Circular thinking as a driving force
This year Unilin is launching its first ever external sustainability report. Time to take stock. What evolutions has the company gone through and what does the future look like? “Our products have been circular from day one”, says Unilin CEO Bernard Thiers. “In addition, we have always strived for a healthy, comfortable and sustainable environment for our customers and a ditto work environment for our employees.” Making a positive impact on our planet and protect our people: that is our absolute number one priority at Unilin.
1. Bernard, Unilin gives high priority to circularity. In what ways do you continue to challenge yourselves?
“By setting strict targets for ourselves. Our ambition is to almost halve the CO2 emissions of our production facilities by 2030. To meet these objectives we continue to push boundaries. There’s a reason why ‘we push boundaries’ is embedded in our DNA. Our employees are true entrepreneurs who keep reinventing themselves. Just think of our pioneering role in the recycling of MDF boards. Until recently this was technically impossible but thanks to the innovative technology developed by our people we are the first to be able to recycle MDF and HDF boards on an industrial scale. Shortly we will start producing LVT floors with a core consisting of 100% recycled material. And in this manner we keep pushing boundaries.”
2. You started in 1984 as plant manager of Unilin Flooring. Was sustainability high on the agenda in those days?
“We have always worked with sustainable products. We started in 1960 with the production of flax chipboards that were made of flax waste. When the flax industry disappeared in these parts we switched to waste wood for the chipboards. In all those years we haven’t felled a single tree for our boards. But sustainability goes beyond impact on climate or nature: since our early beginnings, we have also attached great importance to creating a sustainable work environment for our employees. Ours is a family mentality, everyone is equal. As a group we try to drive people forward and give them opportunities so everyone can realise their potential and feel good at work.”
3. How important is sustainability to Unilin - then and now?
“Over the years Unilin has developed into an organisation with 8,400 employees across the globe. We have plants in Europe, Asia, Oceania and South America. This means we can make a genuine difference for our planet and its inhabitants. It is a responsibility we do not take lightly. For many years the different divisions of Unilin have been taking a variety of initiatives with regard to climate, circularity and energy as well as on a product level. In 2022 we decided to harness those initiatives together with concrete objectives in our sustainability strategy ‘One Home’, in which we strive to turn our planet, the living environment of our customers and the work environment of our employees, into a home.”
4. At Unilin sustainability is not a top-down thing: every employee places maximum focus on sustainability. How do you go about that?
“In every fibre of our being we are a sustainable company. 67% of our raw materials are already renewable - a huge percentage. Sustainability is inscribed in our genes and has been implicitly present for many years. Our workforce senses this and everyone is on the same page. Our One Home strategy has cemented this even further. All we did really was make explicit what was already there. First we had individual divisions organise brainstorm sessions in work groups to formulate all initiatives and concrete objectives. On the one hand there’s our large-scale energy transition: we want to eliminate fossil fuels and place maximum focus on renewable energy. We generate as much renewable energy as possible at our own sites with the aid of wind turbines, solar panels and green energy plants. We also have plenty of creative people in our ranks who are highly motivated to reach our objectives, amongst others in terms of product and process innovation. How do we make every product in our entire company circular is the major challenge there but we don’t shy away from it.”
5. What is the evolution you have witnessed with regard to sustainability?
“It became our absolute number one priority from the moment we set up the work groups. Meanwhile we have also joined the SBT initiative - the Science Based Targets initiative. This is how we challenge ourselves every day to keep raising the bar. By the way, we are very transparent about this: from now on our sustainability report will be published every year. The report gives full details on our initiatives, realisations and objectives.”
6. What does the sustainable future look like for Unilin?
“Our ultimate goal is to become entirely circular and fully CO2 neutral. Although we may never reach that point, we will never stop pursuing it. All our investments and innovations are aimed at achieving that goal. In addition, we will keep up our efforts to improve the quality of life of our customers, as we are doing today. In closing, I find it important that our employees always have the opportunity to grow. We put great stock in lifelong learning .”
Curious to find out more about Unilin’s initiatives, realisations and objectives in terms of sustainability?