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Q&A with Maximilian Heindl for The Times: Driving a circular model in packaging

Maximilian Heindl, incoming CEO of European paper and corrugated cardboard giant Progroup, explains how the packaging industry can respond to the challenges of sustainability.

What will be the biggest future challenges and opportunities in packaging?
The short-term challenges relate to energy and the economy. Packaging sales link closely to GDP, so it’s tough when economies show uncertainty. But we are highly competitive. Progroup has young, effi cient assets and is well organised. We are not afraid of the economic challenges but rather looking for opportunities to work towards energy independence. Paper and cardboard are highly renewable and recyclable materials, but production is energy- and capital-intensive. It is important to focus on green, renewable energy as much as possible to become a zero-carbon industry. We have already made great progress towards independence from fossil fuels – a good example of this is our Eisenhüttenstadt site in Germany. The energy we need there for paper production is largely supplied by our connected waste-to-energy power plant. The power plant recycles waste material to supply the paper machine with energy via steam. The waste used in this process is residual materials that are partly biogenic and originate from our paper production. The power plant also produces electricity and the amount of electricity generated corresponds to about 50% of our second paper machine’s (PM2’s) electricity needs, thus reducing the use of fossil fuels and significantly saving CO2.

How else is Progroup driving sustainability?
Sustainability starts with our hi-tech facilities, which run particularly effi ciently, and continues with our environmentally friendly products, which we are developing constantly. The PM2 paper machine is also a good example of this – the path of our resource-saving papers began with the design of this paper machine more than 10 years ago. We designed this innovative generation of machine to produce paper that uses less fi bre but maintains stability. Even today, few machines produce such light papers and its basis is 100% recovered paper. After use, papers are returned to the ‘green cycle’ as waste paper. In combination with our wasteto- energy power plant, we pursue a consistent zero-waste system in Eisenhüttenstadt. We will gradually roll out this model to other sites. For example, at our site near Leipzig we invested €500m in our latest paper machine (PM3), of which €100m was put toward sustainability measures. We are also investing €135m in a fossil-fuel-free power plant, on the same site, starting construction next year and completing in 2025. Of course, we do not only keep an eye on energy consumption, but on water consumption too. Our PM1 near Magdeburg was the fi rst paper machine to have a 100% closed-loop water system. Here, process water is cleaned of fi bre fragments and then reintroduced into the production process – this means no wasted water is produced. PM3, which started two years ago, made that loop even more efficient with a new, integrated type of recirculating water treatment system. It works like a biological kidney, treating the process water used and returning it to the closed-loop system of paper production. Waste paper impurities are biologically degraded during this process and converted into biogas. As a result, the entire plant consumes 10% less fossil resources.

It is important to focus on green, renewable energy as much as possible to become a zerocarbon industry

Why is long-term thinking so crucial in this industry?
As mentioned, our industry is still energy- and capital-intensive, and we will need huge, long-term projects to achieve our sustainability goals. It is a great advantage that we are a family business. We think ahead and plan far into the future with the next generation in mind. Our entire strategy is geared towards the long term. This means we are already looking at projects today, such as carbon capture and storage to reduce carbon emissions. We are even thinking about methods for creating a negative carbon balance – as part of the bioeconomy, this is prospectively possible with our business model. We are also looking at how we can use hydrogen within our entire corporate strategy, which is designed for the long-term.

What else do you plan to do after taking over as CEO?
We are well positioned for the future, but we are not resting on our laurels. Some things will need to adjust due to our growing size – organisation, people and culture become even more important. And we continue to develop our core values of innovation and cooperation. My ambition is to successfully advance our family business, together with all our colleagues, with the employees in the
team. Progroup will continue to grow. And we will operate sustainably and with our vision to be a technology leader.

How do you feel about taking the helm on 1 January 2023?
It will be a lot of responsibility, but I’ve grown up with this company over 30 years. We have been preparing this transition for six years. So it feels natural to take over. I am very much looking forward to the future. And I am looking forward to continuing my father’s successful business model and leaving my own mark on it.

How will Progroup’s story continue?
We see lots of room and potential in our markets. We have many projects on the go, including our latest corrugated sheet-feeder plant in Poland, which will start offi cial production in a few weeks, plus three more plants in Germany, Italy and France. Even with a leadership change, we will maintain our growth strategy and focus on our strengths. That continuity is important as we keep aiming to set the standard for sustainability and technological innovation in packaging. 

To the Future of Packaging Report


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