Environmental responsibility

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Exel Composites is committed to decreasing wherever possible the environmental impact of its own operations as well as to making products that contribute to decreasing its customers’ environmental footprint.

Sustainability is a global megatrend that increases composites demand and brings new business opportunities in the long-term in all Exel’s customer segments and market areas.

Exel Composites’ Quality, Environmental, Health and Safety (QEHS) Policy, Chemical Policy as well as the Group Code of Conduct guide the company’s measures related to quality and environmental impact. The company’s operations are governed by national environmental permits and complies with the requirements of the standards ISO 9001:2015, ISO 14001:2015 and ISO 45001:2017. In 2019 Exel received the new health and safety ISO 45001 certifications for the manufacturing units in Europe. Units in USA and China are preparing for the certification.

Exel Composites actively participates in the work of industry associations. This is an important means for the company to ensure being up-to-date on the latest developments in environmental matters, advances in environmental technology and new regulatory measures. Through its participation Exel can also promote work related to standards for composites, building and structural design, such as the Eurocode. Exel is, for example, a member in EPTA, European Pultrusion Technology Association, EuCIA, European Composites Industry Association, and American Composites Manufacturers Association, ACMA.

Exel Composites’ environmental risks and sustainability issues are assessed as part of an overall group-wide quality management system. It is the responsibility of the Group Management Team to continuously develop and implement the system. Environmental impact, energy consumption, the use of raw materials and the amount of waste are monitored monthly on a Group level.

Environmental risks are also assessed on factory level during inspections and controls conducted by national authorities and certification audits. According to Exel Composites’ risk assessment, fires, emissions or chemical leakages into the water or ground present the biggest environmental risks. These risks are mitigated through pre-emptive safety measures, such as regular employee trainings, safety equipment and gear, sprinkler systems as well as safe storing of risky chemicals.

Responsible products

Customers are at the center of all Exel Composites’ business decisions. Designing, producing and selling a product that does not meet the agreed requirements could have negative impact on the company’s business and its reputation. Exel strives to differentiate itself from competition by delivering the best customer experience. Customer satisfaction is regularly evaluated using for example the Net Promoter Score-method (NPS). Ensuring the safety of all chemicals used in its products is a priority for Exel Composites. Many of the company’s key customers also require Exel to comply with their Supplier Code of Conducts and audit Exel against their quality and safety requirements.

For many of Exel Composites’ customers the decision concerning technology and materials is an important one from an environmental point of view. In addition to traditional factors in the decision making process, such as lightness, mechanical properties, fatigue performance and lower total costs, these qualities are also often seen to lower the overall environmental impact of the end product. Composites are lighter than the typical alternative materials such as metals, and therefore can result in lower installation and maintenance costs as well as easier handling. Lower fuel and energy consumption over their lifecycle is also a result of the inherently thermally insulating nature of composites for example when used in the construction market. Furthermore, composites are durable and non-corrosive with a long life span, which reduces the amount of energy intensive maintenance and the need for replacement. There are tools being researched and developed for example by EuCIA to help objectively assess the environmental impact of composites during the manufacturing phase. In 2019 the association also signed an agreement to reduce plastic waste in Europe, to which also Exel is committed to as an active member and sponsor of EuCIA.

Due to the properties of composites such as lightness and energy efficiency, Exel’s products are also used in sustainability enhancing technologies and solutions, such as wind power and electric cars, among other. In 2019, wind power continued to grow as Exel’s largest customer industry. Demand in this customer industry is driven by regulations aiming to reduce the impact of climate change and favoring sustainable energy sources. In addition, the average size of new wind turbines is growing, yielding to requirements of longer and stiffer wind turbine blades. Exel’s composite solutions to wind turbine manufacturers enable the design of lighter and bigger rotor blades as well as improved energy efficiency even with low winds.

Interest towards the use of bio-based materials, resins and fibers such as flax, is expected to grow. In 2019, Exel continued to actively test these materials in production and for different applications. The commercial use, however, was still small scale due to their relatively higher cost. Customers who prefer the use of bio-based materials usually operate in very specific industries where the use of bio-materials clearly adds value to the end-product or where the current regulative requirements encourage their use.

Responsible operations

Exel Composites’ primary energy source is electrical energy. In addition to production load, which is connected to lighting, ventilation and dust removal, heating has a major impact on the total energy usage as the company’s largest production sites are situated in Northern locations. Exel’s long term target is to reduce its total use of energy proportional to production. The company actively measures its energy use and takes measures to reduce consumption. For this purpose, Exel looks to make improvements in operational efficiency and the use of bio-fuel operated heating systems, heat recovering air exchange equipment, heat pumps, LED lighting and inverter controlled drives, where applicable. In 2019 Exel USA, for example, moved to motion sensor lighting in the manufacturing areas of the factory and installing more efficient air compressors to reduce heat leaks.

In Finland, Exel Composites carried out an energy efficiency survey in 2019, which is mandatory for large enterprises every four years according to Finnish legislation. The purpose is to reduce the impact of climate change. The energy survey determines the company’s energy consumption profiles and identifies opportunities to save energy. While the survey confirmed an overall efficient energy use in Exel, some minor development points were taken on the task list. During 2019, Exel also investigated possible improvements in the energy quality provided by its energy supplier as well as the potential use of solar energy in the Finnish units. The investigation, however, did not result in action in 2019. In the Mäntyharju unit in Finland, Exel invested in 2019 in a reserve power system, which increases energy and cost efficiency during possible power breaks as it ensures uninterrupted production.
Exel’s greenhouse gas emissions are mostly carbon dioxide that is formed in the company’s own use of fuels, transportation of materials and external power production. The manufacturing of composites with generally available raw materials also entails emitting volatile organic compounds (VOC). Exel monitors and conducts tests on its VOC emissions, such as styrene, and invests in reducing them in order to always be within the permitted levels as required by local legislation and regulations. In 2019 a carbon absorption system was taken into use in Exel USA and in China a dust and VOC system was installed.

In China, Exel’s new manufacturing location complies with modern and more stringent standards for chemical industries in China. In Austria, Exel considers environmental and safety requirements already in the current design phase of the new production facility.
The main operational efficiency goal for Exel Composites is to reduce operational or composite waste, which is inevitably generated as part of the regular production process. Exel has a waste management plan and continuously monitors and aims to reduce the amount of waste produced. The amount is highly dependent on the product mix and is therefore highly volatile. As products are mostly developed “on-demand” in close cooperation with customers, the use of raw materials is as efficient as possible.

Exel Composites is committed to re-using composite waste and where logistically, technologically or economically possible, composite waste goes to recycling. The recyclability of composites, however, remains a relatively complex topic with challenges that also vary from country to country. The composite waste that cannot be re-used is recycled through incineration where possible. In Central Europe incineration of waste is widely used, but not currently feasible in the Northern locations. In 2019, the Joensuu unit in Finland renewed its waste management contract and as a result the provider was changed. This has improved the logistic efficiency and thereby reduced environmental impact. Other than composite waste is recycled to the extent possible. For example, in Exel USA an acetone waste recycling process was implemented in 2019 to reduce acetone waste. Learnings across the group are shared with other units in order to implement best practices.

In 2019, Exel Composites continued its research to find ways of reusing composite waste. Grinded composites can be reused for example as raw material in the production of cement. In 2019, Exel also conducted, in cooperation with another company, a feasibility study where the aim was to use grinded composite waste to produce a commercially viable product. Although this particular project did not progress further, Exel continues its research and participation in programs to develop composite re-use where it is currently not possible. The company is also an end-user of existing composite recycling solutions like CompoCycle.

Production KPI’s *

2019 2018 2017
Energy usage, GWh 19.6 19.9 18.7
Energy usage, change from previous year, % -1.5 6.3 -3.4
Energy usage in proportion to production, change from previous year, % -26.3 -15.0 -15.0
Composite waste per ton produced, change from previous year, % -5.3 26.6 -26.8
Reused waste, % 33.7 43.3 64.2

* Figures include only those production sites that have been operational as part of Exel Composites Group during all of the financial year.