Sustainability survey

Following the two previous sustainability engagement surveys conducted in 2009 and 2012, EDANA repeated this exercise in 2014 to report on trends among its member companies and better understand and deliver on needs and expectations in the field of sustainability. 61 companies responded to this survey, a marked increase from the previous editions. Respondents were spread across applications for nonwovens and related products and overall very representative of EDANA's total membership, with companies from all parts of the value chain.

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The social pillar of sustainability has become more important in EDANA members' approach to sustainability. This can be explained by several factors, including a conscious decision by companies to emphasise social aspects in order to be closer to consumers by demonstrating their added value to society. Overall, a better balance between the various components of sustainability efforts could indicate that companies are taking sustainability to the next level, with a stronger integration in day to-day operations and more communication, including through social media.

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Sustainability is now increasingly integrated in the full cycle of operations, from product development to marketing. This confirms that companies focus on efficiency in all aspects of a product and also indicates that from the early stages of product development the benefits of the product are evaluated so they can be leveraged in marketing and communication activities. A lesser emphasis on raw materials sourcing from a sustainability perspective is most likely due to the fact that companies have already made significant efforts to evaluate raw materials as this is a logical place to start when looking to make operations more efficient, and companies gradually move on to other functions such as production.

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In terms of key drivers for sustainability, a major shift can be observed from consumers to customers. This is partly due to a higher level of participation of companies operating higher up in the value chain, on a strictly business-to-business platform. However this also confirms that where companies were responding to a typically vague notion of popular demand for sustainability a few years ago, they have now set up routine communications with their customers and focus on concrete, operation aspects of sustainability.

Sustainability is increasingly part of corporate policy. The importance of stakeholder groups e.g. non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is growing as they are increasingly successful at using social media and traditional communication tools to mobilise consumers. Local government is increasingly aware of sustainability aspects, the implementation of environmental legislation at local level is more rigorous and sustainability aspects are increasingly integrated in public procurement policy.

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Certification bodies, although still the most frequently quoted as key sustainability stakeholders, seem to be less at the centre of the focus of companies, which is also normal as once certification is secured, management of new products and renewal of certificates require less frequent interaction. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and companies are increasing engaging in discussions on sustainability related topics. As discussed earlier on drivers for sustainability, NGOs are increasingly powerful. In many cases they have also become more professional and pragmatic, shifting their approach away from extreme and emotional, which has made it possible for companies to engage in constructive dialogue and in an increasing number of cases establish partnerships.

Challenges 
EDANA members face a number of sustainability-related challenges, ranging from global factors impacting all industries to issues within the value chain and specific to nonwovens and related products. One of the main challenges is the lack of consistency of needs and expectations from one region to the next, but also the lack of harmonisation in terms of definitions, standards and regulations in the field of sustainability. Overall respondents felt that there are significant and growing constraints both external and from within the value chain, leading to challenging circumstances for companies.

Opportunities
EDANA members see sustainability as an imperative to maintain the license for industry to operate within society. They also see sustainability as a driver of benefits for companies in itself (efficiencies) but also through positive synergies and indirect benefits such as new market opportunities, increased innovation, better perception of the company and more engagement with partners in the value chain. The vast majority of examples given for social sustainability actions consist of "traditional" activities related to the contribution of companies to local communities, or internal measures focused on employees. A few examples illustrate a recent trend for companies to innovate by using new products to address pressing issues and generate direct benefits for society, e.g. the provision of water filters where drinking water is not safe.