EDANA’s last report came out in 2011, and since then, the association has worked to address every aspect of the nonwovens and related industries in respect to the social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainability. Highlights of the report include showing the conscious effort by durable applications to balance communication and reporting; the efforts and success of manufacturers of nonwovens and related products to pursue sustainability through production efficiencies, significantly reducing energy demand and production waste by optimizing their production processes and showing that the nonwovens and related industries see sustainability as a driver of benefits for companies in itself, just to name a few.
Additionally, EDANA collaborated with Nonwovens Industry on a webinar to discuss the report, which can be found at www.nonwovens-industry.com. EDANA presented the key findings of the report and focused on how the nonwovens and related industries continue to innovate across the three pillars of sustainability.
To get a more in-depth look at the report, Nonwovens Industry reached out to Pierre Conrath, sustainability and public affairs director for EDANA.
NWI: Please tell us a little bit about EDANA’s 2014-2015 Sustainability Report.
Conrath: EDANA’s 4th Sustainability Report summarizes the industry’s activities over the last three years since our 2011 Sustainability Report. Throughout those three years, EDANA has led a host of activities, including the “Life with Nonwovens” Study that allowed us to generate several infographics for different categories of nonwovens, mostly durable, and several Life Cycle Assessments for example on baby diapers and incontinence products.
NWI: What are the key differences or enhancements that were made to this version of the report as compared to previous editions?
Conrath: Compared to the 2011 edition, the 2014-2015 Sustainability Report introduces a section on future commitments, displays several infographics and features an enhanced section on the economic aspects of sustainability. Throughout the report, the social benefits of nonwovens and related products are highlighted.
NWI: The new sustainability report highlights the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental. EDANA’s 2014 Sustainability Survey showed that the social pillar is becoming more significant to its members approach to sustainability as compared to how they felt in 2012. Why do you think this is becoming more important, and can you provide some examples of what members are doing to address social sustainability?
Conrath: Social sustainability includes, but is not limited to, the benefit of local communities, employee diversity, health and safety, stakeholder engagement, and being an ethical, fair and honest entity. This can include raising money for charities, supporting community volunteerism, sponsoring events, local employment, supporting a community’s economic growth, and engaging in fair trade practices.
The growing attention to social sustainability can be explained by several factors, including a conscious decision by companies to emphasise social aspects in order to be closer to consumers by demonstrating their added value to society. Overall, a better balance between the various components of sustainability efforts could indicate that companies are taking sustainability to the next level, with a stronger integration in day-to-day operations and more communication, including through social media platforms.
The vast majority of examples given for social sustainability actions consist of ‘traditional’ activities related to the contribution of companies to local communities e.g. partnerships with charities or internal measures focused on employees e.g. trainings on environmental, ethics, health and safety policies. A few examples illustrate a recent trend for companies to innovate by using new products to address pressing issues and generate direct benefits for society, e.g. the provision of water filters where drinking water is not safe.
NWI: Regarding the series of infographics in the new report, what are some of the things that surprised you in your findings?
Conrath: The biggest surprise when we studied the series of case studies on different types of nonwovens was how little information was available on their contribution to sustainability. This was even more surprising when we calculated the environmental benefits and found that for several categories they deliver significant benefit to our society. For car filters, crop protection and geotextiles we found particularly important benefits and were able to translate them into terms everyone can relate to, which has never been done before, even for product categories that have been studied many times—like baby diapers or wet wipes.
NWI: With growing aging populations in developed countries, how much of a focus is there on making adult incontinence products more sustainable, lighter in weight, etc.?
Conrath: Sustainability has been an important topic for incontinence products for many years already. While the average weight hasn’t been reduced as much as for baby diapers, this is not due to a lack of efforts from producers and their key suppliers. There are many reasons for this apparent paradox—the main cause being the heavy influence of reimbursement schemes across Europe, which significantly limit the cost of each product. In addition, the current test method used to test the absorbency of incontinence products hampers innovation and favors bulky products with a lot of fluff pulp. EDANA and its member companies are taking steps to introduce a new test method that reflects the actual use of the products. This will enable the real performance of products to be recognized and drive sales of products with advanced materials and designs, which perform better and are smaller and lighter.
NWI: On the heels of the Right for Hygiene expert panel on waste, what are EDANA’s next steps in addressing concerns about the waste management of absorbent hygiene products?
Conrath: We recently set up a task force dedicated to waste management with a strong participation from producers and their key suppliers. This will be the framework in which EDANA’s strategy on all topics related to waste will be developed, and a series of projects to support best practice in the field of waste management will be designed and coordinated. Initially the focus will be on developing countries, where the lack of infrastructure can be an obstacle to the growth of the market for absorbent hygiene products.
NWI: What are the key sustainability issues EDANA will be focusing on over the next year?
Conrath: Within the next year, we plan to complete the ongoing Life Cycle Assessment on superabsorbent polyacrylates (SAP), publish the second edition of our guidelines on environmental claims, and hold a members-only workshop on renewable raw materials.