Ten questions for… Lisa Morden, senior director of global sustainability, Kimberly-Clark Corporation
Sustainable Nonwovens: Kimberly-Clark was recently honoured with both the Climate Leadership Award and the Smart Energy Decisions Innovation Award. How does K-C intend to build on these awards to further reduce its environmental footprint?
Lisa Morden: Our Energy and Climate programme focuses on increasing our energy efficiency while also seeking lower carbon solutions.
Our Sustainability 2022 strategy calls for a 20% reduction of absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 2022 (from 2005 levels) to be achieved through reduced energy consumption, greater efficiency and the increased use of alternative and renewable energy sources.
We expect to achieve more than a 25% reduction in GHG emissions in 2018, four years ahead of the original 2022 target. This follows the start-up of two significant renewable energy projects announced last year in Texas and Oklahoma.
Other major components of the programme include:
· Energy management programmes, which engage employees in monitoring and reducing energy consumption at Kimberly-Clark's manufacturing sites globally.
· Six large-scale electricity cogeneration facilities with waste heat recovery, including two projects under construction at the company's Mobile, Alabama and Puenta Piedra, Peru manufacturing facilities (both due to start-up in 2019).
· Four biomass thermal energy generating plants that provide steam for the company's tissue operations.
· More than 350 energy initiatives completed by the company across its operations since 2015.
Moving forward, we will continue to deploy energy conservation and alternative energy programs to minimise climate change impacts, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from our operations and transform our financial performance.
SNW: In 2016, you diverted 5,200 metric tons of post-consumer waste away from landfill. How was this achieved, and how was this waste utilised elsewhere?
LM: Our approach to waste and recycling is to extend our zero waste mind-set across the value chain and deliver innovations that help keep product and packaging materials out of landfills. We understand the value of materials in our product categories and seek secondary, beneficial uses of these materials from source to shelf and beyond.
When it comes to recycling, people want to do the right thing, but sometimes the different requirements for various types of material – glass, plastic, metal, paper – can be confusing.
To make it easier for people to recycle more, we’ve joined programmes like On-Pack Recycling Label in the United Kingdom and How2Recycle in the United States, which provide consumers with simple, consistent recycling instructions for packaging materials.
The How2Recycle label is featured on more than 1,000 different packaging specifications for Kimberly-Clark brands such as Huggies, Kleenex, Scott, Cottonelle, Kotex, Poise and Depend. The label also helps Kimberly-Clark divert materials like flexible soft plastic packaging, which are typically not accepted through normal kerb side pickup, through retail store drop-off locations.
In Australia and New Zealand, we teamed up with a local partner, the RED Group, to start REDcycle. Now, more than 500 drop-off points across the two countries collect these materials. Through a partnership with local manufacturer, Replas, the recycled plastic is being converted into useful products like outdoor park benches and playground equipment for schools and communities.
SNW: A target of 10,000 metric tons was set for 2016. Why do you feel the company fell short and how do you plan to reach this future goal?
LM: We fell short of our 2016 post-consumer waste target primarily due to the difficult challenges associated with sustaining and scaling-up targeted programmes. We still diverted more than 5,000 tons of used product and packaging from landfill.
In 2017, we were able to capitalise on our learning from the first year of the programme and divert over 15,000 tons of product and packaging materials from landfill. We achieved this through innovation in design, circular models, and post-consumer waste solutions, which created value for our business.
SNW: What does Kimberly-Clark consider its next big challenge when it comes to sustainability in the nonwovens sector?
LM: The key sustainability challenge for the nonwovens sector is the transition from linear models to a more circular lifecycle for our products. We understand the value of materials in our product categories, and this is why our zero waste mind-set is so important. Another challenge is developing nonwovens from natural and renewable resources that meet business needs. Breakthrough innovation and partnering with key industry stakeholders can help us collectively achieve this goal.
SNW: What are the latest K-C innovations in its nonwovens business that are designed to contribute to the company’s overall sustainability goals?
LM: Key innovations within the nonwovens business include waste recovery programmes that continue to drive toward 100% landfill diversion rates at our manufacturing sites. We are also employing new technology to enable basis weight reductions without compromising performance.
SNW: K-C is recognised as an innovator in the nonwovens sector. How is the company utilising its capabilities to tackle industry issues such as non-dispersible wipes and fatbergs in sewage lines?
LM: Kimberly-Clark’s experience in nonwovens is why our flushable wipes meet or exceed widely accepted industry guidelines for flushability. Our SafeFlush is a patented technology that allows Kimberly-Clark’s flushable wipes to stay strong in the package and during use, but to begin to break down as soon as they contact water. This ability to break down and lose strength after flushing allows our flushable wipes to be fully compatible with properly maintained drainlines, septic tanks, and municipal sewage lines and pumps.
According to studies that have analysed the debris found in sewers, it is items not designed or marketed to be flushed that are causing sewer blockages – baby wipes, hard-surface cleaning and sanitising wipes, restroom paper hand towels, tampons, dental floss, fats and oils, and other trash.
We believe the key to addressing the issues faced by wastewater agencies is improved labelling and better consumer education regarding the proper disposal of ‘non-flushable’ wipes and certain other non-flushable products – labelling and education which Kimberly-Clark is already universally adopting.
SNW: The hygiene disposables industry originally used cellulosic fibres before turning to synthetic materials. Now that more sustainable ways to produce cellulosic fibres have been established, how realistic is a switch back to this raw material?
LM: Today, on average 70% or more of content within our baby wipes and the bulk of absorbent material in diapers is cellulose. At Kimberly-Clark, we will continue to innovate, monitor industry trends and explore technologies on both cellulosic fibres and synthetic materials to ensure our products are high quality for consumers, but also meet our expectations as a business for sustainability.
SNW: How have Kimberly-Clark’s 2018 restructuring plans impacted its sustainability efforts?
LM: There have been no changes to our goals or initiatives. Our sustainability programmes create business benefits for the company as well as social and environmental benefits. For example, the energy efficiency and alternative energy programs we have instituted in our mills help reduce operating costs while lowering greenhouse gas emissions. These initiatives support our business priorities as well as our social and environmental impact goals.
SNW: Kimberly-Clark partners with a variety of charities and community-focused programmes. How do these social investments impact corporate decisions?
LM: Our social impact programmes are designed to leverage the power of our brands and deliver social benefits that improve the well-being of people in need. The company’s social and community investments focus on making lives better through programs that increase access to sanitation, help children thrive and empower women and girls. Brand-led programmes including Toilets Change Lives and No Baby Unhugged have become platforms to engage our customers and consumers in these investments. By 2022, we aim to improve the well-being of 25 million people in need.
SNW: With regards to the recycling of baby diapers, how realistic are innovations that could allow the industry to adopt a completely circular production cycle? Is K-C making any ground in this area?
LM: We are committed to innovating products with the entire product life cycle in mind. It’s not just about developing the best diaper; it’s also thinking about what happens when people discard the used diaper and its packaging.
We have worked with partners to explore innovative methods for recycling disposable diapers, such as composting. As the circular economy expands, we will continue to identify solutions for consumers and learn how promising technologies can be scaled up to a commercial level. Identifying a beneficial use for once-used materials throughout the value chain represents a significant business opportunity.