Meet the C-Suite

José Miguel del Solar, People and Sustainability Manager at Cristalerías Chile

“The container does matter”.

 The company with the oldest glass recycling program in Chile, has been developing a Sustainability Strategy, whose objective is to position glass containers as the most sustainable packaging in the market, seeking a positive impact on the environment and all its stakeholders.

 In this new edition of Meet the C-Suite we learn about the experience and initiatives of a company that has put people and the purpose of creating packaging that cares for life at the center of its attention.

By Simalco BrandLink

This month, José Miguel del Solar, People and Sustainability Manager at Cristalerías Chile – Commercial Engineer from the University of Chile, with a diploma in human resources management from the PUC – celebrated 20 years in the company belonging to the Claro Group.

He started in Cristalerías in the early 80s, and then worked in other companies of the conglomerate, but working in the plastics industry, when the discussion on the packaging of food and beverages was not part of the agenda.

In 2002, he returned to Cristalerías as HR manager. Since then, his position has evolved to be called People and Sustainability Manager, as a way to integrate the vision of stakeholders within the company and broaden the agenda for the company’s environmental concerns.

How has your experience been in Cristalerías Chile and what does the company do in terms of sustainability, people management and linkage with the environment?

The company recently celebrated its 118th anniversary and we always say that lasting for so many years means that we have done well, facing crises, economic and social challenges, and those of the packaging industry itself.

Being market leaders in glass packaging is a meritorious achievement, but it is also an enormous responsibility. Maintaining this leadership is a challenge that forces us to permanently review our strategy, our sense of enterprise, as well as our goals and indicators.

Our sustainability strategy is associated with packaging: a package that is essential to contain, protect and transport products, and for which you must take responsibility for its subsequent destination, its waste. In this industry, it can be concluded that we have gone overboard with the quantity, variety and diversity of packaging to protect, promote and communicate, but which, in the end, end up in the trash.   

This has meant what is evident and whose consequences are visible in our society: we have discarded too much, polluted our environment and this forces us to rethink the industry, mitigate effects, reduce impacts and all the actors in the chain are in this.

The seal of the Claro group companies has been social, with a concern for the needs of the workers, the environment, the surroundings?

We have the oldest recycling campaign in Chile and we did it in partnership with Coaniquem (Corporación de Ayuda al Niño Quemado). Perhaps it was the first sign of our concern for sustainability. Then we developed many initiatives that involved investments in environmental issues and social concerns, but in 2011 what we did was to systematize this: we created the sustainability area, generated a mobilizing leadership that gave it content and a long-term view, sought consultancies and began to report our sustainability management.

Most of the containers we manufacture are for wine exported to more than 140 countries, many of them developed and with high standards in environmental management, generating a series of challenges to the wine industry and the entire value chain, whether containers, inputs or secondary packaging. This has brought with it concrete commitments to reduce environmental impacts when manufacturing a container.

How can a glass container be made more environmentally friendly?

Glass is the only packaging material that is 100% recyclable, and that is why we have put a lot of energy into developing the largest glass recycling network in the country, because recycled glass can be used infinitely to develop a new container, maintaining the same quality, safety and security as one made from virgin raw material.

In this same sense, for each kilo of glass recovered from the environment, we avoid the use of sand and achieve higher levels of energy efficiency, generating a triple impact, making the product more competitive, freeing landfills from waste and avoiding the use of raw materials and energy.

We are convinced that packaging does matter, and therefore, together with the recycling strategy, we continue to work on a sustainable design that accompanies our customers in their reuse and returnability objectives, contributing to the circular economy of the production chain.  

How have you reduced this footprint?

Our production process is energy-intensive, which is why recycling is a strategic activity for the company. In the same way, we have been developing a weight reduction strategy for more than a decade, giving life to the EcoGlass family of containers, which maintain quality and functionality, but reduce the use of glass by up to 14%, impacting the carbon footprint of the product, reducing the footprint of customers in its scope 3 due to the effect of more containers with less volume in transport. Currently, more than 50% of the company’s production corresponds to lightweight containers. And we continue to pursue this goal with targets to 2030 for the spirits and wine sector.

We want to be faithful to our purpose, which is manifested in our relationship with our stakeholders. 

stakeholders, “we create packaging that cares for life”. This concept, which involves all of us, commits us mainly to care for the environment and we generate reduction policies and goals as part of our sustainability strategy.

How do you take care of life in Cristalerías Chile?

The first thing is to take care of the lives of our workers and their families with safe production processes and benefits that protect them. We take care of our communities with a productive operation that does not affect them and generating cultural and sports projects that benefit them. We also take care of our suppliers, generating employment, business and fair treatment for their development and, of course, our customers by delivering quality products.  

We take care of the company’s assets to continue being leaders and deliver profitability to our shareholders, who in turn have a focus of concern for the cultural and educational issues in the areas of extreme poverty in the country.

And we take care of Chile, because we work to ensure that none of our packaging reaches the garbage. It is said that 500 million containers a year go to landfills, creating a big problem for the municipalities, in circumstances that glass is not garbage, it is raw material.

We hope that this purpose will also be reflected in our next third plant so that it will be a successful process with shared benefits.

In these 20 years there have been many changes in people and sustainability issues, which have caught your attention?

In recent times companies have changed, I think they have had more sense of purpose and have been more connected with the reality around them, they are not only productive or commercial companies, they have understood that they have a responsibility to society and that their actions have an impact. And not doing so implies a risk.

In the labor market there is greater professionalization, the incorporation of a younger generation, more critical, more demanding and prepared, which forces companies to have better answers, and these last two years we have had a very relevant change, with a concern for the balance between work and family, for being able to fulfill personal and professional dreams. Today, for people it is important that work pursues a meaningful purpose and that this meaning connects with the personal and collective good.

Professionals demand agile companies, concerned about people, where one can develop oneself, flexible, more horizontal, less concentrated, less pyramidal. There has been a democratization of decisions, greater integration, there are a series of changes that companies have been undergoing and have been adapting to. 

Consumers also demand other things from companies….

There have been many changes. Today we are facing a much more informed and demanding consumer, which forces us to be permanently concerned about quality, the concept of services in companies, the form of product distribution, information, transparency.

There has been a greater demand on the companies to adapt to these demands of the consumer, of the workers, to the legal and environmental restrictions. Today it is much more difficult to do business than 20 years ago, because there are many more expectations in the people who start working, because they demand the company to be a focus of development, diverse, inclusive.

Before, a much more homogeneous job profile was chosen, today we see a concern for gender equity, for the inclusion of migrants, for diversity in the professions, to have a much broader view, which complements and adds value. The company has changed as a concept, and this challenges us to offer more attractive and flexible companies, with work and meaning.

How do you work that? How do you plan it?

The change has to be made partly out of conviction and you have to act accordingly. If you think that you will incorporate women ‘as you need them’, you will never do it, because you are used to men working in that area. You have to make the decision to change the culture and practices. And we did it.

The glass industry, I say this with a lot of shame, was a very macho industry, because there was the paradigm that you work in rotating shifts, with a lot of noise, a lot of cold and heat, heavy industry and very physically demanding. We set out to have 100 women by 2020. And gradually we have been incorporating women in each of the areas and at all levels, especially now in productive areas where some years ago it was something not considered.

For example, we carried out a massive training exercise in Llay Llay, in one of the plants in the commune, to hire female forklift operators. We had 60 male operators, we trained only women and today there are already several working in the plant.


What goals are you working with now in management?

We are working in coordination with the sustainability sub-management and a committee in which the CEO and other related areas participate around four pillars: a) climate change, focusing on reducing the carbon footprint and water consumption; b) circular economy, increasing the recyclability of containers by 50% and becoming zero waste plants; and c) sustainable glass, reducing the weight of generic containers for the spirits and wine sector.

Our sustainable recycling network is present between Antofagasta and Magallanes with 2,200 recycling points in 83 municipalities, covering the extreme zones, such as Easter Island, Magallanes, Aysén, generating employment at the local level, by supporting local managers who enable the collection of glass and facilitate logistics, a critical aspect for the recycling process to create value and generate impact.

On the other hand, when products and processes are developed, it is important that they can be evaluated. For this we work with the SSIndex evaluation, which measures the sustainable culture of companies according to aspects of social, environmental and corporate governance (ESG) management. Based on interviews with customers, suppliers, employees, neighbors and local authorities, it is possible to get an insight into how our commitment to ethics and transparency, the environment, customer service, community relations and employee development is perceived.

What are the challenges ahead?

We are working on this comprehensive sustainability strategy, redefining our corporate values and our code of conduct, since the one we had is 10 years old, and in this decade, Chile has changed, the world has changed, and the behaviors we asked of our workers are more demanding, new views have been incorporated, new legislation, there is a new reality.

We are working on risk management, there is a whole legal structure to comply with, quality, safety, product attributes, occupational health and safety, the whole world of people management, communications with consumers, innovation.

We have created a citizen cause, which is ‘Choose Glass’, to care for, protect and recycle glass, and it is something that goes beyond Cristalerías Chile, as it has benefits for other glass companies as well.

The firm will open a third plant. Is there a growing demand for glass, then?

That’s right. The decision to invest in production plants that contribute to the supply has to do with a projection of growing demand and, therefore, the need for glass containers. Although there is a global financial crisis, a factor that incorporates uncertainty, we are projecting the need for a third plant to supply domestic needs, on the one hand, and particularly the export needs of Chilean wine.

The supply crisis, then, has affected the glass container sector…

The supply crisis and logistics chains that the world experienced between 2020 and 2021 attacked much of the industry and affected packaging and raw materials, and we were no exception. We are living in a complex time. However, as global supply fell, there was a greater need for products and we had a good commercial year and we continue to project it in such a way that our expansion plan is still in force.

How would you say you coped with the pandemic and how did COVID change your work?

Like everyone else, we lived through a very difficult time. We were concerned about maintaining the health of our people, the safety of our plants and maintaining the production logistics chain, because we supply the export of wine from Chile.

We had to reorganize the schedules, the working hours and implement remote work, seeking the protection of the elderly, avoiding contagions inside the plants and in family environments. Everything was new and we were learning as the months went by. We kept a group permanently quarantined at home in case of possible contagion in the plant; if a unit was infected, it went home and the one we had ‘on the bench’ was incorporated.

We protected the most vulnerable group at home, those workers over 60 years of age: if they were administrative workers, they worked from home, and if they were production workers, they did not go to work. In addition, we changed the shift systems, isolated the most vulnerable and managed COVID with daily follow-up reports to monitor them. And obviously, we took all the internal safety measures in the plant and offices, gauges, alcohol gel, temperature, field canteens, physical distance, individual transportation systems, due to mobility restrictions, etc. It was a 24-hour work, every day, informing by mail, WhatsApp, taking care of the traceability of each alert that was activated. It was a very intense experience that we were able to overcome.

In times of health crisis, our purpose helped us not to lose focus and guide business decisions. This is how we continued to produce with a series of requirements and at the same time many restrictions. All of this while taking care of people’s health, ensuring a continuous supply for our customers and maintaining the quality of our products for end consumers.


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