Sabine Schellander, Co-Head of Sustainability at GREINER, describes why Greiner is sticking to a sustainable transformation process to create a circular company.
For plastics and foam solutions provider Greiner, sustainability is a matter for the boss. CEO and in-house “Sustainability Ambassador No. 1” Axel Kühner stands behind the topic with conviction, and also acts as chair for the company’s own sustainability council. Co-Head of Sustainability, Sabine Schellander reports on how this helps to raise awareness among the group’s almost 12,000 employees, as well as what measures Greiner has already taken, and why cooperation is necessary both top-down and bottom-up for a functioning sustainability strategy.
Why we introduced our own recycling plant: reduction of risks and dependencies through sustainability measures
In 2022, Greiner acquired a Serbian PET recycling company, now named Greiner Recycling d.o.o., to underscore our commitment to using recycled materials in our packaging in the form of PET flakes. We firmly believe that by entering the recyclables business in addition to our plastics packaging production business, we will be able to expand our own recycling know-how. For the first time ever some of our recycled materials are coming from our own company and are no longer having to be purchased externally. This helps us to reduce dependencies, which is beneficial for us: The demand for recycled plastics is currently very high and so recyclates are much more expensive on the market than new material. Additionally, we do have the possibility to gain knowledge and competence.
For several months now, Greiner Recycling’s PET flakes have been being used successfully at our site in Slušovice, Czech Republic and, more recently, our site in Wartberg has also benefited from our move into recycling. But, for the plant to be able to serve Greiner Packaging’s production as well as customers throughout Europe in the future, we plan to greatly expand the capacities at the recycling plant – stay tuned!
We are all in the same boat – innovations only really work if everyone plays along
Worldwide, the recycling infrastructure is still developed in very different ways, which poses great challenges for internationally active companies like Greiner. In Austria, for example, technological change is still needed in recycling sorting plants – but this requires high investments. Without financial incentives, we will not succeed in making recycling more attractive. By way of comparison: In Austria, there are many subsidies for the changeover to renewable energies –but when it comes to recycling, subsidies for companies are still meagre. Yet, to make a fully functioning circular economy, a financial incentive is essential to encourage the sorting companies to invest in the changes required to overcome the technical challenges we face. In addition, the use of recyclates is also limited by legal regulations, particularly in the case of plastics for medical products and food packaging where there are justifiably high requirements for purity and product safety. It is therefore even more important that sorting plants are further developed.
A change in thinking is also necessary: the higher the recycled content in a product, the more likely a different shade of colour will occur. The benefit is there, but acceptance must also be created for e.g. colour deviations (no pure white).
Creating space for ideas and innovations
We always desire ideas and input from employees on topics such as the conversion of production processes or energy transformation, but Greiner Innoventures, our innovation hub, also invests in technologies outside of Greiner’s core business. When the start-up spirit and the competencies of a globally active group of companies are combined, both worlds can benefit enormously from each other. Greiner Innoventures has proven itself as a mediator between these two worlds. In the future, our innovation hub will focus even more on circular business models and the related issues of our divisional companies and customers. During this strategic realignment, the focus will therefore be on identifying and further developing innovative solutions within the core business. In this way, we want to further expand our pioneering role in the circular economy field.
One such example is, earlier this year we acquired the start-up Zeroplast, which is developing alternatives to thermoplastics from sustainable fibres. It is not yet clear to what extent this can have an impact on common product properties or whether this alternative can replace existing products 1:1 in the future, as the products are not yet ready for serial production. However, the long-term goal is to bring the bio-based (and thus particularly sustainable plastics for the serial injection moulding industry), onto the market. Nevertheless, there is already great interest on the customer side, and we are already in strong initial talks with a manufacturer of cosmetic products.
Financial and personal responsibility
Greiner has taken out a sustainable promissory note, which includes three ESG targets that, if achieved, will reduce the interest burden of the note for Greiner. These targets by 2030 include a 100 percent share of renewable electricity; EcoVadis ratings for 99 percent of our suppliers with volumes over 500,000 euros; and management positions filled by at least 40 percent women. If the targets are (not) achieved, adjustments will be made to the interest margin.
However, to achieve our planned goals and underpin our financial commitment, a special heartfelt concern of ours is to anchor a corresponding awareness amongst our company’s employees. A significant part of this is to show employees how they can make important contributions to the future. For example, we have launched a global internal training programme called the Sustainabilty Ambassador Programme. This programme helps our employees to better understand the climate crisis and encourages them to question the way our company currently works. We also have a large internal sustainability conference once a year. Most recently, we had over 500 participants from across all divisions from all over the world.
Greiner’s sustainable transformation process
About Sabine Schellander
Sabine Schellander, Co-Head of Sustainability at Greiner AG, is a leading expert in the implementation of sustainable practices in companies with nearly 14 years of experience. With a background in landscape design and planning, she holds a degree (Diplom Ingenieurin) in natural sciences from the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna, where she focused on physics and materials science. In addition to her professional activities, she successfully completed a second degree in “Social Innovation” at Danube University Krems.
About Greiner AG
Based in Kremsmünster, Austria, Greiner is a world-leading plastics and foam solutions company. With the three operating divisions Greiner Packaging, NEVEON and Greiner Bio-One, the company is at home in all manner of industrial sectors. Established in 1868, the Group is now one of the leading foam producers and plastics processors for the packaging, furniture, sports and automotive industries as well as medical technology and the pharmaceutical sector. In fiscal 2022, Greiner generated a turnover of EUR 2.33 billion and had over 11,600 employees at 120 locations in 34 countries.
Co-Head of Sustainability, Greiner AG
Strategic Sales Manager GrECo International AG
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