The topic of “environmentally friendly use of resources” has shaped VPF’s entrepreneurial activities for many years. It will play an even more important role for us in the future. One reason for this is the Federal Government’s Climate Protection Act, enacted in December 2019. It bundles various laws aimed at achieving the climate targets set by the “Paris Climate Agreement” or the EU’s “European Green Deal”. At the same time, the Climate Protection Act establishes a regulatory framework that will also have a significant impact on our future corporate strategy.
From marketing topic to strategy topic
Environmental protection is thus in many cases no longer a “marketing issue”, but a corporate task in the narrowest sense. For VPF as a medium-sized company, this represents a particular challenge. We have already started to develop a climate strategy paper, but this will take a lot of time, as politicians have not yet provided reliable planning parameters in many areas. While the goals are clear, the details are far from apparent.
Our goal: climate-neutral production before 2045
One thing is certain: VPF has formulated as its primary corporate goal the switch to completely climate-neutral production by 2045 at the latest. Management has informed all employees about this in a personal letter and called on them to help achieve this goal. To this end, various working groups will continuously search for potentials for environmental protection and resource conservation in order to develop new solutions. In purely arithmetical terms, emissions must be reduced by an average of 5% CO2 per year in order to achieve this goal in the remaining 20 years or so.
Active environmental protection and resource conservation at VPF since 2011
A look at the activities of the VPF in recent years shows that this is quite realistic. We can present a creditable record in environmental protection and resource conservation. Above all, we have also acquired the necessary expertise during this time.
Our environmental management system was certified according to ISO 14001 for the first time as early as 2011. Since then, waste and energy balances have been recorded annually – and in increasing detail. Based on these findings, ecological parameters are defined and implemented in the annual corporate goals. Since 2011, we have been practising active environmental protection.
Greater efficiency and less consumption of resources and energy
In addition, various consultations on improving resource efficiency for processes and/or products have taken place since 2013; these consultations were carried out with external experts, accompanied by the Effizienz- Agentur NRW, and funded by the state of NRW. For example, this allowed us to reduce our production-related material waste. First and foremost, waste avoidance also means conserving resources.
In 2017, we conducted an energy audit in accordance with EN 16247-1, which was also funded by the state of NRW. The aim was to systematically examine energy use and energy consumption in order to increase efficiency here as well and reduce energy consumption at the same time. This was done on a voluntary basis.
32 % less CO2 emissions in recent years
The energy audit was carried out by an energy auditor certified by the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (Bundesamt für Wirtschaft und Ausfuhrkontrolle, BAFA), whose suggestions for improving energy efficiency we have essentially implemented in subsequent investment programmes.
The result: VPF has invested a total of several million euros in the consumption of the primary energy sources used, electricity and gas, within four years. Converted, the CO2 emissions – calculated in kilograms per 1,000 m² of adhesive composite produced – were reduced by around 32 per cent (according to the GEMIS standard) between 2017 and 2021, i.e. by an average of around 6 per cent per year.
The measures necessary for improving energy efficiency are listed below. Looking at them, it becomes clear what a mammoth task – in economic terms as well – the industry will face in the next 20 years.
The individual measures so far have primarily been technological innovations:
- Replacement of a thermal dryer of a coating machine from indirect thermal oil firing to direct firing in connection with a heat exchanger
- Flow optimisation of a dryer on another coating machine
- Installation of a photovoltaic system with 100 kWp on the company roof
- Conversion to LED lighting in all parts of the building and in the outdoor area
- Facade renovation with thermal insulation as part of an extension and complete window renovation on the administration building (energy-related building renovation)
- Various smaller investments in modern, energy-optimised technology
Once again on a voluntary basis, we are conducting a second energy audit in accordance with EN 16247-1 in the current year 2021 in order to define the energy efficiency measures for the next three to five years. We will report on the corresponding measures and resulting results in due course.
Recording CO2 emissions using the “ecocockpit” software
A quantum leap in the collection of CO2-relevant company data is the recording of CO2 emissions and their equivalents according to the “cradle-to-gate” principle through the “ecocockpit” software provided by the Effizienz-Agentur NRW. Since the beginning of 2020, this has also been done on a voluntary basis.
In this way, not only the Corporate Carbon Footprint (CCF) is determined, as in the past, but also the Product Carbon Footprint (PCF). The knowledge gained from this is used to determine a status report and to derive further measures for optimising the ecological footprint of our company from it.
Willingness to innovate and change is required
The goal of reducing PCF will be achieved only through the increased use of sustainable, innovative raw materials, which must be demanded accordingly by the market. This is a mammoth task that industry will have to master in the coming years. It involves the transformation of production to new materials that do not yet exist for many applications. Maximum willingness to innovate and change is required.
In the future, the actual conservation of resources will be based on manufacturing processes with lower CO2 emissions and/or significantly reduced resource consumption, for example by reducing water consumption in paper production. Likewise, the cycle-oriented use of raw materials must be significantly increased, which requires not only recycled products but also renewable raw materials and raw materials that are biodegradable in the short term.
The sustainable product range of VPF
VPF’s sustainability programme already meets forward-looking standards and is being continuously expanded. The prerequisite for this was that the many years of intensive development work were initiated at an early stage. Complex requirements, such as sufficient ageing periods for the products, had to be taken into account in the process.
Innovative face materials such as grass, recycled, bagasse, soda or glassine papers are an integral part of VPF’s product range, as are the cellulose-based NatureFlex films or the lactic acid-based PLA films.
In the case of conventional thermoplastic films, products with different recycled content are very often offered, which saves resources during production. This development can be seen not only for face materials but also for release liners. Variants with a high recycled content are now available for both paper-based and PET-based products.
The adhesives industry is working on bio-based adhesives in order to replace fossil components completely or at least partially with renewable polymers. In the labelling sector, however, there are only a few possible applications so far, as the technical properties are not yet convincing. For example, the adhesive forces are often still too low for typical labelling applications. Innovations in this area are a major challenge.
We began addressing the issue of environmental protection and resource conservation at VPF many years ago and are now well on the way towards climate-neutral production.
However, the goal of climate neutrality cannot be achieved overnight. The tasks for industry are demanding, and the definition and implementation of suitable measures are lengthy and cost-intensive.
VPF will continue to be one of the innovators in the industry and we will keep you up to date.
Sprockhövel, October 2021