Sustainability - moving the goalposts

2nd of April 2019
Sustainability - moving the goalposts

Moving raw materials, products and employees around the country – and potentially the world – can have a huge impact on the environment. So, what are cleaning manufacturers doing to reduce the impact of such journeys, asks Ann Laffeaty?

Transport in all its forms has a major effect on our planet. The use of fossil fuels to power vehicles not only constitutes a drain on our natural resources, it also leads to harmful emissions into the atmosphere.

The impacts of transport also include high noise levels and the creation of particulates from combustion engines which have been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

And climate change is often considered to be one of the more long-term effects of moving people and products around the world, with 15 per cent of global CO2 emissions thought to be attributable to the transport sector.

But in a dynamic business environment it is essential staff remain mobile in order to promote their company’s brand, visit production sites and attend international meetings. As for the products themselves, these rely on raw materials that may need to be sourced from afar. And once they have been made, products need to be packaged up and shipped to the markets.

So, is there any way of reducing the environmental impact of all these journeys? Metsä Tissue applies strict sustainability criteria to all its logistics service providers, says managing director Mark Dewick. “We conducted a sustainability questionnaire and evaluated our service providers’ responses against our own criteria relating to management, business ethics, social responsibility, health and safety, risk management and environmental responsibility,” he said.

“All issues identified through the survey were addressed and all our suppliers have now fulfilled the required criteria.”

However it is a challenge to transport tissue products in a sustainable manner according to Dewick. “Tissue papers are light and airy - and transporting air is not a sustainable way to operate,” he said. “So we manufacture our products as close to the markets as possible to minimise transport distances.

“We also ensure our products are efficiently packed on the pallet to allow us to transport less air and more product in the same space, which in turn reduces our CO2 emissions.”

The company continually assesses its products to see where space may be further maximised during transport, he says. “For example, paper roll products that are wound more tightly take up less space which means we can fit more on to a pallet.”

According to Dewick it is also important to minimise the amount of packaging waste. “Urbanisation and rising income levels in emerging markets are increasing consumption which boosts the demand for packaging,” he said. “Meanwhile, changes in retailing - especially e-commerce - are further increasing this demand.”

In 2017 Metsä opened a bio-product mill in order to make use of its tissue bio-products. “We have produced a new biogas which can be used as a traffic fuel, plus a biocomposite that could potentially replace plastic,” he said.

Minimise staff transport

Metsä aims to minimise its staff transport burden by using teleconferencing facilities where possible. “This greatly reduces the need for visiting offices while lowering our need for international travel for internal company projects,” said Dewick. “And we are entering a new era in forestry, using digitalisation to provide solutions that make forests more intelligent. For example, landowners will soon be able to visit their forests in virtual reality which means there will be less need to travel and the collection of raw materials will become more effective.”

Greenspeed also places a strong focus on transport efficiency according to marketing manager Floor Loos. “We order full lorries when sourcing stock and we send out full lorries back on to the road,” she said. “The ingredients and minerals contained in our detergents are sourced near to our plant and the central location of that plant provides good connections between the production unit and our major sales regions. And this allows us to reduce transport miles and run our business more efficiently.”

Highly concentrated

Greenspeed detergents come in a highly concentrated format - 100 doses per litre bottle – with five-litre refills also available, she adds. “This not only leads to less packaging waste, but also to a reduced transport burden,” said Loos. “And we encourage our customers to order full packages of products instead of one bottle or a single microfibre cloth.”

Like Metsä, Greenspeed has policies in place to reduce staff journeys. “Telecommunication applications such as Zoom and Skype are used internally to avoid unnecessary commuter traffic while those employees who need to move around more frequently – such as account managers – use electric vehicles,” she said.  “And we encourage employees to come to work by bike and offer compensation for staff members who do.”

Kärcher is also taking steps to minimise staff travel, says management systems director Andreas Mayer. “We have a clearly defined travel policy designed to reduce the impact of people traffic,” he said. “This supports green transport modes such as public transport plus the use of bicycles by our employees.

“We also offer facilities for charging electric cars and have several such vehicles in our car pool. And we support video conferencing and offer home-working options to staff.”

The company has regionalised its purchasing process in line with the ‘Local for Local’ concept, says Mayer. “This helps to lower the impact of raw material transportation and reduces the consumption of resources, both in terms of transport and logistics,” he said. “In China we already procure 90 per cent regionally whereas in Europe this figure is 70 per cent.”

Meanwhile, Kärcher has initiated a project focusing on the delivery of goods direct from its plants. “This avoids unnecessary traffic via our global distribution centre and reduces the impact of product transport,” said Mayer.

Essity also takes steps to limit the impact of transport of raw materials and products, says the company’s communications director Reneé Remijnse. “For example, we operate within a global manufacturing footprint to avoid transporting goods any further than necessary,” she said. “We also optimise our truck capacity and source materials locally where possible.

“We reduce the size of our packs with the aid of compressed packaging initiatives to reduce the transport burden. And we use efficient methods of transport such as EPA SmartWay certified trucks in the US which reduce our carbon footprint since they use natural gas rather than diesel.”

Less people movement

Minimising the amount of packaging used and reducing product size is an important element of Essity’s innovation, according to Remijnse. “For example, our Tork PeakServe hand towels are compressed by 50 per cent which halves the transport capacity,” she said. “Tork Xpress hand towels are also compressed and our Tork Mid-size Toilet Paper rolls contain no core which reduces waste. And Tork Easy Handling packs have been designed to reduce packaging volume.”

Essity has a number of initiatives in place to reduce the need for moving people from A to B, says Remijnse. “These include encouraging a reduction in travel through virtual meetings by phone or with the use of local video conferencing facilities,” she said. “We also offer car-sharing support in the US and we facilitate the practice of working from home where suitable.

“And our car policy promotes the use of eco-friendly vehicles such as hybrids, with electrical chargers available at some sites.”

Werner and Mertz actively encourages its employees to switch to hybrid or electric cars by offering them loading infrastructure and cheap leasing rates, says sustainability manager Christopher Luening.

Impact of transport

“As part of our EMAS and LEED certification efforts we offer more than 10 parking sites where employees can charge their electric cars for free,” he said. “E-bikes are also supported as part of our e-mobility concept, with the company paying half the leasing costs.”

According to Luening, the impact of transport is a key leverage factor in terms of lowering a company’s carbon footprint. “However, the emissions issue has for too long been focused on CO2 reduction and has neglected the air quality aspect,” he adds. “Cars are currently under scrutiny but we know ships used for transportation or coal being burnt for energy production have an even bigger influence.”

Werner and Mertz accommodates its bottle supplier’s business on its own production site in order to reduce its transport burden. “This enables us to totally avoid long-distance transportation for all our packaging,” said Luening. “And many of our chemical suppliers are located in the vicinity of our biggest production site in Mainz.”

The company works closely with national waste recyclers and packaging companies in a bid to reduce packaging weight and facilitate recycling. “An example is the world’s first mono-material pouch which we developed with Mondi,” said Luening. ”We also have a closed recycling cycle in the German market which enables us to avoid the transportation of empty cans since we re-use the sorted waste.”

So, do companies consider transport to be one of the most pressing sustainability issues facing the world today?

“It is a clear: ‘It depends’,” says Kärcher’s Andreas Mayer. “Transport is the key issue for logistics companies, for sure, while the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is very important for most companies.

“But there are many other social and product-related sustainability issues to be taken into consideration, both within our own organisation and in the whole supply chain. So in my view it would not be fair to limit sustainability to one key issue.”

Greenspeed’s Floor Loos claims a green approach is essential across all areas, not just in the transport sector. “It is true transport has an enormous impact on the environment, so any mode of transport based on renewable resources is more desirable than those that depend on fossil fuels,” she said.

However, water management is one of the key focus areas in Greenspeed’s sustainability policy. “Water is an increasingly scarce resource and it is nearly impossible to prevent cleaning product residues from ending up in the hydrological cycle,” said Loos.

Total resource efficiency

Essity also focuses on several other sustainability issues besides transport reduction. “For example, we recently launched the Tork PaperCircle service for recycling used paper hand towels in some parts of Europe,” said Reneé Remijnse. “And Essity’s ultimate goal is total resource efficiency which naturally extends to aiming for zero waste. We have therefore set a target to ensure all our production facilities can convert their waste into useful materials or energy by 2030.”

Werner and Mertz’s Christopher Luening believes transport to be a particularly pressing sustainability issue. “Compared with the reduction of plastic packaging and replacing it with recycled materials, the leverage factor of transportation is an even bigger one,” he said. “It is impossible to have no footprint when moving people or goods, but we can look for alternatives to existing solutions. By combining a circular product design with a reduction of product weight and a lower transport burden we can optimise our sustainability efforts.”


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