Nestlé Says It Can Be Virtuous and Profitable. Is That Even Possible?

Born in Germany, Mr. Schneider, 54, earned an M.B.A. from Harvard. Before being recruited to Nestlé in 2017, he was chief executive of Fresenius, a health care company in Bad Homburg, a city near Frankfurt. He drives a Tesla and said one of his hobbies was making vegetable drinks.

As part of a companywide campaign to reduce plastic waste, he recently volunteered to help clean up garbage along the Seine in Paris. In September, Nestlé inaugurated the Institute of Packaging Sciences in Lausanne, which has a goal to ensure that all of the company’s packaging will be recyclable or reusable by 2025 and that none of it will end up in landfills or floating in the Pacific.

Activists say recycling is not a solution. Experience shows that even recyclable packaging usually winds up being thrown away. Poorer countries lack the necessary infrastructure. The solution is to make packaging reusable, said Graham Forbes, global project leader for Greenpeace’s plastics campaign.

“If they want to remain viable in the future, they need to embrace the direction young people want to go, which is away from throwaway culture,” Mr. Forbes said.

Nestlé’s size and dizzying array of products mean that the company, based on the shore of Lake Geneva in Vevey, is often in the cross hairs of activist groups. Nestlé has more than 300,000 employees, and sales last year were $93 billion. It operates in virtually every country.

One of the biggest knocks against Nestlé is that it promotes obesity in places like Africa, a growth market, by getting consumers hooked on sugary and fatty foods. The company’s products include Nesquik flavored milk powders, KitKat chocolate bars and Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

“In the developing world, the sudden availability of high-calorie, sugary, fatty products has displaced traditional products,” said Oliver Huizinga, head of research and campaigns at Foodwatch Germany, a watchdog group. “That is certainly one reason for the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.”