Lenzing sees sustainability at the heart of its business strategy

Florian Heubrandner, Vice President Global Textiles Business, Lenzing AG
Florian Heubrandner, Vice President Global Textiles Business, Lenzing AG

Lenzing Group, a global company headquartered in Austria, is a leading player in the world of cellulose fibers. For its partners in the textile and nonwovens industries, Lenzing’s cellulose fibers are the starting point for value creation, and the company is particularly focused on sustainability these days.

It’s a long way from the forest to the product in the shop though. Turning cellulose fiber into a luxuriously soft blouse on a boutique rack or a smart sports outfit with perfect thermal regulation involves numerous stages and specialists. More often than not, these stages and specialists are rather disconnected.

This is where Lenzing plays a key role by doing much more than supplying fibers and is working as a partner and facilitator with spinners, weavers, mills, dye works and converters, as well as fashion brands and retailers.

Lenzing’s fibers are produced either by the Lyocell process or the viscose process. For both processes, the company’s R&D department relies on advanced small-scale testing facilities and laboratory simulations to thoroughly analyze the technology for further improvement.

Recently, Lenzing has been executing on its sustainability mission with a number of important milestones. In Dec. 2021, Lenzing was recognized for leadership in corporate sustainability by global environmental nonprofit organization, CDP, securing a place on its prestigious “A List” for tackling climate change, as well as acting to protect water security and forests.

CDP is widely viewed as the gold standard of environmental reporting, with the richest and most comprehensive dataset on corporate and city action. In 2021, over 590 investors with over $110 trillion in assets and 200 major purchasers with $5.5 trillion in procurement spend requested companies to disclose data on environmental impacts, risks and opportunities through CDP’s platform. A record-breaking 13,000 companies responded.

Paul Simpson, CEO of CDP, in recognizing the “A” list recipients, said, “Many congratulations to all the companies on this year’s ‘A’ List. Taking the lead on environmental transparency and action is one of the most important steps businesses can make, even more so in the year of COP26 and the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report. The scale of the risk to businesses from climate change, water insecurity and deforestation can no longer be ignored, and we know the opportunities of action far outweigh the risks of inaction. Leadership from the private sector is essential for securing global ambitions for a net-zero, nature positive and equitable world. Our ‘A’ List celebrates those companies who are preparing themselves to excel in the economy of the future by taking action today.”

It’s a long way from the forest to the final wearable product. Photo courtesy of Lenzing AG
It’s a long way from the forest to the final wearable product. Photo courtesy of Lenzing AG

Meanwhile, in March of this year, Lenzing started up what it describes as the world’s largest lyocell plant with a focus on sustainably sourced and produced fibers. The plant, based in Prachinburi, Thailand, is capable of producing 100,000 tons of fiber per year.
In 2019, Lenzing made a strategic commitment to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions per ton of product by 50% by 2030. The company’s vision is to be climate-neutral by 2050. Due to the established infrastructure, the site in Thailand can be supplied with sustainable biogenic energy, contributing to the Lenzing’s climate-neutrality goals.

Lenzing will continue to expand its production capacity for lyocell fibers in line with its sCore TEN strategy, which aims to generate 75% of its fiber revenue from eco-responsible specialty fibers by 2024.

For this edition of the IFJ Executive Q&A we interviewed Florian Heubrandner, vice president Global Textiles Business for Lenzing AG. Heubrandner shares more details on Lenzing’s sustainability position and how it is shaping the company’s business now and going forward.

IFJ: Lenzing has been at the forefront of positioning cellulosic fiber as a key solution for sustainability in the textile fiber industry. How do you see cellulosic fiber and Lenzing’s offerings in this area fitting into the textile industry’s overall mission to offer more sustainable options in the marketplace?

Florian Heubrandner: Sustainability is in Lenzing’s DNA. In recent years, as the textile industry sharpens its focus on the environment, through our textile brands TENCEL and LENZING ECOVERO, we work with business stakeholders to develop innovative technologies and production methods to enhance supply chain transparency. We also roll out consumer-driven campaigns such as TENCEL’s #FeelsSoRight and #MakeItFeelRight initiatives, which partner with designers, renowned retailers and NGOs globally to offer more eco-fashion options to consumers.
At Lenzing, we believe it takes collaborative effort to create real change. Through ongoing developments, such as our proprietary fiber identification technology to guarantee the sustainability credentials and achieve full traceability of fiber origins, we will continue to innovate technologies and diversify our fiber portfolio to enhance supply chain and raw material transparency, while empowering our textile partners in attaining their sustainability goals.

IFJ: Last year Lenzing announced the introduction of the first carbon neutral lyocell fiber for the nonwovens industry. What can you tell us about this introduction and how it fits into Lenzing’s overall sustainability strategy?

Florian Heubrandner: At Lenzing, we are committed to transforming industries with greater sustainability, and achieving carbon neutrality across our business. In 2019, we made bold commitments to slash our greenhouse gas emissions per ton of product by 50% by 2030, and we intend to be net carbon-zero by 2050.

To work towards such a goal, our efforts to first drive carbon neutrality started in 2020, when we introduced carbon-zero TENCEL-branded fibers for Lenzing’s textile brand. In 2021, we expanded our carbon-zero fiber portfolio with the launch of carbon-zero TENCEL-branded fibers with REFIBRA technology to address market needs for circular economy solutions in fashion. In the same year, we introduced the nonwovens industry’s first carbon neutral VEOCEL™ branded fibers with a net-zero footprint, offering a solution to help our partners and customers reduce emission impact. These commitments are testaments of Lenzing’s corporate goal to help the textile and nonwovens industry to achieve true carbon zero and help mitigate climate impact.

IFJ: In the textile space, there are a number of models for driving sustainability, from recycling and reuse to natural and biodegradable options, and the story gets more complicated as we dig down from there. What do you see as the most promising initiatives and/or concepts being leveraged in the textile fiber space today to drive true impacts on the sustainability front?

Florian Heubrandner: Lenzing has set ambitious targets to achieve carbon neutrality, circularity, and full supply chain transparency. In fact, our targets are directly contributing to multiple Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. To drive results, we closely monitor the entire value chain and have implemented technologies specifically to address their needs. The Lenzing E-branding Service, for example, was designed to deliver trusted fiber material sustainability to customers.

We are also building solid foundations for a carbon zero industry value chain. Through our TENCEL True Carbon Zero campaign, we engage with suppliers to source ethical raw materials and brands to produce clothing using carbon-zero TENCEL-branded fibers, making Lenzing’s goal of carbon-zero collaborative. The latest innovations address both benefits of upcycling and generating zero emissions in the production of fibers. These three targets will continue to be top priorities and Lenzing is committed to be at the forefront to drive the industry’s sustainability journey.

IFJ: With the European Commission finalizing its Single-Use Plastics Directive last year, the pressure on single-use plastic products continues to mount. However, the SUPD in its current iteration did give viscose a bit of a reprieve by not classifying it as a plastic. How do you see the SUPD and other similar regulatory efforts around single-use plastics influencing Lenzing’s business and strategy in the near and long term?

Florian Heubrandner: As the EU SUPD guidelines are now defined, and the EU commission has confirmed both lyocell and specialty viscose fibers are an alternative to single-use products, we expect an increase in the demand for sustainable non-plastic nonwovens materials from renewable sources. We are therefore working hard to maximize our supply and invest in new capacities. At the same time, we are using our skills and expertise to support industry partners as they adapt to new materials, help enable their product innovations, and offer claim support and certifications for a fast turnaround of their consumer proposition.

At Lenzing, we do not simply work towards labelling ourselves as “not plastic”, we go the extra mile to show consumers that Lenzing fibers are produced under an environmentally friendly, sustainable process. The switch to using eco-conscious raw materials is a permanent process, which is accelerating in the nonwovens industry, and we are happy to see such industry shift.

IFJ: Lenzing recently achieved a place on the CDP “A List” for tackling climate change and protecting water security and forests. What can you tell us about this recognition, what Lenzing did to achieve it, and how it aligns with Lenzing’s philosophy as a company?

Florian Heubrandner: We are proud to be one of the 14 companies in the world recognized on the CDP “A List.” This achievement is testament to Lenzing’s ongoing leadership in combatting climate change and protecting natural resources. Our operations and development plans are guided by three principles – driving systemic change, advancing circularity and greening the value chain. We also have seven focus areas under these principles, such as raw material security, water stewardship, and decarbonization, which we use to measure our success in mitigating harmful environmental effects.

The CDP’s criteria align with Lenzing’s belief that we cannot be complacent in reversing climate change and receiving this recognition for two consecutive years proves that our sustainability strategy is strong and we are on track to achieving our ambitious targets and helping the industry become more sustainable.

Turning cellulose fiber into luxuriously soft blouses. Photo courtesy of Lenzing AG
Turning cellulose fiber into luxuriously soft blouses. Photo courtesy of Lenzing AG

IFJ: Looking 10-15 years into the future, what do you see as the key trends that will have an influence in textile fiber technology and applications?

Florian Heubrandner: Digitalization is the future. We began our digital transformation journey several years ago by embracing online tools to support supply chain traceability. Blockchain, for instance, will continue to be a growing trend across markets. In 2019, Lenzing joined forces with TextileGenesis to bring blockchain-enabled supply chain traceability to our partners. By scanning a QR code on the final garment, consumers will be able to detect the origin of the clothes they intend to buy. Our future development plans will have a heavy emphasis on leveraging digital tools.
Furthermore, we have set our sights on achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. In the next decade (and beyond), we will be launching a host of new technologies, raw materials, and manufacturing processes to help make this carbon-zero vision a reality.

IFJ: During this same timeframe, how do you see Lenzing evolving as a company? How will the Lenzing of tomorrow be different than the Lenzing of today?

Florian Heubrandner: Lenzing has a rich history of providing sustainable fiber and technology solutions for the industry. In fact, this year marked the 30th anniversary for the TENCEL brand. In the coming decade, we will continue holding our fiber products to the highest sustainability standards whilst expanding our digital offerings and partnerships to enact systemic change. An example in driving raw material transparency is our partnership with Orange Fiber in 2021, where we introduced the first TENCEL branded lyocell fiber made of orange pulp from juicing factories and wood as part of our TENCEL Limited Edition initiative. The fibers pushed the boundaries of innovation and were transformed into a new collection of fashion fabrics.

As the EU SUPD guidelines are now defined, and the EU commission has confirmed both lyocell and specialty viscose fibers are an alternative to single-use products, we expect an increase in the demand for sustainable non-plastic nonwovens materials from renewable sources. We are therefore working hard to maximize our supply and invest in new capacities.

There are also some exciting developments in the pipeline. We will be opening the world’s largest lyocell production facility in Thailand this March, expanding the production of TENCEL Lyocell fibers to cater to the increasing demand for sustainably produced fibers. We will also add more features to our Lenzing E-Branding Service later this year, which will enhance supply chain transparency with a digital touch. All these projects will be important milestones in our company’s work towards achieving a carbon-free future.

IFJ: Is there anything that we haven’t touched upon in the previous questions that you feel is important to mention about Lenzing and/or trends in textile fiber applications and technology?

Florian Heubrandner: At Lenzing, we believe in the power of innovation and partnership. It won’t be enough for corporations to work alone in tackling the climate crisis. We will be seeing more collaborations across the supply chain and between public and private sectors to address these environmental challenges.
Lenzing has been a leader in driving innovation of wood-based fiber offerings, from total-chlorine free fibers to incorporating upcycled cotton waste from garment production to developing carbon zero fibers. Moving forward, we will continue to work closely with industry partners, suppliers, brands and NGOs to drive positive impact across the industry landscape.