Sustainability is defined as, ‘A development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. This is our guiding principle in all areas of our work with sustainability.
Ref - Brundtlandt report “Our common future” (1987)
Our sustainability policy
Essity exists for the purpose of creating value for the company’s shareholders, increasing the standard of living and quality of life of its employees and otherwise contributing to the economic, environmental and social well-being of customers, suppliers and the nations in which the company transacts business. Essity places strong emphasis on renewable and recyclable raw materials and strives to offer environmentally sound products and services. These must be capable of meeting customer and consumer needs with respect to functionality, economy, safety and environmental impact. Policy statements:
- Essity shall conduct its activities in accordance with the highest standards of corporate best practice and in full compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements. Essity is committed to the sustainable development of its business, taking all economic, environmental and social issues into consideration.
- Essity is committed to transparency and open communication about its environmental and social practices. It seeks dialogue with its stakeholders in order to contribute to the development of global best practice. Essity demands the same commitment to transparency and open communication from its suppliers and subcontractors.
- Essity assesses the environmental impact of its products during the various stages of their lifespan, and includes suppliers and subcontractors in this process.
- Essity promotes appropriate, recognized Environmental Management Systems throughout its organisation. Essity continuously reviews and challenges its objectives and targets, in order to reduce its global impact on the environment.
- Essity aims to provide a safe and non-discriminatory working environment for its employees. All units must, at a minimum, strictly abide by national laws and collective agreements. Essity actively strives for the continuous improvement of health and safety in the workplace.
The life cycle of our products
Times have changed and we’ve progressed in the way we think about our products and how they’re produced. To take a truly comprehensive view of a product, it’s necessary to take into consideration all the various stages of a product’s life cycle. This means we gather data from the very beginning of extraction of natural resources (e.g. oil, mining, forestry) and then include all the other factors of the product’s life cycle: its production; manufacturing; transport; use by the consumer; and disposal. By taking this comprehensive view, often called ‘from cradle-to-grave’, we avoid shifting the environmental burden from one part of the life cycle to another.
Life Cycle Assessment
To study a product’s life cycle, we use a methodology called a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which is widely accepted both within the industry and by regulatory authorities. ISO standards 14040 to 14044 set up the principles and framework for how to perform an LCA.
LCA’s have been regularly performed on TENA products for more than ten years. In the early nineties, we started to develop an internal LCA database and now initiate an LCA for every new product as an integral part of the development process.
Protecting our natural resources
The results from all the LCA’s clearly show that the major environmental burden takes place in the production of raw materials. Consequently, it’s vital we use the materials in our products in the most efficient way, without compromising the function of the product and have a constant dialogue with our suppliers.
The impact on the environment
At Essity, we assess the environmental impact of all our products using the Life Cycle Assessment (see above). This gives a much wider perspective regarding a product’s environmental impact and also ensures that our development work is environmentally sound. The results from the LCA’s can be used for a type of environmental labelling called Environmental Product Declarations (EPD). An EPD is an international label based on the international standard ISO 14025. We also produce environmental fact sheets for all product groups, describing the product and its materials. Some of the data also comes from the LCA’s.
An overview of our logistics
Making the journey more efficient
We believe that an effective logistics system is a vital part of our environmental policy. We constantly strive to develop and improve our logistics system by doing the following:
- Constructing the products in such a way that we can utilise the materials as effectively as possible. This also means we can load more per cubic unit.
- Building an efficient distribution system and ensuring that all trucks leave the depot fully loaded.
- Maintaining a high service level and delivering everything from the customer’s order in the first delivery, which keeps the number of transports to a minimum.
- Choosing suppliers who are in a reasonable geographic proximity.
- Ordering raw materials responsibly so that our suppliers can make maximum use of their transport resources.
Our commitment to packaging and recycling
The necessity of packaging
Packaging has to function well in order to keep the product’s integrity and fully maintain its properties. If a product is damaged and cannot be used, all the energy and efforts to produce it have gone to waste. In Europe, the ‘Packaging Directive’ sets a legislative standard that the packaging has to fulfil.
Who’s responsible for recycling?
In most countries in Europe, the collection and recycling of packaging materials is the responsibility of the producer. Consequently, the company that puts the product and its packaging on the market is then financially responsible to make sure it’s recovered in the most environmentally efficient way. The collection and recovery is usually performed by non-profit organisations and symbolised by a logo on the package, such as the Green Dot.
How we make a difference
Essity is committed to the Green Dot scheme in almost all countries in Europe. This means we’re an integral part of financing the recovery of our packaging materials. We also make sure that we fulfil the intentions of the ‘EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive’ through our product development, our choice of suppliers and choice of materials.
The raw materials we use
What’s in our products?
The TENA range of incontinence pads generally consist of the following materials: an absorbent core, which is a mix of fluff pulp and super absorbent polymer or SAP; a permeable non-woven layer; and a polyethylene film or a breathable barrier layer.
These layers are then glued together and different anti-leakage features are added including lengthwise elastic threads and waist elastics. There are also different ways of fixing the products with tapes, belts, hooks and loops.
A quick explanation of what the materials are
Fluff pulp is made from wood and consists of cellulose fibres. It’s a renewable and biodegradable natural resource and normally represents more than half the weight of the product. All fluff pulp is bleached in order to achieve maximum absorbency and the bleaching process is Elementary Chlorine Free (ECF), consequently no chlorine gas is used.
Super absorbent polymer (SAP)
The super absorbent polymer comes in the form of small white particles, which can absorb and hold very large amounts of urine. The chemistry of this polymer is a cross-linked polyacrylate and it is produced from oil.
The nonwoven layer
The nonwoven layer is a thin textile-like material, the fibres of which can be fine, coarse, synthetic or natural. Nonwoven layers can be produced in several ways and in several surface-weight areas. TENA products mainly use two types of nonwoven layers, either spunbond or thermobond.
The polyethylene film acts as a fluid barrier in our hygiene products. The polyethylene film can be laminated with the nonwoven layer to form the textile backsheet in some of the TENA products.
Hotmelt or glue
The adhesives used to glue the components together are called ‘hotmelt’ and are blends of various polymers and resins. The resins we use are completely synthetic.
The elastic threads used in the TENA products are either made from polyisoprene or from polyurethane. Both materials are produced from oil or natural gas. Natural rubber threads are never used in TENA products.
What happens next?
We’ve developed all TENA products so they’re adaptable to any existing waste treatment method. Hygiene products only account for a low percentage of total waste handling and a separate waste treatment for disposable hygiene products is usually not environmentally beneficial.
Here is a short description of the most common waste treatment methods:
Landfill is still the most common way to treat household waste worldwide. Landfill has the potential to release greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) and it is the least desirable waste treatment option. Landfill is also a waste of resources as the materials that make up the used product are neither re-used nor recovered. Within Europe, legislation is now moving towards the phasing out of landfills.
Incineration and energy recovery
The incineration and energy recovery of used products is certainly a preferred waste treatment option. 50% of a product is usually made up of fluff pulp, which counts as a biofuel. If this source of energy replaces fossil fuels, there is a clear environmental benefit. Our incontinence products do not contain any material or chemicals that could be the cause or formation of harmful emissions.
Firstly, we strongly advise against any home composting of used hygiene products because it involves the risk of spreading medical remnants and harmful microbial content (and it’s also illegal in some countries). In industrial composting, the recycling of used incontinence products is difficult. Removing the plastic content may mean having to install machinery and consequently increases the energy use. An alternative to composting is biogasification. This produces methane gas that can then be used for energy purposes.
The disposable vs. reusable debate
What are the pros and cons?
The environmental impact of using disposable as opposed to reusable products has come up for discussion. Some comparisons have focused specifically on the impact of waste. However, the environmental impact of any product needs to be evaluated in the context of the product’s entire life cycle: from the use of raw materials, through manufacturing, product use and then disposal. Choosing a product on the basis of only one environmental criteria (such as solid waste), ignores the contribution of other important factors such as air and water pollution, or the continual use of energy.
An independent view
In 2005, an LCA report was published in the UK comparing the environmental impact between cloth nappies and disposable products. The findings indicated there were no conclusive winners or losers from an environmental point of view. Both options cause emissions and use a mixture of energy, water, and raw materials. The study concluded that cloth nappies consume more water and produce more waterborne emissions than disposable nappies, which generate more solid waste and consume more raw materials.
The final word on disposables
The benefits of disposable products for both patients and institutions make the answer much clearer. Modern disposable products are highly absorbent with a very dry surface, which means a patient runs less risk of developing a skin irritation. They also help to minimise odours and reduce the need for laundering, and consequently lower the staff costs associated with managing incontinence in institutions.