Sustainable teamwork

Essity finds success engaging workers in its environmental initiatives

Posted on Sep 11, 2019 :: Plant News
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Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

Engaging employees in sustainability initiatives, whether it’s helping to name baby peregrine falcons born in a nesting box on a plant’s roof or collecting plastic bottle caps so they can be recycled into a park bench, has turned out to be a winning formula for Essity.

Essity, which has a paper mill in Menasha and a converting plant and the Midwest region corporate office in Neenah, has been recognized for three consecutive years with a Green Masters designation from the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council. (Prior to mid-2017, Essity was known as SCA.)

“Our people here are all in when it comes to different sustainability initiatives and are committed to meeting our sustainability goals,” says Tracey Driessen, environmental manager for Essity’s Midwest operations. “When you make it something they are invested in, that feeds the enthusiasm.”

The peregrine falcon nesting boxes atop the Menasha paper mill, which the company added five years ago, is one example of that, Driessen says. It saw them as a way to attract the endangered species and encourage them to nest in a safe location. While workers knew the boxes were there, the engagement level was low since it was hard to tell what was happening in the boxes.

“We were finally able to get cameras in there so we could have a live feed of what was happening in the nests,” says Driessen, who goes through the footage and puts together videos that are posted on the company’s intranet. “Employees were enthralled and excited about seeing what was happening.”

This past April, four falcon eggs were spotted in the nest and employees were able to follow along as the chicks hatched and started moving around. Essity then took name suggestions and held a vote to name the chicks; one was named by students at a nearby elementary school.

“It has been a real team-building effort for our employees,” Driessen says.

Essity employees also are involved directly with sustainability initiatives, such as workers at the Neenah headquarters who partnered with local 4-H clubs to collect plastic caps that were then turned into a park bench.

In addition, employees take part in efforts to reduce water and energy usage. Since papermaking requires massive amounts of water, Driessen says a task force was created to investigate conservation ideas, with employees encouraged to share their suggestions.

“By taking on many projects around the facilities, our water consumption rates are decreasing,” she says. “Some companies may think of their sustainability projects, such as reducing water usage, as tough work projects, but when you think out of the box, you can come up with solutions that reduce water usage without inflicting big hits to the bottom line.”

Driessen says sustainability projects are sometimes quite involved, but the result is worth it. An example is Essity’s plan to reduce its landfill tonnage. The company created a land application program that takes residual solids from its wastewater treatment plant, puts them through a dewatering process and then offers them to regional farmers for free to spread on their fields.

“The material is naturally nutrient rich and can be beneficially reused as a soil organic matter amendment that provides carbon and energy for soil microbes while increasing soil structural stability,” she says.