Located down in a valley so low, but reaching great heights with an aggressive marketing and operational plan, alesco is an old-school film processor and converter highly attuned to a new eco-conscious age.
Its film is sold into markets such as potting soil and mulch, frozen foods packaging, and shrink films for beverage packaging: fine markets all, but notorious for their price consciousness. How can a processor active in such markets rise above the rest of the me-too pack? Management of films extruder alesco first tackled that question almost 10 years ago. “The markets we’re in are tough ones,” admits Stefan Ross, plant manager and R&D director, “but the steps we’ve taken separate us from the pack.”
“Our green philosophy is centered on being conscious of how we use energy in every aspect of our business,” he says. “We really started to think about our dependence on oil, and to consider if there are ways to reduce our exposure” to this expensive and price-unstable raw material. “Our motivation came from within the firm. We were working on this long before our customers showed any interest.”
The company’s employees measured energy use of everything, and even answered surveys as to whether they walked or drove to work. “Now we can tell a customer how many carbon dioxide emissions went into every product—whether it’s printed, coextruded, shrink or stretch, and so on,” he explains. The processor also works with an independent agency, ClimatePartner (Munich), for customers who want to buy certificates for projects in developing countries that will result in their film earning a “climate-neutral” label.
“We’re living our green philosophy,” says Ross, who also uses renewable energy for his home. Employees travel by train for domestic appointments—no flights. Paper use in the company’s office is down by 67%, and documented.
The company has some 200 employees at two facilities in Germany (Langerwehe and Alsdorf) processing about 42,000 tonnes/year of material, almost all of it polyethylene. Exports, especially to the neighboring Benelux (Belgium/Netherlands/Luxembourg) countries but also as far as Russia, account for about 40% of sales. It runs 19 extrusion lines, seven flexographic printing machines with up to eight-color capability, and has bagmaking equipment able to convert up to 20 million bags and sacks each month. Customers include Coca-Cola, Carlsberg, and EckesGranini. Since January 2010, the processor relies entirely on renewable energy to power its operations.
Alesco began commercially marketing bioplastic films in April 2008, and then last summer introduced bioplastic shrink film for six-packs of PET bottles, a novelty not yet commercial but one for which Ross says customer testing is very active. At issue is that the biodegradable material used doesn’t cool as quickly as polyethylene. As six-packs move through production lines, the bottles shift enough to stretch the film, resulting in a not-so-shrunk pack because the material does not shrink back to shape.
“We think we’ve solved this for six-packs of 0.5-liter bottles, but still need to work on larger bottles,” says Ross. He expects commercial sales soon.
A cynic might ask alesco to qualify whether all of these steps have helped it in the market, and Ross allows that it’s an appropriate question. In fact, it remains one of the few internal statistics not kept at the company. Even without hard numbers, Ross knows it has helped. “We’ve not yet qualified our economic advantage [from these steps], but we know that this sustainable philosophy has helped us get into discussions with very large brand owners.” —Matt Defosse