There are many different routes a business can take to improve sustainability, but who said you only had to follow one path? Fanis Papakostas, Chairman of the European Tissue Symposium, explores how his organisation’s member companies are approaching environmental responsibility from all angles.
Founded in 1971 and based in Brussels, the European Tissue Symposium (ETS) is a non-profit and independent trade organisation that represents most tissue paper producers in Europe. Its members account for roughly 90% of all European tissue production. Fanis is the Chairman of ETS and has more than 30 years’ experience working within the professional cleaning and hygiene industry.
What are the major challenges that organisations in your sector face?
Speaking independently of our members, I’d say that our sector faces a few key challenges. Firstly, we have to work on how we accelerate our performance in terms of cost control while becoming more sustainable and reducing our carbon footprint. Our members have done an excellent job of this in recent years, but we have to keep improving.
Secondly, we have the challenge of spreading the message that paper products (hand towels, tissues etc.) are ideal for maintaining a high level of hygiene and driving antimicrobial resistance and infection control. This is especially important in the current climate. We need to raise awareness about the fact that mechanical had dryers are inefficient and more likely to spread pathogens than contain them.
We also have to back it up with education for users. A big problem is that many people don’t wash their hands properly; they simply rinse them then spread the microbes by using a hand dryer.
How is new technology helping you to overcome these challenges?
For us, it’s less about specific technological advances and more about developing the underlying conditions that drive innovation. What I mean by this is that we closely follow the scientific research on hand drying around the world. We even sponsor certain people to do further research where relevant (with healthcare cleaning being a key area).
With the research in place, we then present findings and insights at trade shows and scientific conferences – alongside running online campaigns. To overcome our challenges, we have to change behaviour and culture across different groups of people. That’s why much of our work focuses on communications to help members get the word out.
What trends do you think will dominate your sector in 2020?
As much as I’d love to offer something more positive, I think the current Coronavirus outbreak is what will dominate the work of our members this year. We are yet to see when the situation will return to any sense of normality, but its footprint will remain long after the world begins to tackle it effectively.
One likely lasting outcome is that people have become more aware (and cautious) of pathogens – and are more likely to take steps to protect themselves and others in the future. We’re seeing more engagement with hygiene, sterilisation and disinfection processes, which will hopefully have a longer-term positive effect. Overall, our members are working hard to make sure their customers have everything they need to protect themselves.
How important is sustainability to your sector? What are you doing to act on it?
It’s hugely important. Members are trying to reduce their carbon footprint on all fronts – asking machine producers to produce machines that deliver tissues with less energy consumption and less fibre (pulp/raw materials). A big part of the carbon cost of producing tissue is pulp that we get from trees. To reduce the impact of that, members are being more careful to make sure their produce comes from a sustainable source – with all of it now coming from renewable forestry.
Members are also using more recycled products – often recycling raw materials. Packaging is an important part of this – both the primary packaging that wraps consumer products and the secondary packaging comprised of boxes for transportation, pallets and shrink wrapping. Members are fine-tuning the footprint of their primary and secondary packaging, making sure they use recycled and recyclable materials in each of these areas.
Energy is another key area – and one that has seen massive improvement in the last 50 years. Our members are busy integrating different forms of energy (natural gas, solar etc.), while also working to optimise fuel usage. Whether it’s streamlining production processes or making the logistics and transport more efficient, our members are keen to minimise the emissions created by the fuel they use.
What impact is digitalisation having on your sector? Are organisations making the most of the opportunities available to them?
I would say that digitalisation is having an impact on our sector, but perhaps not as much as in others. It has certainly improved processes, accelerated controls and improved production efficiencies, but we are only at the beginning of our journey with digital technology. There are more benefits yet to be unlocked. Realistically, ours is an area buys into technology as and when it’s needed. Our innovation is focused on product development, which is where technology supports businesses in creating better quality products.
We also work with partners to develop innovations because we don’t operate in isolation. There’s a triangle between tissue producer, machine producer and tech companies with the customer in middle. The customer is the driving force in this. When they wish to improve product absorption/cost by a certain amount, they work with tissue producer. The tissue producer then works with the tech and machine companies to create the required solution.
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