Lenzing – For a Green Future
Lenzing Group, the global fibre manufacturer, has put nature at the core of its business. This is also the basis of its UK plant in Grimsby.
Established over a hundred years ago, Lenzing is an international group with its headquarters in Lenzing, Austria, and production sites in all major markets. The company produces wood-based viscose fibres, modal fibres, lyocell fibres and filament yarn, which are used in the textile industry – in clothing, home textiles and technical textiles – as well as in the nonwovens industry.
Lenzing has been a global technological pioneer in the ecologically responsible and profitable production of cellulose fibre for decades, with a focus on eco-friendly, innovative and top-quality products and services.
Today, the company is by far the world’s most sought-after partner when it comes to high-quality speciality fibres which include TENCEL™ Lyocell fibres, TENCEL™ Modal fibres and VEOCEL™ fibres. By 2024, more than 75% of the Group’s revenue is expected to come from speciality fibres.
Nature is the source of the Group’s business, so it is not surprising that sustainability and environmental focus are key values of its operations. The group’s sustainable production of botanic fibres, derived from renewable sources and processed with unique resource-conserving technologies, is the strategic focus of Lenzing’s core business and remains the centrepiece of its recently defined sCore TEN strategy.
“The Group vision is to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050, and to half emissions by 2030,” says Phil Munson, Director of Operations of Lenzing’s UK business based in Grimsby. The plant has been part of the Lenzing Group since 2004 when the Austrian manufacturer decided to move into Lyocell production, which is the UK’s company core business.
Mr Munson explains that the Grimsby factory has a special position within the Group: “We are a speciality fibre manufacturer making premium end products that go into unique applications. Some of the fibres we make in Grimsby are not made anywhere else in the world.”
One of the brand names for the Lyocell fibres is TENCEL™, a brand that was brought into the Lenzing Group through the acquisition of the Grimsby factory and has been developed using the Group’s expertise and customer base. Being sustainable, the brand is an important part of the Groups’ future.
“We also have a big interest in technical nonwovens that go into filtration media, medical and pharmaceutical goods. These are really challenging but interesting and profitable markets. We are set to broaden the range of unique products, continuing to push towards the high-end specialities.”
The Grimsby factory was commissioned in 1998 and currently employs 240 people which includes some long-term contractors who are based on its site. Mr Munson points out that today some 30% of the volume is generated by the nonwoven business which however accounts for about 50% of the actual turnover.
Reducing the environmental footprint
“We strive to be the most saleable as well as the highest quality fabric producer. We do not have the ambition to be the highest volume producer as there are a lot of cheaper companies that do not necessarily operate on a sustainable platform and we do not wish to compete against them. Sustainability is a key topic for us.”
The company is currently investing £20 million to build a new, state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant at its site in Grimsby, due to be commissioned in 2023. The investment is part of the company’s plans to significantly reduce waste-water emissions.
Once completed, Lenzing will have biological wastewater treatment plants that meet the best available techniques (BAT) quality standard at all its production sites. The plant design, which will employ a new technology developed as part of a research project, is fully aligned with the UK regulator and supported by the local authorities.
“It is really important to recognise that this is the single biggest investment in the plant since it was built. The process itself is already very sustainable, but the investment reflects the decision to push even harder against the sustainability targets we have,” says Mr Munson.
Responsible water use is one of the core elements of Lenzing’s sustainability strategy and is largely executed by using water efficiently in manufacturing and employing state-of-the-art water treatment technologies.
“In the initial stage, emissions will be further reduced by 65% of the current loading, followed by an overall 90% reduction, which puts us in the top five or ten per cent of industries in the world.”
Although Mr Munson admits that the impact of the pandemic was enormous, the factory never closed down during the lockdowns as its product went into the medical and hygiene sectors, and was critically needed at the height of the pandemic.
Overall, Lenzing has managed to handle the challenge of last year’s collapsing markets as well as the current, and continuing, supply chain disruptions, with policies in place to mitigate any negative consequences.
One of the company’s core strengths has been its human resources. Mr Munson who has been at the plant since it was designed and built, points out that many of the workers have been employed in the business for many years. The company has a robust apprenticeship scheme in place, as well as internships, as preparing future talent to ensure the continuation of knowledge is an important part of the company strategy.
The volatility of global markets has not stopped the group from continuing its investment plans. At the moment, Lenzing is building a Lyocell plant in Thailand to serve Asian markets, an investment worth EUR 400 mn, and further plants are expected to be built in selected locations over the next ten years. In addition, the current capacities are being increased, and this will hopefully also be the case for the Grimsby factory in due course, says Mr Munson.
“It’s been really rewarding to watch the company from the days it was built to becoming one of the most profitable businesses within the Lenzing Group. It is good to be part of building a strong future for the site.”