For almost two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has dominated the news headlines. Yet I think we are all well aware of climate change which is an even larger threat facing humanity and it’s not one, that can be put off and dealt with over the long-term.

The COP26 (UN Climate Change Conference) taking place in the UK this October and November has made that very clear.

Climate change and environmental degradation are already affecting us all, whether it’s from breathing in polluted air as we try to cross traffic-clogged streets, or wading through the floodwaters here in my home country.

Vietnam has always been prone to devastating floods because of its long coastline and low-lying landmass. In fact, there’s a national folk tale that the floods are sent by Thủy Tinh, the god of the waters, in perpetual vengeance for losing the hand of the princess Mỹ Nương to the mountain god Sơn Tinh.

Every monsoon season, it feels as if the weather is getting worse. This September and October, Vietnam has been buffeted by storm Dianmu and storm Kompasu.

But the good news is that the Vietnamese government is rising to the challenge. This is an especially difficult issue for governments in emerging and frontier market countries. They want to spur the high-growth phase of economic development. But they also now need to try and balance that with environmental protection as well.

However, the Vietnamese government has set a net-zero carbon emission target for 2050. It’s also rolling out a plan to plant a billion trees by 2025. New mangrove plantations are springing up along the coastline to prevent further erosion and flooding. There’ll be no more coal-fired power after 2040.

But action has to come from the ground up as well: from companies and the customers they serve. We all have a role to play.

THP & Climate Change

What’s been particularly pleasing at THP is how some of our recent initiatives have been driven by customer feedback. This highlights how there’s rising environmental awareness among the general public. Brand value now encompasses ESG (environmental, social, governance) considerations.

The R&D team are very good at spotting these kinds of trends early because we always try and listen to our customers. THP has consequently been right at the forefront of the country’s emerging environmental consciousness.

One big initiative involves placing the circular economy (produce, consume, re-cycle or re-use) at the very heart of our operations.  Before the pandemic, we also tried to spread our knowledge and experience further into Vietnam’s corporate sector by sponsoring a conference about it.

Thanks to customer feedback in 2019, we also initiated a project to re-cycle plastic bottles and caps into pallets that forklift trucks could use to carry goods around the warehouses. My father received a ceremonial pallet made from recycled HDPE (high density poly ethylene) to mark our Founder’s Day on October 15.

In the following couple of weeks, we produced a total of 1,000 recycled pallets and have the capacity to ramp this up to 150,000 per annum.

Our next plan is to start turning re-cycled bottles into garbage bins. Far better to create a bin that aids waste collection rather than watch discarded plastic bottles floating along rivers and out into the sea.

We’ve been reducing the plastic content in our products too. Our bottles have not got smaller, but they do now contain far less plastic. The amount has progressively dropped from 38 grams per bottle in 2015 to 18 grams today.

These are all recent initiatives, but my father has been keen on minimizing THP’s environmental footprint for many years. For instance, we became the first Vietnamese beverage company to achieve ISO 14000 in 2006. Then in 2015, we achieved ISO 14001.

These internationally agreed standards set out the requirements for companies’ environmental management systems (EMS). They help to improve performance by instituting a more efficient use of resources and reducing waste.

The two ISO classifications were both important landmarks for THP. Firstly, as a company, we always aim to adhere to the highest international standards.

Secondly, throughout his career, my father has always tried to push the boundaries of his knowledge. He never claims to know everything and instils that ethos throughout the rest of the company.

THP’s management always emphasize that there’s room for improvement: that we should encourage a spirit of learning, sharing and innovative thinking. As the sixth of our seven core values states: today is better than yesterday but not as good as tomorrow.

So how do we implement EMS? Firstly, we’re very careful about where our factories are sited. They need to be near a good source of water.

Since 2008, we have also been manufacturing our drinks using aseptic technology and now have 10 production lines. THP was the first South East Asian drinks company to introduce it and at the time it was viewed as a bold move.

It was also a smart environmental one. Aseptic technology keeps the whole process sterile and eliminates the need for preservatives. It’s also more energy efficient, reducing the amount of water needed.

Efficient water management is a key priority. We built a wastewater treatment plant using European technology to meet the government’s regulations on industrial wastewater (QCVN 40:2011/BNMT).

Gas exhaust is treated using a cyclone dust settling system, a de-dusting tower and then discharged through a chimney that’s 30 meters high in line with the government’s regulations on industrial emissions (QCVN 19:2009/BNMT).

When it comes to industrial and office waste, we are constantly refining our categorizations so that we can sort it more efficiency and then transfer it to specialized third parties to deal with.

Adherence to national standards and emulating the best international practices should form the bedrock of every single company. This is particularly important when it comes to the environment. Strive to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best and then promote that awareness to prompt positive behavioural change.