A coffee with… Manuel Esteban Tórtola, Packaging and Pos Activation manager at CEPSA
Empack: Manuel, tell us a bit about your day-to-day life in the company and what it means to be Packaging & POS Activation Manager at Cepsa.
Manuel: I think it’s quite an interesting position with two responsibilities that at first sight have nothing to do with each other but in reality they are very closely linked.
On the one hand I am responsible for the packaging strategy for the lubricants and asphalts businesses and on the other hand I lead the Trade Marketing strategy for our key account customers.
It sounds like the two functions are not very closely related, but many of our products end up on our customers’ shelves, so my trade marketing role allows me to be always in touch with the latest trends in the world of packaging and the demands of our customers and consumers.
Since I joined Cepsa, I have faced a very motivating challenge, which is to take all our packaging to the highest level of sustainability with existing technologies and always bearing in mind the importance of the safety and quality of our products. It is an almost never-ending task as there is always room for further improvements with the innovation in techniques and materials that has been taking place in recent years.
Empack: Within your functions, we see that one of the points you manage is the transformation of the company’s packaging strategy towards more innovative and environmentally friendly packaging. Could you tell us about a project you are currently carrying out and what it consists of?
Manuel: Cepsa launched its Positive Motion strategy in 2022, which mainly seeks to advance in the decarbonisation of our customers and to achieve zero net emissions as a company.
This is a very ambitious and positive strategy for society in general, which in my specific case translates into making packaging as sustainable as possible. To this end, we are analysing our entire packaging repertoire and looking for much more environmentally friendly alternatives. This is a new strategy in which the whole company is involved and in which I have the support of all the departments I work with, such as Supply Chain, Procurement, Operations and our Plants.
Probably the most ambitious and pioneering project in the lubricants sector has been to ensure that all our smaller packaging (20L or less) is produced with up to 70% recycled plastic. In addition, we have also changed our labels from virgin plastic to 100% recycled plastic. With this change we will avoid the use of 350 tonnes of virgin plastic per year and reduce our annual CO2 emissions by 430 tonnes.
Empack: Do you have any practical advice for companies in the packaging sector to reduce their carbon footprint?
Manuel: I sincerely believe that there is a very positive change in all industries regarding the importance of making products or processes more sustainable. This shift sometimes happens because there is a legal requirement but there are also companies, like Cepsa for example, that always try to go beyond the minimum required by legislation.
This new context is also leading packaging suppliers to look for more environmentally friendly alternatives to their current offer. There are materials or techniques that are starting to take off but still need to evolve and become more “democratised”. Here are a couple of examples.
I believe that in order to promote the circular economy, chemical recycling is a very important process that allows plastic to be reused with a level of recycling in the packaging of 100%. However, it is currently a costly process that is two to three times more expensive than plastic from mechanical recycling, making it not very viable. More companies should invest in this technology to lower costs and make it more accessible.
Another material that has a great future is biodegradable plastic, which is a great solution to reduce waste but is tremendously expensive and also the new law classifies it as virgin plastic, which means paying a tax of €0.45/kg. Here again I see a very important potential that this time will need the support of the legislature.
Empack: Within your extensive professional career, we see that you have worked in important companies such as Dia, Pepsico, Renault, Diageo, Grupo Osborne, Triumph… if you had to remember any challenge or achievement related to sustainability issues in which you have worked in any of these companies, what would it be and why?
Manuel: The truth is that concern for sustainability is relatively recent. I’m not saying that years ago there weren’t already sustainability policies in companies, but I think the process has accelerated a lot in recent years.
This is mainly due on the one hand to a change in the mentality and demands of consumers and on the other hand to the passing of new laws, first at European and then at national level, which aim to promote the circular economy and the reduction of waste.
It was while working at Triumph in Switzerland that some of our customers in the DACH region (Germany, Switzerland and Austria) “forced” us to change our plastic packaging to more sustainable packaging in the face of increased consumer pressure. We then had to rethink our entire packaging and look for sustainable alternatives. On the contrary, our Greek consumers did not want us to change our plastic packaging because for them it was a distinguishing feature of the brand, which shows us that not all countries are equally aware of the importance of sustainability.
In the end, we managed to replace plastic with FSC-certified cardboard, which was very well received by our consumers.
Empack: Finally, if you had to give a piece of advice to the Manuel of 5 years ago, taking into account the unpredictable changes we have faced in recent years, what would it be?
Manuel: The truth is that I entered the world of packaging by chance. Working in Trade Marketing in FMCG companies I had always done promotional packaging but it wasn’t until I worked in the fashion world, where you have to create packaging for new collections every 6 months, that I really started to lead packaging strategies.
Working in Switzerland for 4 years, so close to the German market which is very demanding when it comes to sustainability, has helped me a lot to have an active attitude of always scrutinising the market for new materials and techniques. I think that with all the legislative changes that are taking place and the demands of consumers, it is very necessary to have that critical attitude about how things are done now and how they can be improved for the future.
It is also important to have the courage to try new things that, even if they do not have an immediate positive result, at least provide a learning experience for the future. It is not about pursuing change for change’s sake, but about seeking to adapt to an ever-changing context.
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