Mighty oaks from little acorns...December 2013
Bengt Brunberg, sustainability manager at BillerudKorsnäs, the Swedish packaging material manufacturer, tells Ethical Performance about why he believes it is important to take a broad view on the road to sustainable development
What does sustainability mean to you?
That was one of the first questions I had to ask myself when starting out as sustainability manager here two years ago. Of course I had an idea about it but it was just based on my perception from what I had read and heard. I was glad to find the definition from the Brundtland commission on sustainable development, which I considered as a good start for me personally as well as for discussing the subject further within BillerudKorsnäs.
As a result we have defined what sustainability is to us and the area is really huge as it is based on economy, environment and social aspects. Our definition is based on 12 principles and includes economic outcome, resource efficiency, environmental performance, transparency, employee commitment, health and safety and relations to society. Furthermore we don’t only consider our own operations, we have to include the supply chain and collaborate with our customers as one overall ambition is to strengthen the value chain for paper products based on renewable resources.
I also felt we had to decide why this field is so important to us. Employees need to feel proud of what they are achieving at work too. So, my ambition was to include such elements beside the more economic and technical aspects. The outcome of this exercise is that we have stated six motives to why sustainability is important to BillerudKorsnäs. To us it is about company competitiveness, meeting investor and customer expectations, making employees proud, being attractive to future employees, ensuring today’s as well as future needs are met and showing this sector contributes largely to the common task of sustainable development.
How did you get interested in the field?
I have for quite long wished to contribute in a positive way to overcome environmental challenges. I guess literature such as Silent Spring made me interested when I was a teenager. I had a summer job inventorying forest land in the far north of Sweden. I then became interested in working in the forestry sector as I liked outdoor life and found the combination of natural conservation and renewable products fit me very well. So instead of building roads and bridges - as was my original plan - I changed my educational orientation and converted to the forestry sector.
What are the most interesting innovations in sustainability that we're seeing now?
I would say packaging solutions that meet the needs of food and drink distribution without compromising quality or environmental standards (as well as avoiding food waste). There are already paper packaging solutions to keep food and drinks fresh for many months - even years - even when there are aren’t any opportunities to store in fridges. This type of packaging does well from a life-cycle perspective as it performs extremely well in environmental terms. A new technique called Fibre Form is also very interesting as it offers more flexibility than any material previously. We are as well very focused on developing our energy efficiency, so there are huge investments in that area. More generally speaking I find the broader scope for taking responsibility in the value chain is of importance for sustainable development.
What's the biggest challenge you're faced with?
For me personally it is to work efficiently enough to be able to deal with all the important aspects of sustainability. As BillerudKorsnäs merged only one year ago, there are still many activities to structure, start up and develop. To make that happen we have now set up an internal network on the environment, which includes all the environmental managers at the mills. Within these organizational challenges there is a number of performance challenges, eg how to eliminate all fossil fuels from our industrial processes and how to eliminate work accidents. We also should strive to be better in communicating what we achieve in terms of sustainability and to perform really well we have to have continuous development. Actually many activities beside the operational ones shall be initiated or coordinated by me.
What are some of your short-term goals?
Our short term sustainability targets for 2014 shall be set in quantitative terms very soon. They cover product innovation, supplier evaluation, energy efficiency, CO2-emissions from the industry, certification of private forest owners, work accidents, equality and competence. One interesting new target will be about setting up a more comprehensive model for giving youth the opportunity of getting introduced to working for a living. We hope to trial this around our mills in an effort to lower the unemployment rate. To arrange this in a proper way we will start with one mill during 2014 and then scale up the model in the coming years to cover all eight production sites.
And long term?
In the long term we shall eliminate fossil fuels in our production processes as well as work accidents and absenteeism. 2020 targets are set for a 20% reduction of fossil CO2. In product innovation, the percentage of new products in our portfolio, will be 20% by 2020. When it comes to internal organizational development there shall be 100% performance reviews in line with a specific routine between managers and employees. A traditional difficulty in our sector is to achieve equal proportion of men and women as number of employees, but our target for 2020 is to have at least 30% female managers at that time. When it comes to competence we shall by 2020 have at least 60% employees educated to degree level.
Does sustainability ever feel unachievable?
I guess sustainable development by definition never is finalized. As science expands we will find new ways of developing. New knowledge will show us what we have to do to avoid damage to the environment. Globally new needs and restrictions will be defined. So maybe we shall not see it as if we are running for a finishing tape. It´s the way we choose to go that makes sense and that´s enough for me.
What sustainability statistics at BillerudKorsnas are you most proud of?
I would say the way BillerudKorsnäs has reduced the fossil CO2-emissions is remarkable. The statistics for the period 2008-2012 says the total emissions were decreased by 30% and as the paper production is increased the emissions per tonne of product is even better. During 2013 a huge investment in a Combined Heat and Power plant at the Gävle mill will show excellent performance in contributing to decreased use of fossil fuels. As well a new evaporation plant, to better take care of the production residues, in the mill Skärblacka will have a huge positive impact on the energy consumption and the use of fossil fuels. As far as I see it our sector is on the forefront by using renewable material for the production and by using an extremely high proportion of bioenergy in the production, actually more than 95% of the fuels used in our industry is based on bioenergy.
Where can improvements be made?
Well, to improve is always possible in all areas. But our focus areas and sustainability targets point out important areas. What I think will be increasingly important to us when we are expanding is to adapt our mindset to that and to have more of a global perspective in our ambitions. I think we have to be better in collaborating along the supply chain to strengthen our product. Improvements can be made when it comes to e.g. the use of fossil fuels in transport and in the production of raw materials as chemicals. When possible we have to have a life-cycle perspective in our assessments. We are on the track as we have started to produce environmental product declarations covering the whole chain, but we can do more.
Is collaboration a big part of sustainability in forestry/the paper industry?
Collaboration is already a big part when it comes to customers and the work to develop products meeting high environmental and sustainability standards. But as mentioned above I think collaboration is an increasing need to strengthen the overall performance of our products.
If you could influence one major thing in sustainable business practice, what would it be?
My wish should spontaneously be to have all corruption globally eliminated. Corruptive structures where the money finds the wrong pockets are extremely negative for business development and for people depending on sustainable development for the future.
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