Our journey towards circularity
How we went about certifying our extensive paper portfolio under the Cradle to Cradle Certified® concept.
Taking a sustainable approach in business has never been more important. Mondi has always had strong sustainability values, so our paper portfolio has already been optimised throughout the years to meet those standards. But, of course, we can always do better.
As part of our Mondi Action Plan 2030 (MAP2030), we have set science-based targets to progress on this journey, which include a shift from a linear to a circular economy. Enter Cradle to Cradle Certified® (C2C Certified®), a certification scheme with a focus on circularity that drives companies to get better.
With most ecolabels, once you meet the requirements, you get the certification. Of course there are audits and reviews, but once obtained, you keep the certification. With Cradle to Cradle Certified®, however, certification renewal is required every two years. And, similarly to our ISO certifications, you commit to improve in order to stay certified, so it’s a big undertaking.
We learned a lot from the process, and we still have a long way to go on our journey to circularity, but we’re proud of our progress so far. To be as transparent as possible, and provide guidance to others looking to adopt the Cradle to Cradle® concept, this is the story of how our papers got Cradle to Cradle Certified® at the Bronze level.
Seven months and three days, that’s how long it took us. A very busy seven months and three days, but let’s rewind back to the start and take a peek behind the curtains.
So, what exactly is the Cradle to Cradle Certified® Product Standard?
The Cradle to Cradle Certified® Product Standard is a globally recognised measure of safer, more sustainable products made for the circular economy. It’s a full-scope certification that covers all aspects from sourcing to production, and verifies that products are produced in line with circular economy principles.
Products are assessed across five sustainability categories: material health, product circularity, clean air and climate protection, water and soil stewardship, and social fairness. A product is assigned an achievement level (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum) for each category and the lowest category achievement determines the overall certification level. In order to maintain this label, products must undergo certification renewal every two years.
We are only as strong as our weakest link
With this statement in mind, we decided it was all or nothing, so we set out to certify our entire mill brand paper portfolio from our Mondi Neusiedler and Mondi SCP mills, in Austria and Slovakia. Not sure what that means? We have several mills, across multiple countries and within these mills we produce all sorts of papers — design paper, digital colour printing paper, office paper, high-speed inkjet paper, technical and converting papers, and many others.
These make up our so-called mill brand paper portfolio. If we were to pick just one or two of our paper brands and slap a certification on them, what would that really stand for? Our ecological footprint, collective emissions and overall sustainability goal is about the full picture, not just one paper brand among many.
Cooking up paper
To make paper exactly the same every time, you need a recipe, much like you would if you were trying to replicate your favourite dish from a renowned chef. And similar to world-class chefs, we also have our own secret formulas hidden up our sleeves.
In order to certify our material health, our recipes needed to be inspected, to ensure that we aren’t using any harmful chemicals that do not comply with the standards set out by the Cradle to Cradle Certified® Product Standard.
But we can’t give away all our tricks of the trade, so we whipped up a master recipe of all our products that includes all minimum and maximum values of chemicals and products used. For this, we got Mondi’s Food Safety Laboratory (FSL) on board. The FSL is accredited to the highest international standard as a testing and analytical laboratory for paper and packaging that is in contact with food and other sensitive substances, such as medicines. So they know our products through and through.
Biological and technical cycles
Truly circular products need to be designed with the end of a product’s life in mind. Based on the Cradle to Cradle Certified® concept, materials need to go back into one of two different cycles, either the biological cycle or the technical cycle.
Paper belongs to the biological cycle, meaning that it is important that all ingredients can go back to nature without causing harm. The stringent criteria set by C2C Certified® ensures that, regardless of the level, all certified products are safe, circular and responsibly made.
Transparency in recycling
You might have heard that C2C Certified® and recycled papers don’t go hand-in-hand. In fact, we were the first ones to include our full recycled-paper portfolio within the scope of our certification.
Why is this the case? Cradle to Cradle® requires full transparency of what goes into a product. The criteria for reaching higher levels of certification is exceptionally strict and it is expected, among other requirements, that all papers be totally chlorine free (TCF). Herein lies the problem with recycled papers.
While no additional chlorine is added in the production of our recycled papers, we can’t guarantee that the original post-consumer waste paper that was recycled did not contain chlorine in the first place. We are not afraid to take on this challenge and optimise our recycled grades, as far as is technically feasible. It is a journey worth taking to ensure that we continue to offer our customers papers that have been thoroughly inspected in terms of sustainability.
Under the microscope
Our paper wasn’t the only element to be thoroughly inspected, however, our mills were also put under the microscope. Both our Mondi Neusiedler and Mondi SCP mills, in Austria and Slovakia respectively, underwent extensive audits in order to verify our compliance with the other criteria.
Compliance in terms of safety measures, including correct gear and safety equipment — appropriate shoes, safety vests and goggles, earplugs when operating heavy machinery, etc. — for employees was a given, but even communal areas like restrooms and kitchens were inspected. We’re happy to report that we’re in line with compliance measures down to the last garbage can.
Being kind to nature, and people
Of course, sustainable production processes do not only take materials into consideration, but also that fair working conditions are adhered to. Mondi Group has focused on this for many years. One of the pillars of our MAP2030 and a value that we live and work by at Mondi, is that “empowered people empower people”.
As part of our social fairness compliance, we provided case studies and documentation of our social innovation projects that ascertain Mondi’s fair working conditions, as well as initiatives for diversity and inclusion.
Upwards and onwards
We wanted to learn where we stand today and understand where we still need to get better. Without making any big changes to our current production or altering our product portfolio, we achieved the Bronze level for our overall certification. Through this analysis, we now know which areas we need to improve on.
One such thing, for example, is in regards to the dyes and pigments that are used in our coloured papers. We will continue to work with our suppliers to identify better alternatives. Of course, change doesn’t happen overnight, and this is an ongoing process that we will work on in the years to come. Our overarching goal is to maintain the high quality that we are known for, without compromising on sustainability.
*Cradle to Cradle Certified® is a registered trademark of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.