Greiner AG – Sustainable Progress
Austria-headquartered Greiner, a world-leading supplier of plastics and foam solutions, has sustainable development as its core priority.
Founded in 1868, the family-owned company is currently active in 34 countries around the globe. As an ‘environmental pioneer’ in the plastics processing segment, Greiner wants to actively contribute to sustainable development and to address the global challenges of our time.
The business started from humble beginnings in 1868 when Carl Albert Greiner and his wife opened a general store in Germany. Over the years, the business moved to cork stopper production, which remained the company’s core business for seven decades. When in the 1950s the raw material, cork, became the subject of heavy export duties imposed by the supplier countries, the company started to seriously consider plastics. Time has shown that this was a smart move – today, Greiner is a recognised global player with 11,500 employees worldwide, and still growing.
In 1999 the Group was restructured, resulting in all units starting to operate as single, independent entities, largely divided up into areas of competence:
Greiner Bio-One is a global player in the field of medical technology and life science, while Greiner Packaging manufactures plastic packaging for the food and non-food sectors. NEVEON (formerly Greiner Foam) is a leading integrated global foam group that offers outstanding polyurethane flexible and composite foams for a huge range of applications, and Greiner Extrusion – the smallest of the four – is a leading producer of extrusion lines, tools and complete plants for profile production.
“The sustainable business approach, a combination of product and market diversification as well as a focus on innovation provide the basis for our continuous growth,” says the Group’s CEO Axel Kuehner, appointed to his role in 2009 – the first non-family CEO to lead the family business after 140 years.
The green champion
Not surprisingly, sustainability is currently the most crucial topic, he acknowledges: “Plastics and sustainability may seem like a contradiction but this is not so. We have to distinguish between plastics pollution – caused by humans – and climate change mitigation. Plastics play a positive role in the latter. It requires much less energy to produce compared to metal, glass or paper, and as it is lighter, it has many additional benefits to the environment. So, while we need to prevent plastics ending up in the environment, we should not forget their contribution to climate change mitigation.”
Greiner has been one of the first companies in the sector to take a firm stand on sustainability back in 2015 and is always ready to speak openly about its sustainability strategy. “We have set ourselves the ambitious target of having all of our plastic packaging either reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, five years earlier than the date set by the EU, staying at the forefront of the industry as before.”
Last year the company re-designed its sustainability strategy, defined as the Blue Plan, centred around three major topics: climate protection, the transition to a circular economy and employees. By 2030, the company wants to be climate neutral and a fully circular business, with all its employees to be prepared for the challenges of the future.
In a circular system, materials and products are reused, reprocessed, repaired and recycled for as long as possible. A particular focus in this regard is on plastic packaging and the foam product portfolio. Both product groups remain subject to thermal use or are even dumped in fragmentary form. In a circular system, precisely these activities will be avoided and the materials retained in a loop.
Greiner Packaging is pursuing various approaches to making its packaging solutions as sustainable as possible. One course of action is to use so-called circular materials – that is, renewable, non-fossil fuel feedstocks. For the first time, the company has now produced a food cup made of premium polyolefins obtained exclusively from waste and residue streams – from vegetable oil production as well as oil waste and residues, from the timber industry, or the food industry – for instance, used cooking oil. A life-cycle analysis initiated by Borealis shows a significantly reduced carbon footprint.
Greiner’s “green” approach has been reflected in many other innovative products. Recent successes include Henkel, now using sustainable cardboard-plastic tubs from Greiner Packaging which contain 50 per cent post-consumer recycled PP from end consumer households. Thanks to its innovative, patented tear-off system, the cardboard wrap and the plastic tub can easily be separated and recycled.
A year like no other
Innovations continued throughout the year of the global pandemic, and in 2020, Greiner reported the best financial results in the company’s entire history. This achievement was helped by the Group’s medical technology division Greiner Bio-One that made an important contribution to combating the crisis, having launched an innovative product – the Virus Stabilization Tube, that the company managed to develop within three weeks and had approved just as quickly.
“This tube is used in PCR tests and solves a problem that arose at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis,” explains Mr Kuehner. “Using the tube, the virus can be stabilized for 72 hours, which facilitates the analysis process. That was a huge issue at the very beginning because many swabs that were taken were difficult to test as the virus had in some cases already degraded.”
He admits that going forward the Group is in better shape than ever, looking at further growth. “We are just in the process of acquiring a major stake in our competitor, Recticel. This is a huge step and the largest acquisition in our history.”
Even with this fast progress, however, the company’s values and culture remain the same. Being still family-owned, now by the fifth generation, is an advantage and a responsibility. “We value our employees above all, and they all show a great commitment to continuing to make the business successful,” says Axel Kuehner.
“The family ownership is one of the factors behind Greiner’s strong global position. When it comes to the company, the Greiner family stands as one, always doing what is the best for the company, reinvesting in its development. Stable and progressive growth is also the task for the coming years,” affirms.