Advancing Circularity with Ball Corporation’s Adam Shalapin

February 28, 2023

Adam Shalapin leads global sustainability initiatives at Ball Corporation, where he works with cross-functional teams to execute against Ball’s sustainability goals and initiatives. Adam is a systems-thinking problem solver with thirteen years of experience in corporate environmental and sustainability strategy, which has allowed him to craft and collaboratively execute a unifying vision that aligns sustainability and business objectives, positioning Ball as a true sustainability leader in its industry. Adam has been with Ball for more than six years, during which time he has helped enhance the company’s sustainability data and reporting processes to drive informed decision-making and supported the development of Ball’s sustainability goals and roadmaps for achievement.

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John: This edition of The Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic Hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.

John: This edition of the impact podcast is brought to you by ENGAGE. ENGAGE is a digital booking platform, revolutionizing the talent booking industry. With thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, ENGAGE is the go-to spot for booking talent for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on ENGAGE, or to book talent today, visit. letsengage.com.

John: Welcome to another edition of THE IMPACT PODCAST. I’m John Shegerian and we’re so honored to have you with us today, Adam Shalapin. He’s the director of global sustainability at Ball Corporation. Welcome to the impact podcast, Adam.

Adam Shalapin: Thank you, John. It’s a pleasure to be here with you and your listeners today.

John: You get to be in Denver Colorado today, I’m in Fresno, California and the new year has already rung in, so it’s great to be together, talking about sustainability and the great brand ball today in the New Year. Adam, before we get taught here directly about your role as a director of global sustainability at Ball, share a little bit about how you got here, your journey, where grew up, where you got educated, and some of the jobs you had before taking this important role at the Ball Corporation.

Adam: Sure. Thanks, John. So I grew up in a small town called Millstadt, Illinois, just outside of St. Louis, Missouri, and ended up getting my Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And I knew that I always wanted to do something in the environmental space and that was largely driven by all of the movement around the climate that was happening at the time. And I thought to myself, you know, this is going to be big. And that propelled me into working in the environmental consulting space for a little bit and working with companies and developing greenhouse gas emission inventories and energy management and carbon emissions reduction strategies, and eventually, it led me to work at United Airlines, which was a fantastic experience. And, you know, the transportation industry is so pivotal in the transformation to a low-carbon economy. and that eventually landed me at Ball Corporation here in Denver, Colorado. And it’s been a fantastic experience to work for Ball. And for your listeners who aren’t familiar with Ball, they’re one of the world’s leading suppliers of aluminum packaging for the beverage, personal care, as in household products industry, so we produce over 100 billion beverage cans around the world each year and we have about 70 manufacturing facilities around the world. We employ over 24,000 people. And all of that wrapped together and translated into net sales of about 13.8 billion dollars in 2021. So that’s a picture of who Ball is, and also a little bit of background of myself and how I got here today.

John: And for our listeners and viewers who want to find Adam and his great colleagues at Ball, they could go to www.balls.com. Talk a little bit about your role at United Airlines, you were in the sustainability section as well at United.

Adam: That’s right. So it was a combined environmental and sustainability team.

John: And so, at Ball now as the director of global sustainability, talk about some of the sustainability goals you and your colleagues have set there and the progress you’ve made along the way.

Adam: Sure. So I can talk a little bit about my role. I’ve been at Ball for about six and a half years. And as director of global sustainability, my role is really to help lead the development and execution of Ball’s sustainability strategy. And all of that really taken into consideration, our most important stakeholders like our customers, our investors, and also our co-workers and prospective employees. And day-to-day, that really… and Ball’s setting our sustainability goals and building cross-functional teams to reduce impact throughout the value chain and create a competitive advantage for our products to make sure that sustainability is really driving our business. And I get to do all of this with an immediate team of amazing sustainability professionals. And I also get to work very closely with all the different functions around Ball, from commercial to operations and engineering to innovation and finance and treasury investor relations, and so on. So it’s been a great experience at Ball so far.

John: And when you came in there six and a half years ago, Adam, did someone already have that role in and you were feeling somebody’s shoes or is this a new role at Ball? How does that work from a DNA perspective of Ball?

Adam: Sure. So like most companies, the sustainability organization within Ball has evolved tremendously over the past six and a half years. From the time that I joined, I think we had three people around the globe, so we’re working on sustainability, to now, we have a global team, we have a chief sustainability officer, and we are embedded within the strategy functions within each of our businesses. It has changed tremendously. And like most sustainability professionals, our day-to-day, or our jobs seem to change a little bit more each year depending on the macro trends out in the world and what consumers and customers and retailers, NGOs, and governments are finding important.

John: You know, as most of our listeners know already, [inaudible] is a minority investor in ERI and sits out on our board since 2011, and it’s been a great relationship with them, but I got to learn about aluminum through their eyes, but a lot of our listeners don’t really understand or know much about aluminum and its typical ecosystem of aluminum. So, talk a little bit about the benefits of aluminum from a sustainability perspective and why it’s called the infinite recyclable, how that helps in terms of the decarbonization of the beverage container industry, and how that really helps give some wind at its back.

Adam: Yeah. So aluminum is a fantastic material. And just for reference, Ball Corporation… many people are familiar with Ball Corporation because of the glass jars that they used to make this.

John: That’s right.

Adam: Then in [inaudible], we’ve been in the plastics business and we specifically exited those businesses and focused strictly on aluminum because of its credentials, its properties, and its great sustainability credentials. So first of all, aluminum beverage cans are largely one material; aluminum, right? As opposed to some of the packaging out there that you see, it’s multi-material, making it more difficult to recycle. And aluminum as a material is easily sorted and it’s easily and infinitely recyclable as a material, as you alluded to, but with no loss of body, meaning that when a can is recycled, that material could be back on the shelf as a new can within 60 days. Unlike some of the other beverage packaging materials out there, it’s fully recyclable despite colors or formats. There’s no need to sort out the different colors of cans like you will with glass or plastic. And perhaps the most important, and you probably know this, John from your old work is that it has economic value, and how important that is because it helps [inaudible] the incentive for aluminum recycling. So for context, at a material recycling facility that accepts [inaudible] similar [inaudible] of recycling, aluminum can typically be around 3% of the volume that comes through that facility, but it can make up 30 to 50 percent of the revenue lot[?] of that facility as [inaudible]. And so because of all of this, aluminum beverage cans are actually the most recycled beverage packaging in the world, with a rating of 69%, and it’s estimated that 75% of aluminum that’s ever put in play as a material is still in use today.

John: Then well, Adam, you’re a Sustainability… how do we say this the right way, “OG”. You’ve been doing this a long time, and six and a half years at Ball, but way before that as well. The shift from the linear to the circular economy and the word circularity, and even the acronym ESG, really wasn’t part of our vernacular 20 years ago, even 15 years ago, even 7 to 8 years ago, it wasn’t really widely used or discussed. But we reached a tipping point somewhere in the last two, maybe three to four years maximum. And the shift from a linear to a circular economy is truly underway and getting accelerated more and more, every quarter after every quarter. Talk a little bit about why it’s important to advance a circularity movement vis-a-vis, what you do in the beverage packaging industry, and what your chosen path or paths to achieve circularity at Ball are.

Adam: Absolutely. And I think your question ties back to your last question as well, it’s why it’s important from a carbon standpoint.

John: Sure.

Adam: So I believe that it’s estimated by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation that even if we as a society were to address electricity, transportation, and fossil fuel use that 40% of the decarbonization that needs to happen to be in line with one and a half degree pathway is related to driving a circular economy, and all of the materials that we use and the agriculture that happens to put food on the tables and all the materials that come into our house. And so the circular economy and the link between how we use material and the climate challenge is more present than ever before. And the lake has become incredibly clear. So why recycling is so important specifically for aluminum beverage cans? It’s that there is a 95% energy stables when using recycled aluminum compared to virgin aluminum. And so you can use that as a proxy for carbon savings as well. It is dramatic. And so, when we think about our own goals at Ball to achieve Net Zero prior to 2050 or earlier and to deliver a highly decarbonized can to our customers, we really see circularity and specifically recycling for the aluminum can as deliberate on that pathway. So driving higher recycling rates and increasing recycled content in our cans and decreasing the carbon footprint of the products that we’re delivering to our customers. And all of that really starts with the way that the product is designed what materials it’s using, ensuring that we have the proper technology and infrastructure and policy in place, and a lot of that is really really laid out in our vision for circularity, which would I would encourage your listeners to check out [inaudible] sustainability in beverages.

John: That’s wonderful. That’s a great point you make about the [inaudible]. It seems as though more and more OEMS at all cross-sections of industries are creating divisions that are called something akin to design for sustainability, is that the same thing in terms of Ball, in terms of your engineers and your design team, is there a design for sustainability team at Ball, working on all those forward-thinking issues?

Adam: Sure. So through our innovation and process, to start with, there have been a lot of great industry guidelines that have been put out there in terms of designing for sustainability, specifically within the packaging space and other industries as well. And so that’s a great place to start. And then from an internal process standpoint, you know, it’s our goal to not only have a sustainability team that’s working on sustainability but really to ingrain sustainability throughout the different functions at Ball. So within our Innovation Team, we actually have a stage-gate process that involves [inaudible] that recyclability. Not just recyclability but collectability and sortability within material recycling facilities. Then recyclability, looking at carbon footprints, looking and we’re still maintaining a single material rather than adding other components. So, it’s absolutely a part of our innovation process because we see the criteria that I laid out earlier that make aluminum beverage packaging so great and so pivotal to driving our business, and the last thing we want to do is messed that up.

John: Got it. And since we’re talking about circularity in the beverage packaging industry, talk a little bit about your vision for a perfect circle. Can you elaborate a little bit on that vision?

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Adam: Yeah. So, really, what that comes down to is hoping to advance a circular economy where aluminum beverage packaging is 100% collection and 100% recycled and comes back right into aluminum cans, can-to-can recycling. And now there will always be some form of yield loss dictated by the laws of physics and thermodynamics. It is very small for cans, it’s at about 2% oxidation in the actual recycling process compared to higher yield losses that happen with other substrates. So that vision, we feel is achievable. When we look at the policy mechanisms that have been put into place in Europe, for example, where we see extremely high recycling rates of 90% plus. When we look at… Although there are challenges with informal economies that drive these recycling rates. In Brazil, we see the recycling rate at 98%. So we see opportunities to formalize those economies around those collections and continued to achieve those high recycling rates. So we know that it’s possible when we know the criteria that need to be put in place from a policy perspective to get there. It’s just a matter of building the right coalitions and driving alignment to do so.

John: Got it. And for our listeners and viewers who just joined us, we’ve got Adam Shalapin with us. He’s the director of global sustainability at The Ball Corporation. To find Adam and his colleagues and all the great work they’re doing in sustainability at Ball, please go to www.ball.com. Tell us now a little bit about your Ball Aluminum Cup, Adam.

Adam: Sure. So this has been a project that the Innovation team spurred a number of years ago and it really rose out of going to venues and stadiums and even in your local retail stores, it’s just a sea of single-use plastic cups, right? And those cups often are not being recycled or are incredibly difficult to resell even if they are collected. [inaudible] with this product was to provide an alternative [inaudible] that’s highly circular and easily recyclable and also a great product. [inaudible] and people really enjoy drinking out of it and so that really gave birth to the Ball Aluminum Cup and it’s been received fantastically by consumers. They really enjoyed it for its premium nature and it also makes them feel good about the product that they are using from a sustainability perspective, as we know that consumers are increasingly focused on choosing sustainable alternatives when it’s easily and readily presented to them. So we’ve seen venues start to convert to the Ball Aluminum Cup and you can actually buy the Ball Aluminum Cup in the [inaudible]. It’s available in retail stores in all 50 states in the US. So hopefully, your listeners can look for those on the shelf of the store [inaudible].

John: You know, Adam, you bring up a good point; consumers. You bring up the point of consumers. You know, what I’ve seen in my generation, I’m 60, my generation really wasn’t exposed to sustainability [inaudible] circular economy formally or informally vis-à-vis, the traditional media or traditional education sources. Your generation and younger, obviously, have been greatly exposed to the terminology and the trends that are now really seeming to take hold with regard to sustainability. Talk a little bit about consumers now, especially your generation and below, voting with their pocketbooks when it comes down to sustainable options and how Ball continue to innovate toward what they see, as you said earlier, the major trends towards the consumer demands.

Adam: Yeah, and first off, I want to thank you for making me feel younger than I actually am with those comments and putting me into that younger generation, so [inaudible].

John: You deserve it.

Adam: It’s true. There is a lot of heightened awareness around the consumer. And brands recognize that as well. So for example, five years ago, about 25% of new beverage products that were coming onto the market in the US were coming out in aluminum beverage cans. Now, fast forward to ’21, ’22 that number is 75 percent.

John: Wow!

Adam: So we really are seeing brands start to recognize what the consumer is looking for from a sustainability perspective and start to act on that. So I think about myself going to any regular shoe stores near [inaudible] and I to see plastic-free aisles, I start to see drink coolers and shelves that are continually dominated by cans. So I think we are starting to really see that the super demand for sustainable option translate into brand choices and what’s going unto the shelves. I think that one of the critiques of the assessment of the younger generations and voting with their pocketbooks is that there often is a society of gap. And so I think as far as Innovation, we need to continually try to innovate for sustainability, but also meet the consumer whether they’re at from a biased point as well. And so I think that that will always continue to be the challenge of the entire packaging industry and sustainability in general. It’s how to [inaudible] deliver on the expectation, so those customers and be efficient then.

John: You know, obviously, sustainability is a great part of Ball’s DNA and culture. But it’s now part of the circular economy. The ESG sustainability world is radical transparency and reporting on, not only doing the great work that you’re doing but reporting that in a way that’s easily understandable and findable. Talk a little bit about reporting, given that this is now needed and wanted by Wall Street investors, analysts, consumers, etcetera. How do you go about doing your ESG impact sustainability reporting, how often, and how does that process look to you?

Adam: Sure. Transparency is the name of the game these days, for sure. And it’s synonymous with credibility at this point, at this juncture. For our investors, our customers, our customer’s customers, and retailers, transparency is a way of really demonstrating that you walk the walk, like, not just talk the talk. And so I hope that I get this founding year right, but I believe that our first sustainability report was as far back as 2008. So Ball has really made a commitment to reporting on its sustainability initiatives and progress for quite some time now. And one of the key areas where I think Ball is ahead of the industry average is that we’ve really been having our sustainability data assured for quite some time. And so, all of the sustainability data that we calculate in terms of our performance, our suppliers’ performance, how that rolls into our total carbon footprint or Scope 1 through 3 emissions, our water use, our ways to use, and waste generation is all assured by a third-party provider. And that, in itself, really helps establish the next level of credibility to the information and record it in the marketplace. And so we continue to report to all the major external ratings and rankings firms. And the last year was actually the first year that we released our first combined annual reports. So we transitioned from a solo sustainability standalone report every two years to wrapping our annual report and our sustainability report together. And really, that was meant to be a signal as to how sustainability drives our business, and to be able to communicate that to the investor community. This year is a Hallmark year because last year, we really rolled out our ambitious 2030 sustainability goals. And this year will be the first year that we get your report on progress on those goals at a very transparent level.

John: Great. And what time of year… Is that published?

Adam: Sure. So traditionally, that report was published around a June-July timeframe. But with the changes in the SMC and disclosure around climate risk and opportunity and a lot of this information being pushed to come out in a February-March timeframe, our combination with our annual report will be pushed up to at least a February-March timeline.

John: Wow! So it’s early in the year every year.

Adam: Well, it’s a lot of [inaudible].

John: It’s a lot of work, I can imagine. You know, Adam, you’re a humble guy, but Ball is a founding member of the World Economic Forum’s First Movers Coalition for aluminum. Can you share what that really means and what that entails for Ball?

Adam: Absolutely. So, as much as I talked about recycling and the energy savings, the carbon savings from recycling, and just how incredible recycling will be to achieving a Net Zero world for aluminum, demand for aluminum across the transportation sector, the packaging sector, and the aerospace sector is increasing. And so, we also have to address the primary [inaudible] sector. What the First Movers Coalition and joining that along with some of our key suppliers and customers is really meant to send a demand signal that there is going to be, there is now and, it’s going to be a demand for low carbon by marrying aluminum. That demand signal really allows key suppliers within the primary aluminum industry to begin to make investments to meet those demands. And so, by joining the First Movers Coalition, we have committed to purchasing 10% of the primary aluminum that comes into our [inaudible] but we make it into cans as low-carbon aluminum, which is defined as a threshold of 3 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per ton of lowering them. And just for context, that level of carbon intensity, primarily aluminum, really requires new and innovative technologies such as the use of [inaudible] anodes that are not necessarily at a commercial scale now. But with these demand signals, we’ll hopefully drive the investment and then the production at a commercial scale [inaudible].

John: Got it. Adam, you know, it’s obvious that sustainability is of paramount importance at Ball. Before we have to say goodbye to this episode, do you have any final thoughts to share with our audience members for today?

Adam: I think my final thought is to choose aluminum and to keep recycling.

John: I love those thoughts, Adam. Thank you for joining us today at The Impact Podcast. Thank you and the Ball Corporation for making the world a better place.

Adam: Thank you, John. I really appreciate the time.

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. Closed Loop’s 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.

John: This edition of The Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic Hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.