Focus: Placing sustainability at the heart of manufacturing operations

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has placed sustainability firmly in the sector’s limelight, as Neill Barston discovered addressing the issue and speaking exclusively to Torsten Sauer of Syntegon Technology about its key environmental focus


According to the results of a major sector study from the ADM group, a majority of consumers (65%) are reportedly seeking to have a positive impact on the environment through their everyday actions. Significantly, this translated into around one-third of shoppers seeking out sustainably produced items including confectionery, bakery and snacks ranges, which appears to be an increasing trend.

Linked to this is a growing collective awareness of environmental impact, and this in turn has prompted companies – including industrial machinery producers – to demonstrate their commitment to the cause of doing their part for energy efficiency and reducing waste.

There have been a number of examples within finished product categories of companies moving towards sustainability, including pladis recently pledging to remove black plastics from its UK biscuit ranges (saving 80 million trays from landfill), through to Nestlé’s move in January removing plastic from a total of 250 million Smarties packs.

Significantly, a further study from industry organisation Make UK and energy firm E.ON last year found the manufacturers that have prioritised sustainability measures have seen a 40 per cent increase in profit margins, and 30 per cent increased competitiveness levels. This has been linked to wider net zero 2050 emissions goals for industry, which have prompted considerable responses from machinery suppliers in the sector.

Green is the colour

One such example of how the industry is responding on an equipment development level is that of German based Syntegon, formerly Bosch Packaging. The business has been at the forefront of measures to enhance machinery efficiency over the past few years, as well as engaging the wider sector on how it can make a difference in terms of delivering on more sustainable packaging materials. See our exclusive video interview with the business here.

“Green is the colour of our company – sustainability has been defined as one of our strategic topics since we became Syntegon, so it’s a big focus for our business leaders, as well as investors. “We have a double focus in that we are providing equipment and solutions for a better environment, as well as it also providing added business value for us,” explains Torsten Sauer (below), the company’s director of sustainability.

As he reveals, the strong ethos revolving around production efficiency and environmental gains under its former guise of Bosch, is continuing under its new identity. “Sustainability always was a big topic previously, but our approach to it has changed. There’s a big effort in balancing innovation on the one side, and commercial success on the other. “It’s also important to develop solutions that are close to customer needs, and it’s that customer focus that has dramatically changed under our new name, which is significant to support companies for their present and future needs,” notes the sector expert, who says that being involved at the heart of delivering sustainable solutions for industry is a hugely satisfying experience.

Maintaining progress

Clearly, attempting to maintain its leading status poses a major challenge, and one aspect of this is in producing innovative ideas that chime with the industry’s ambitions. This requires notable research and development capabilities, which is an area that Syntegon has demonstrated with a number of sector solutions that meet energy and waste reduction goals.

Sauer adds: “Normally, when looking at sustainability you would look at changing materials, such as moving from plastic to paper. This isn’t enough, we need to go further in meeting the holistic needs of our customers, starting from market needs, internal targets and the products they are achieving. “We as a machine supplier are normally providing equipment, but now we are providing consulting, so as a company we’re building knowledge to offer a complete range of services covering through to end products – from ‘idea to shelf.’” In terms of driving sustainability principles into its machinery releases, last April the company delivered a key new TPU paper form, fill and seal machine using BillerudKorsnäs natural 3D formable FibreForm paper within shaped paper pods for product samples, portion packs and product inserts.

The eco-friendly line has been devised to offer snacks, biscuits and other manufacturers operating in the confectionery sector uniquely shaped and bespoke-sized packaging, with a tactile feeling reflecting the brand and product content, using environmentally responsible materials. Challenging times While the company continues its quest to unveil an ever-growing portfolio of solutions, recent events, including the cancellation of Interpack in Germany have posed issues for the business.

As Sauer notes, the past 12 months in particular have presented core tests for the wider industry. These range from the physical burdens that many companies within the food and drink sector have faced in introducing a raft of measures to comply with ‘covid-secure’ production environments, to the financial constraints placed on many small and medium-sized enterprises during the pandemic. However, the sustainability director believes there is in fact light at the end of the tunnel. While he admits that Covid -19 may have put the brakes on investment decisions a little, he does not doubt that when it comes to sustainability, that it remains a notable priority for the sector. “Of course, everyone has been hurtby Covid-19, and so has Syntegon.

“However, there have been some positive sides. Packaging has now received some appreciation, in terms of things like its hygiene, so in the long term, the industry should benefit. “Has sustainability been hit by Covid-19? In the beginning everything slowed down because companies and firms were busy introducing measures, however, the topic hasn’t disappeared. We believe sustainability will survive within the industry, even if the immediate effect is that investment decisions are not being taken as quickly.

“Some are being hit by the pandemic in terms of not selling their products, so while there is a short-term effect, in the long run, sustainability is going to stay as the ambitions of those companies that we deal with ultimately haven’t changed,” adds Sauer, who says its own targets over the next few years of delivering on sustainability remain firmly in place and it is determined to build on these commitments.

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