The Evolution of a Canadian Sustainability Leader: Kruger Products Shares its Journey

Kruger LogoYou know Sponge Pockets, but do you know Kruger Products?

You may not have heard of Kruger Products L.P., but surely you’re familiar with the Sponge Pockets – men dressed in white puffy suits characterizing super absorbent pockets who appear in TV commercials ready to spring into superhero-like action to soak up spilled juice and wipe away dirty paw prints. Kruger Products is the company behind these quirky characters and the SpongeTowels® they represent, as well as other well-known brands including Cashmere®, Purex®, Scotties®, White Swan® and White Cloud®. Kruger Products is Canada’s leading manufacturer of tissue and paper products for household, commercial and industrial use.

Learn more about Kruger Products by visiting their Homebase Page in the TSSS Innovation HUB

sponge pocketsKruger Products’ has a long sustainability legacy.  More than sixty years ago, when concern for the environment wasn’t even on most companies’ corporate radar, Kruger Products launched its first reforestation program and quietly helped set a new course for forest management. For Kruger Products, environmental stewardship is about identifying needs, seeing opportunities, and doing the right thing for business, for people and for the planet.

Sustainability IS good business

Innovation defines Kruger Products and its leadership team has long been ahead of the curve on sustainability and is committed to bringing about widespread change. In the 1970s, the modern environmental movement was in its infancy but Kruger Products was already producing bathroom tissue made from recycled paper.  In the 1990s, as world leaders convened for the Earth Summit, Kruger Products was already embracing technology to treat its waste water.

Innovation defines Kruger Products…its leadership team has long been ahead of the curve on sustainability and is committed to bringing about widespread change.

Kruger Products continues to embrace technological innovation to minimize its environmental impact and improve its financial bottom line.  In 2009, a biomass gasification system, the first of its kind in the entire pulp and paper industry, became operational in Kruger Products’ New Westminster, BC facility. This technology reduces emissions by over 50% annually by heating unprocessed, locally sourced wood waste that would otherwise be sent to landfill.

In 2010, a heat recovery system was incorporated in Kruger Products’ Gatineau, QC facility to capture hot humid air from paper machines and reuse it to heat the facility and its water.  This system has reduced energy consumption by 10% and greenhouse gas emissions by 13% annually.  It is so successful that a similar system became operational last month in Kruger Products’ Crabtree, QC facility.

Sustainability 2015: Measurable goals and accountability

Kruger Products actively embraces its sustainability commitment through Sustainability 2015, a five-year initiative to reduce its environmental footprint. “Sustainability 2015 is real and is measurable,” explains Kruger Products CEO Mario Gosselin.  The company has defined baseline measurements and quantified targeted improvements in seven key areas: water, waste, energy, emissions, fibre, packaging and transport.  Kruger Products embraces a fundamental truth of sustainability – what gets measured gets managed.

Kruger Products understands the importance of third-party audits and verification of sustainability initiatives. In 2011, Kruger Products became the first Canadian tissue manufacturer to earn Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certification. FSC certification is the most stringent international certification system available for wood and wood-based products; it tracks products from forest to shelf and ensures products come from well-managed forests, responsible sources and/or recycled materials.

Increased success through collaboration

Kruger Products understands that its significant market penetration presents a real opportunity to impact far beyond its own operations.  The leadership team believes in sharing its sustainability innovation success stories and inspiring others to evolve and innovate.

Kruger Leaders in Susty ThinkingThe company is committed to industry collaboration and idea-sharing.  In 2010, Kruger Products held an ‘open house’ to showcase its biomass gasification technology and encourage discussion of how the technology could be customized to work in other facilities and industries. In 2012, Kruger Products launched “Leaders in Sustainable Thinking,” an annual roundtable series that reinforces its commitment to aligning its initiatives with those of its industry and key stakeholders. This alignment leads to collaboration, and collaboration yields better results than work done in isolation.  Roundtable discussions have addressed such issues as whether recycled fibre is really more sustainable than virgin fibre and how industry can help ‘green consumers’ connect their values to their purchasing decisions.

Overcoming obstacles in the sustainability journey

Some worried about the financial and operational transparency with external stakeholders that such a journey would necessitate…

Kruger Products’ sustainability journey has not been without its challenges.  Initial challenges emerged in 2008 when its strategic planning process identified sustainability as a business imperative. No longer would sustainability simply evolve as part of an innovative corporate culture; it would be embraced as an integral and formal part of the company’s value system.  However, as is the case with most companies as they begin formally incorporating sustainability into their corporate planning, this was not a concept embraced equally by all team members.  Some worried about the financial and operational transparency with external stakeholders that such a journey would necessitate – such transparency was foreign to the culture of a private company.  Others were concerned that sustainability initiatives might be a drain on the company’s bottom line. The idea of environmental stewardship was generally embraced but a clear understanding of the business case for sustainability was needed.  It was this environment of mixed sentiments that Steven Sage entered into when he joined Kruger Products and took on the company’s new role leading Sustainability & Innovation in 2009.

Unwavering leadership support – the keystone

Sage knew that to align leadership he had to build a business case for sustainability based on clear facts. He met with each member of the leadership team individually to understand everyone’s views and concerns. An offsite leadership retreat in 2010 proved to be pivotal; the key to success was the unequivocal support of CEO Mario Gosselin.  He stood before the leadership team and addressed the points of concern regarding Kruger Products’ sustainability commitment. After working through the various perspectives, Gosselin voiced the company’s corporate commitment to sustainability and set the stage for a united effort. Today, sustainability is integrated into various aspects of corporate planning, business, operations and performance evaluation.

Unexpected wins emerge from a culture of sustainability

Kruger Products recognizes that sustainability is not a destination but a journey, with challenges and benefits, both expected and unexpected, along the way. In many situations, Kruger Products was already ‘doing the right thing’ in terms of sustainability, but didn’t have the data to prove it.  With measured data now available, sales personnel can confidently stand up to competitor claims when meeting with customers and demonstrate Kruger Products’ own progress and achievements. Sales personnel hadn’t asked for this data, but now that they have it, they find it offers them a competitive brand advantage.

Another positive effect of Kruger Products’ culture of sustainability has been to bring the company closer to its stakeholders through shared values. As Sage explains, “Discussions have become more meaningful than simply focusing on price; sustainability is another layer in our relationship beyond the simple business exchange piece.”

Walking the walk achieves results

Kruger Products has won widespread recognition for its sustainability efforts including the 2013 Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters’ Greening the Supply Chain Award, the 2012 Association of Energy Engineers’ International Energy Project of the Year Award and the 2011 Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation (CIPEC) Leadership Award. When asked what advice he would give to other companies trying to embrace sustainability, Sage explains, “You need leadership that champions the initiative and is committed to looking long-term, beyond quarterly results. You must walk the walk, not just pay lip service to something that is seen as a marketing initiative or an effort to get NGOs off your back.  You must embrace a culture of innovation and risk taking.”

You need leadership that champions the initiative and is committed to looking long-term, beyond quarterly results.

Steven Sage and his colleagues at Kruger Products are eager to continue on their path and to share lessons learned so they can inspire others.  They prove every day that innovative leadership and a commitment to become a better corporate citizen are a winning combination for people, the planet and the bottom line.

To learn more about Kruger Products please visit their homebase in the TSSS Innovation HUB.