t know, the world should know the important work Closed Loops doing across all sectors of circular economy and circularity, and Nestlé being in there, moves the needle. It shows the world how much you care not just about Nestlé itself but about the world at large, the environment at large, and I’ll tell you that it’s really impactful that you guys made that investment. I’m really proud of you guys for doing that because it really gets others to then similarly move and write cheques like that to help that fund grow, so they can do more good with that capital.
Chastity: Yeah. It’s a great initiative and we’re very excited to partner with them.
John: Let’s talk about other great organizations. At the top of the show, you mentioned other partnerships and obviously, the patchwork quilt of laws makes it difficult to sometimes get things done efficiently and effectively. Talk about other organizations you work with to help expedite your goals and also make the world a better place.
Chastity: I can tell you, there are a lot of things that are difficult, but I have a saying that I always go back to and things are hard, right? And so, at the end of the day, what we have to focus on is all the good things that are happening and to your point about the organizations and companies that are out there doing really awesome things like TRP, right? The recycle partnership that is really laser-focused on, making sure that consumers have access to curbside recycling. They do a lot. They have a tremendous understanding around the infrastructure in the US and what it’s going to take for all of our companies to be our ambitions, in terms of consumers having access to recycling. Last year, in partnership with Walmart, the recycled partnership, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and other companies, like Monde, PepsiCo, and Unilever, we sat together and we actually created a tool called Plastic IQ that basically a tool for smaller companies, unlike the Nestlé’s on the world where we have a lot of tremendous amount of resource that we can put towards this, the smaller companies that might not have a resource to that effect and what we did with plastic IQ was created a tool that smaller companies can use to actually develop sustainability strategies for their businesses. And so, companies like TRP, U.S. Plastics Pact, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and even APR, which is a great partner of ours that helps us validate that when we say things are recyclable, they are, so it’s not just us patting ourselves on the back that we did a little bit of work and that we made the advancements that we said. There are just numerous organizations out there that are just so important for the movement of sustainability and we’re just excited to partner with them all.
John: And for people to find Plastic IQ, they could go to plasticiq.org?
Chastity: That’s correct. Keefe Harrison and her team are doing great work there and if you go to that website, you can learn more about the Plastic IQ tool.
John: Unfortunately, when the media covers sustainability or the environment, they seem to be two drum beats, two stories, one, of course, is the positivity of Tesla of Elon Musk. He’s a larger-than-life human being in figure and good for him and good for Tesla and all the great work they’ve done. And then they cover the boogeyman of post-consumer waste plastic. And it hurts my heart because we don’t get out, like you said, enough of these great stories about what you’re doing. So, let’s disavow our listeners and our viewers of post-consumer of plastic. As you said, by 2025 or soon thereafter, most of your packaging is going to be recyclable and so, that means that and I assume other great brands like yours are following suit, so really the change is here, the change is happening and the good news is that the all the plastics that are coming out now in the packaging world are highly recyclable compared to 20 years ago or 15 years ago,
Chastity: Yeah. Our ambition is to make sure that all of our packaging are recyclable or reusable by 2025, right? And that ambition, we said in 2018 and we’ve been working towards that feverishly and that’s still our ambition is to deliver that.
John: Chastity, how can we be better consumers? So, when we buy your great products even though we’re still not set up like Europe yet and we know that every state and every city really, unfortunately, is different with regards to how they handle trash in the United States. How can we be better consumers in how we handle our trash? Do you have some favorite tips that you share with people when you get together with friends, relatives, and in other social settings?
Chastity: Yeah. Besides them telling me about packaging from other companies that it doesn’t work for them because they’re all saying, “Hey, am I getting [inaudible]? I’m like, “I don’t work for them. I’m sorry.” [inaudible]. It all matters but the tip that I give to them is this, right? That there’s a great thing that has happened in the last few years and there’s a label on all over packaging, how to recycle label. That gives you a great indication of what you can do with your packaging and there’s guidance that we basically have to have in place before we can put those labels on our packaging. So, they are great indicators of what you can and cannot do with your packaging from a recyclability standpoint. And if you have questions you go to how2recycle.com. It is right there on the packaging. It gives guidance on how you can manage your packaging.
John: Before I let you go today because you mentioned earlier how sustainability has been part of Nestlé’s DNA, how big relatively speaking? You’re in the technical packaging section and also you’re the sustainability network lead for Nestlé North America but this is just packaging, how big is sustainability as a whole, a macro at Nestlé in terms of different divisions and people? Just give us a little bit of roughly, how large sustainability is and how much it means to Nestlé.
Chastity: It’s too hard to be quantified in terms of a number of people but what I can say to you is sustainability is a part of everything we do, right? It’s a part of our ingredients, the work that we do, how we source our ingredients, what we’re doing in the space of regenerative egg, and how we manufacture our products, right? The types of energy that we use to run our facilities and we have ambitions around, not just packaging but we have ambitions [inaudible] zero, right? We want to have zero emissions by 2050. This is a huge ambition for us. We talked a lot about packaging here but whether it’s in the space of ingredients, packaging, manufacturing, or transportation, all facets of those things have sustainable, elements to them that we’re driving for improvements in efficiencies and reductions in a day in and day out and have been for years.
It’s a really important part of who we are and what we do and if you want to learn more about that, you can pick up our annual CSV report. It details a lot of that and it’s a very transparent document.
John: And can people find that on nestleusa.com and download it?
Chastity: [inaudible] and find out exactly if it’s on the site. I don’t know if it’s on nestle.com [inaudible] Nestlé site, but I think if you google Nestlé CSV, it will pop up for sure.
John: Let’s just say this though, let’s agree upon this, at Nestlé, sustainability is a DNA issue across every sector and across the whole company and the whole ecosystem.
John: That’s just wonderful. And for our listeners and viewers again to find Chastity and all the great work she’s doing in packaging and sustainability and her great colleagues, to learn more about everything they’re doing in sustainability, please go to nestleusa.com
To also learn about the great initiative that they’ve created with regards to plastic recycling for smaller companies, you can get more involved with sustainability and responsible plastic recycling, please go to www. plasticiq.org. Chastity McLeod, you are amazing. You’re doing such important and impactful work. Again, we’re so thankful for not only what you’re doing in the time you spend today but for making the world a better place and I thank you so much for spending some time with us today, Chastity.
Chastity: Thank you so much, John. It was a real pleasure. Thanks for having us and thanks for all the great work you do as well. We appreciate you
John: This episode of The Impact podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and Impact partners. The Closed Loop platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps, and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com.