How Ball Corporation is reshaping supply chain for a truly sustainable future
For many enterprises today, the goal of making sustainability fundamental to its business, operations, and products remains aspirational at best. The complexities and compromises that come with such sweeping transformations often pose challenges that many manufacturers just can’t overcome.
For the pioneers at Ball Corporation (NYSE: BALL), those challenges serve as inspiration to obliterate them. The Denver-based organization, founded in 1880, is the leader in cutting-edge aluminum packaging. Their league-leading Aerospace division designs and builds spacecraft and payloads and is an innovator in climate monitoring and weather forecasting technologies.
Their commitment to sustainability reaches into every aspect of the business, evidenced on the beverage, personal care, and household products packaging side by the 2019 introduction of the infinitely recyclable Ball Aluminum Cup™. Aluminum, long recognized as the most sustainable beverage packaging material, has the highest recycling rates of all common packaging materials; 75% of the aluminum ever produced is in use today – and will be tomorrow.
In announcing the cup’s rollout to over 30,000 retailers in all 50 states, Ball president and CEO Daniel W. Fisher said, "As a company, we are relentlessly focused on enabling the circular economy and finding new ways to help solve the packaging waste crisis with aluminum beverage packaging."
Andrew D. Schneider joined Ball in 2021 as the company’s Global Supply Chain Transformation Leader, tasked with the transfiguration of their supply chain organization as the company becomes the standard-bearer for sustainable manufacturing. Piloting successful complex and profound transformations in the discipline is Schneider’s passion, and in his experience the key to successful and lasting change comes down to focusing on the “day in the life” impact on supply chain professionals.
In such a tactical discipline, transformations can resemble the equivalent of rebuilding a plane in flight. “We can't land it and rebuild it and then take it back in the air. You’ve got to do it,” he said. “You have to start with the questions of why and what's in it for me. Those aren't questions that businesses should shirk from.”
Ball certainly doesn’t. One key operational tenet for the company is focusing on people and culture, making everyone part of the why. “Supply chain personnel more now than ever need to feel rewarded, committed to, and allowed to evolve their roles with the pace of automation and globalization,” he said. “If they understand the why, a lot of people will come along for the journey even if they understand they’ll be impacted by it.”
Rather than letting challenges lead them, supply chain pros lead the challenges and are typically first to find solutions to them. As a multinational growing both organically and through M&As, faced with integrating multiple systems and approaches to supply chain, they have established One Ball, a concept connecting all the company’s 21,000 global employees as one cohesive organization.
“To have an environment that can facilitate that means the focus has to start with people,” Schneider stressed.
Ball’s supply chain reset centers on three important aspects, the first of which is helping create a more robust and sustainable supply chain. Ball recently announced a minority equity position with Manna Capital Partners to support Manna’s new aluminum can sheet rolling mill and recycling center in Los Lunas, New Mexico.
“The beverage packaging market continues to grow, and the reality is that there is a shortage of rolled aluminum beverage can sheet in North America,” Schneider explained. “Helping build a strong domestic supply chain is key and this investment demonstrates Ball’s commitment to prepare ourselves and our supply chains for continued growth.”
The second aspect, network optimization, is a struggle every industry is facing these days. Ball eases that difficulty by bringing their customers into the process. Beverage customers such as Coke, Pepsi, Heineken, and Anheuser-Busch are involved in collaborative planning and forecasting, contributing insights on consumption rates, changing consumer preferences and demographics, as well as patterns of growth and contraction.
That increased collaboration and communication is coupled with new processes and technologies to redesign and optimize their network. “Network optimization has become probably the most important supply chain federative, beyond wanting to own more of our own destiny,” he said.
As you might suspect, the third focus is talent acquisition and retention. Ball recently hired an EVP of integrated business planning, a role that falls under the aegis of supply chain. Schneider views the addition as an example of Ball’s elevated approach to supply chain management. “They could have done well with just buying more of their own supply network or just doing optimization, but you have to have people to keep that alive. Otherwise, it's a short-term victory.”
Schneider believes that long-term partnership is where winners are found. “For a company like Ball, it has to be about balance, not compromising your ability to consistently produce a desired service level and quality and customer experience over time,” he said.
Building a network of supply chain partners that are focused on responsible sourcing is key to Ball’s commitment to leading the globe in sustainable aluminum packaging. “In our vendor space and at the plants we're building around the world, we're finding new ways to improve our environmental impacts,” he concluded.
“We focus on those partners that are using renewable energy, reducing carbon emissions, and that are focused on a commitment to science-based targets to accelerate having a lower carbon economy. That is as much part of our selection process as searching for the best price. And I think that really honors our mission.”
Ball Corporation is one of the world’s largest aluminum packaging producers for beverage, personal care and household products, as well as a significant provider of aerospace technologies, environmental science and intelligence. The company its subsidiaries employ 24,300 people worldwide and reported 2021 net sales of $13.8 billion.
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