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Environmental Stewardship

Shrinking our environmental footprint

Reducing waste going to landfills, energy consumption, greenhouse gases, hazardous air emissions, and water usage at each of our manufacturing plants

Exceeding our GHG reduction goal to reduce climate impact

To lessen our impact on climate, Sonoco established a goal to materially reduce normalized greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 15% over five years. Our strategy focused on reducing use of higher emitting energy sources, particularly coal, and transitioning to less carbon-intensive natural gas and biogenic carbon-neutral biomass (C02 = 0). This effort required significant planning, engineering and investment in our global uncoated recycled paperboard (URB) mills, including a $75 million biomass cogeneration facility in our Hartsville, S.C., manufacturing complex to reduce energy costs.

The benefits of this strategy have been dramatic. In five years, Sonoco reduced normalized GHG emissions by nearly 24%, with normalized emissions in 2014 dropping nearly 12% and direct emissions (Scope 1) from Sonoco’s facilities reduced by 21%, reflecting the success of the new Hartsville biomass boiler system.

In addition to lowering CO2 emissions at the Hartsville complex by nearly 65% over five years, we significantly reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide (down 95%), nitrogen oxides (down 65%) and particulates (down 91%). The new unit also provides approximately $8.5 million in annual cost savings while producing 120,000 MW (megawatts) of green electricity. Fueling the boiler is about 400,000 tons per year of processed wood debris (from limbs, stumps and other wood wastes) coming from timber operations in northeast South Carolina, which allows us to reduce coal usage significantly each year.

While our sustainability achievements since 2014 have been an exceptional change for the better, we realize we must continue to pursue improvement. We have learned that doing the right thing involves understanding the economic, environmental and social aspects material to Sonoco and our stakeholders and then driving progress to improve our performance of those issues. However, we also realize it will be much more difficult to achieve the level of improvements experienced over the past five years without a significant breakthrough in science or technology. Using 2014 as our new baseline, our commitment through 2020 is to: 

  1. Reduce normalized global energy usage by 1% annually, which we believe will result in a further 1% reduction in GHG emissions (or reducing GHG emissions by 5% through 2020).
  2. Reduce normalized water usage by 5% through 2020. 
  3. Achieve Sonoco Sustainability Star award status at an additional 10% of the Company’s operations by significantly diverting landfill wastes. 
  4. Continue working with our customers to demonstrate total landfill diversion from their operations in North America and Europe. 
  5. Demonstrate further improvement in employee safety, diversity and engagement. 

The carbon neutrality of biomass


The carbon neutrality of biomass harvested from sustainably managed forests has been recognized by an abundance of studies, agencies, institutions and legislation around the world, including the guidance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the reporting protocols of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Sonoco has more than 50,000 acres of sustainably managed forests in South Carolina, which it harvests primarily for pulp for papermaking. The Company also repurposes approximately 400,000 tons of regional wood wastes and residuals to fuel our Hartsville biomass cogeneration operations—and we are one of the largest recyclers of paper in the Southeast U.S., which reuses valuable resources to make recycled paper.

Recycling programs

Sonoco Recycling works to implement and encourage recycling programs through its Sonoco Sustainability Star Awards program, created in 2011 to recognize customer- and Sonoco-owned facilities for achieving significant milestones in landfill diversion and waste stream reduction. Over 10% of our 330 facilities and 20 of our customers’ operations have achieved Sonoco Sustainability Star Awards, including several facilities that have reached total landfill diversion. 

Fiber certification

Sonoco is committed to responsible use of natural resources through responsible sourcing, recycling and use of recycled fiber in our paper-based packaging. Sonoco’s U.S., Canadian, U.K., Brazilian and one of our Mexican mills are certified to one or more fiber certification programs. These are: the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) and the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification® (PEFC®) Chain of Custody and Due Diligence System Standards. Additionally, we have plants in our composite can packaging, industrial tubes & cores, and primary packaging carton operations that are certified to these programs and can produce certified packaging. Overall sales (certified and not) by these mills and fiber certified plants is equal to 15% of Sonoco’s revenue.

All but three of our 19 global paperboard mills use 100% recycled fiber in their production. Some amount of responsibly-sourced virgin fiber is needed for select grades of paperboard. The amount of recycled fiber in our composite cans range from 60 to 80+ percent, depending on the product specifications for the package. On average, the amount of recycled fiber used in our industrial tubes and cores exceeds 95 percent.

Key environmental metrics

To learn more about our key environmental metrics, click on the thumbnail below.
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Sonoco's Approach to Climate Change

Sonoco recognizes our responsibility to address the challenges of global climate change. We are committed to measuring and reporting our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, energy and water consumption and waste generation in our operations around the world.

We are meeting our responsibility by developing innovative new processes and by identifying and managing risks and opportunities to our raw materials inputs, operations, employees, suppliers, customers and products.

We are focused on reducing energy usage and air emissions by maximizing energy efficiency through targeted investments and initiatives, as well as reducing water usage and landfill wastes, and we encourage our vendors, partners and contractors to do the same.

Our Environmental Policy

Sonoco takes seriously our responsibility to protect the environment in which we work and live, and will conduct our business in accordance with all legal requirements and ethical responsibilities, using scientific knowledge, technical innovation and sound environmental management practices.

  • We will be sensitive to environmental issues throughout our business systems, including our selection of materials, processes and products. 
  • We will utilize appropriate monitoring techniques to ensure adherence to accepted standards. 
  • We will conduct operations in full compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations. In those areas of the world where such requirements are at a minimum, we will operate in a completely responsible manner. 
  • We will utilize natural resources efficiently, continuously seeking ways to reduce our requirements. We will strive to maximize the utilization of recovered materials in the products we manufacture and use. 
  • We will minimize the generation of discharges to the environment, including air emissions, wastewater and solid waste.
  • We will support the development of scientific knowledge relating to environmental matters and implement appropriate new technologies to improve our environmental performance. 
  • We will proactively assist our customers in addressing environmental issues related to their use of our products. 
  • We will communicate openly with our stake-holders concerning our environmental record.
  • We will cooperate with public and governmental organizations to seek responsible solutions to environmental needs and to develop effective and balanced environmental standards.

View Important Documents

Environmental Policy and Reports

Sonoco's Sustainable Wood and Fiber Policy

FSC Chain of Custody Certificate

Sustainable Forestry Initiative Chain of Custody Certificate

PEFC Chain of Custody Certificate

"One of the best things we have in South Carolina is the ability to say that Sonoco is headquartered here."

-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley

Talk to us.

If you would like to extend a dialogue with Sonoco on issues of sustainability, you may contact us at sustainability@sonoco.com