Investment drive sees Smurfit Kappa reach carbon goal three years early

EXCLUSIVE: Paper-based packaging company Smurfit Kappa has surpassed a target to reduce emissions by a quarter three years ahead of schedule, with the company's vice president of development outlining how investment cycles helped accelerate progress.

Smurfit Kappa released its annual sustainability report this week, outlining a 26% reduction in carbon emissions in its mill system against 2005 levels, pushing the company beyond the 25% reduction it had set itself as part of a package of 2020 goals.

Key drivers to surpassing the target include increasing the share of biofuels in the fuel mix at paper mills to 49.5% and improving energy efficiency by 13%. Speaking exclusively to edie, Smurfit Kappa’s vice president of development Steven Stoffer noted that board-level engagement with the sustainability strategy had been a key driver in mobilising action to reduce key footprints.

“The biggest drivers are investment, because driving out carbon means you need to invest, and at a lesser scale, the creativity of people,” Stoffer told edie. “We’ve completed a number of investments which have turned out quite nicely in terms of CO2 reduction, which allowed us to hit our carbon goal earlier than expected.

“At the board level, there is a high awareness on sustainability issues and when we look at investments there’s also an element of water, carbon or waste to consider. It is important to have a good payback, so we can invest more in the future, so we look for the win-win situations.”

The company creates a 5-10-year forecast for investments across its portfolio of paper mills, analysing retrofits, replacements, systems upgrades and new technologies that can help improve efficiency and lower emissions.

For example, Smurfit Kappa Rheinwelle in Germany, installed a heat-recovery system that saves 528,000kwh of energy, €21,000 in costs and 153 tonnes of carbon annually. Smurfit Kappa Canovelles in Spain invested €15,000 in water-saving measures that reduced water usage by 16% at the facility.

In July 2017, Smurfit Kappa announced a multi-million-pound investment in new technology at its Nettingsdorf Paper Mill that it believes will significantly reduce emissions while increasing production. The investment includes the development of a new, state-of-the-art recovery boiler and the implementation of a new, more efficient steam turbine by 2022.

Across the mill system, a residual steam recycling system ensured that Smurfit Kappa saves more than 1.9 million m3 of natural gas, while reducing carbon emissions by 1,600 tonnes annually.

The company hit its 2020 environmental target to reduce the chemical oxygen demand (COD) in water discharge by 33%/tonne of produced paper compared to 2005 last year, thanks to a £50m investment in sustainable technology. This reduction has since been improved to 37.5%.

Stoffer revealed to edie that he will spend much of the year formulating “challenging but obtainable goals” for the areas that Smurfit Kappa has exceeded. Science-based targets, for example, are on the radar, but no decision has been made if or when they could be implemented.

Jumping at the plastics opportunity

The FTSE 100 firm reached 90% certification for sold packaging, meeting a comprehensive Chain of Custody compliance across its 370 production sites. The amount of waste sent to landfill has also fallen by more than 13% since 2013.

The company is also looking to “jump on every opportunity” to work with companies seeking to phase-out single-use plastics and switch to biodegradable, paper alternatives.

“We see it as a good opportunity,” Stoffer added. “There’s a clear interest and awareness from the people about plastics, this is clear. In many instances, paper is the logical material to use. Smurfit Kappa are primarily B2B rather than consumer products, but it still serves that companies can gain new opportunities through paper-based packaging.”

Smurfit Kappa previously invited edie on a behind-the-scenes tour of its pioneering zero-waste paper mill in the Netherlands. The mill produces 600,000 tonnes of brown paper packaging each year, but sends absolutely no waste to landfill.

Matt Mace

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