A Globally Oriented Sustainability Strategy to Optimize Technology and Deliver Results
“Our initiative is also on reducing water usage. We have taken several projects on water reduction and currently are the industry leader in this area globally with the lowest water density compared to our competitors; we consume almost 15-20% of the water which is consumed in the other conventional viscose production. Also, we are increasing our bioenergy content and using hybrid energy in our plants. With innovative technologies we are aiming to combat our energy consumption.” - Mukul Agrawal, Chief Sustainability Officer, Birla Cellulose, Aditya Birla Group
In the Sustainable Circular Economy Series – Doing Well by Doing Good conducted by ProMFG in collaboration with BiofuelCircle, Mukul Agrawal, shared his insights and best practices that have been implemented within the company to create an ecosystem of Sustainability and Circular Economy.
What does it mean to be a global business from a sustainability point of view?
We have twelve locations globally. Four in India, and eight are outside India in North America, Canada, Sweden, China, Thailand, and Indonesia.
Being a global company means we are appealing to a global audience. Whenever we talk about sustainability, most of the Western brands that we work with, like Adidas, Nike, Marks & Spencer, H&M, we also deal with global customers, so, our sustainability strategy is also oriented globally.
To serve the global customers, is it important to maintain homogeneity of technology? Say, the technology used for the pulp and fibre business in India, is it similar to that of Canada or Sweden?
So, even though most of our plants are located in Asia, we had taken the initiative that we will be applying the best level technologies globally in all our plants. So, we adopted the European Standards of Emission and Effluents across all our units. We thought that one of the ways to show our global leadership would be to have global norms in all our sites, so, that two years back we put a $175 million investment to upgrade our technologies, especially in the Asian plants, so that we can meet the global norms of emission.
More than half of our plants are now already compliant with European norms. That also makes us ready for the future because in case India, Thailand, Indonesia, or China decide to follow more stringent norms, we are already prepared.
This was about the use of technology to limit GHG emissions in manufacturing plants; are there any other initiatives that you have taken up to reduce your carbon footprint?
We wanted to reduce our water intensity. So we took several projects on water reduction. And right now we are the industry leader in this area globally, with the lowest water density compared to our competitors, and we consume almost 15%-20% less of the water which is consumed in the other conventional viscose production.
We have also taken major initiatives, a five-pillar strategy that looks at our complete value chain. But we are also looking at all suppliers and downstream value chain, which is our customer. So, we want to incorporate sustainability practices everywhere in this value chain.
We know that Aditya Birla Group is ranked #1 in Sustainable Forestry Management. How does this weave into the Birla Cellulose sustainability model?
As a responsible sourcing organization, given our raw material is wood, it comes from sustainable forests. Most of the forests where we source wood from are in Canada, USA, or East European countries. This ranking comes from a global Canada-based NGO, Canopy which ranks the companies in the pulp industry for their forestry practices.
So, one of our main themes is biodiversity protection, which is basically protecting the biodiversity in the forest and making sure that the net forest growth remains positive. Of what we harvest, we plant three times the trees for maintaining those forests. And that has also resulted in our carbon positive status.
What are some initiatives that add to the circular economy approach that you have taken in the above collaboration?
We just won the Innovative and Sustainable Supply Chain Award by UN Global Compact Network India for innovation in recycled and circular fiber made with pre-consumer fabric waste, and that that was quite an achievement. This comes with industrial textile waste. So, we collect the waste cotton, and then we recycle it into our process and as a raw material to make viscose fiber.
What is the Energy Mix of Birla Cellulose?
We already have our scope One and Scope Two in a neutral position. Now, we are working towards utilizing our Scope Three emissions. These are coming from our raw materials or logistics and our sales downstream industry. So, in that aspect, we are working on various initiatives such as adding more renewable energy, our oil plants are already using almost 90% renewable energy. On our fiber side, we are increasing our bioenergy content and we are also looking to use some hybrid energy in our plants.