Being better: how Henkel harnesses 30 years of sustainable thinking

When Sofidel invited Henkel to enter its 3SAwards, the multinational chemical and consumer goods company could call upon 30 years of experience in thinking sustainably, reports Future

Sofidel’s Supplier Sustainability Award (3SAwards) is bestowed by the group to partners who stand out for their commitment to environmental and social sustainability. Henkel won the ‘Procurement & Purchasing’ category in 2021. As well as producing laundry, detergent and cosmetics on its consumer side, the other half of the company is a B2B business, managed under the adhesive technologies unit.

“Adhesive sealants and coatings actually get used in hundreds of industries, among others, the adhesives that go into the products for Sofidel,” explains Jenna Koenneke, director, market strategy at Henkel Adhesive Technologies.

“Sustainability is anchored as a core element of our company strategy. And that dates back a long time. Henkel actually published its first sustainability report in 1992, exactly 30 years ago, well before a lot of other companies published sustainability reports, and before it was expected [to do so].”

Henkel is taking a specific focus on the circular economy over the past 10 years. “When we talk about sustainability, particularly in adhesive technologies, we want to have a positive impact on climate,” says Koenneke. “We have a lot of discussions around carbon footprint, energy efficiency and water usage. Also, as a as a chemical business, safety always needs to be a focus for us. So, circularity is part of sustainability, it is something that has been a growing part of the company for a very long time.”

“Sustainability is anchored as a core element of our company strategy. And that dates back a long time. Henkel actually published its first sustainability report in 1992, exactly 30 years ago, well before a lot of other companies published sustainability reports, and before it was expected [to do so]”

Jenna Koenneke

Using resources smartly

As a frequently purchased product, bathroom tissue and kitchen towel are resource intensive. Koenneke explains in detail just how many different Henkel products are used in such products.

“There are five to six different adhesives in Sofidel products. The first adhesive is used to make the cardboard roll at the core of the toilet paper or kitchen towel. Then you have adhesive number two that fixes the first sheet of paper of tissue paper to the core. And you’ll also have adhesive number three that fixes the last sheet of paper to the rest of the roll. And it’s a different one because the first sheet needs to stick really well, and the last sheet just enough.

“Then you have the fourth adhesive that is in between the different plies. Tissue products have several plies to be softer and nicer for the consumer. Then, then you have the fifth product, which is not really an adhesive, more a surface treatment that you use to make sure the tissue feels very fluffy. This can also be used to bring additives to the tissue. For example, for a facial tissue it can carry an active ingredient that is nice to the skin, such as avocado. It can also be a carrier for perfumes. And then the packaging adhesive is the sixth product.”

Improving packaging

Following the award, Henkel has been working with Sofidel on a project to further improve packaging. Tissue products are, for hygienic reasons, historically packed in conventional plastic, which raises some sustainability concerns as it may not be possible to recycle this type of plastic everywhere across the globe. But a humid environment would affect tissue products without the protection of plastic compromising their quality. And, in recent years, consumers have come to increasingly prefer paper packaging to plastic because it is more easily and consistently recycled… but pure paper does not protect the product from moisture.

“The project we worked on with Sofidel was developing a paper coating that is compatible with paper recycling,” says Koenneke. “If we bond something together, it either needs to be still recyclable while it’s bonded together, or, if we bond to materials that need to be separated, we need to produce adhesives that allow that separation. Our heat seal coating – the outcome of our joint project – has already been rolled out in several countries, for selected brands.”

Henkel is not resting on its laurels. It is working on a fossil-free adhesive range, ensuring raw materials for its products are from renewable sources and 100% bio-based. It is always working to the strictest standards and likes to be ahead of the game. “We don’t want to just meet the regulatory standard, explains Koenneke. “Regulations become stricter and stricter over time. We make sure that we already meet the next stricter proposed standard, today.”

Sofidel’s aim is to work with suppliers that share its sustainability vision. As the UN 2030 Agenda for sustainable development encourages, with its partners Sofidel is doing things together to try to reach better goals.

Further details

For more information, please visit henkel-adhesives.com

Jenna Koenneke, director, market strategy at Henkel Adhesive Technologies
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