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Interview with Niklas Kuhn: Sustainable packaging at Health Care

Niklas Kuhn, Expert Packaging Development

With 100 years of wound care expertise, our Health Care brands are not only providing best in class protection for everyday injuries, but also know that protecting people’s wounds should go along with protecting all aspects of people’s lives – such as the environment.

Guided by the brand purpose and an ambitious sustainability agenda, the team around Hansaplast, Elastoplast and CURITAS has achieved some relevant sustainability milestones in the recent past. Packaging plays an important role in this context.

In this interview, Niklas Kuhn, Expert Packaging Development, explains what has been achieved in this area and provides insights into the process behind.

Niklas, you are working in the Health Care team for four years. Is there any development in the context of more sustainable packaging that you are particularly proud of?

Niklas: I am proud of all packaging developments we have made in the last years to minimize our environmental and climate footprint. However, the highlight for me was the progress we have made with the brand relaunch last year, as well as with the launch of GREEN & PROTECT this year.

What concrete progress has the Health Care packaging team achieved with these two projects?

Niklas: For greater environmental compatibility, we have introduced lighter folding boxes for our plasters that are designed for maximum recyclability as part of our brand relaunch. As a result, we save 106 tons of paper annually. Moreover, all products with paper or cardboard packaging use FSC-certified paper. In line with the detailed targets of the Beiersdorf Plastic Pledge 2025, the new packaging further avoids plastic as much as possible. For example, removing plastic from our sealed pouches saves 3.2 km2 (83 tons) of plastic annually, equivalent to a continuous strip of plasters winding around the world 13.5 times. With GREEN & PROTECT, we have gone even one step further. You can already see this in the brown color of the packaging. This is because the material is unbleached. Additionally, it consists of 93% recycled material. The rest is just water and starch.

Impressive! Aren’t so many changes in a short time very time-consuming?

Niklas: They are – especially in the Health Care division. Our products are considered medical devices. This entails long stability storage periods and testing by external authorities. Accordingly, all adjustments are very complex. Even seemingly small but effective measures, such as changing our sealing paper from PP (polypropylene) to a pure paper solution, are therefore subject to intensive safety checks and numerous tests until they are ready for the market. In addition, an innovation like GREEN & PROTECT requires a number of colleagues from different areas of expertise – cross-functional teamwork is an absolute must to succeed. This starts with the necessary tailwind of the management and of course includes Research & Development, Marketing, Corporate Sustainability and the cross-brand Packaging Sourcing Team.

And what exactly is your role in such an interdisciplinary team?

Niklas: This depends. In the case of GREEN & PROTECT, the goal was very clearly defined: packaging and components must be as sustainable as possible to further drive our sustainability agenda and thus to contribute to Beiersdorf’s overarching sustainability agenda CARE BEYOND SKIN. I have also started working in the Global Packaging Sourcing Team in this category within this framework. This includes evaluating the packaging materials used to date, as well as identifying alternatives. As mentioned, we have chosen recycled material for the folding box. Since this behaves quite differently than virgin material, we had to take several additional aspects into account to meet our high packaging standards. The validation and qualification process included, for example, the efficiency of the production as well as the implementation of our exclusive design in terms of print and embossing. Once we had found the right material, I continued with the search for suitable suppliers, who meet all regulatory conditions.

Sounds like a challenging journey. How did you feel when the product was finally launched?

Niklas: I was very proud of the product and of everyone who contributed with enormous commitment to this launch. I can very much identify with the sustainable decisions we make as a team at Health Care, but also at Beiersdorf in general and it feels great to be part of it! And the more challenging the task, the more fun it is to share expertise among colleagues and to work closely together. The best moment for me, however, was when I got so much positive feedback on the product from my personal environment.

And what is next for sustainability in packaging at Health Care?

Niklas: We are continuously working to further minimize our environmental footprint. Therefore, we evaluate new packaging, component and ingredient solutions for our portfolio in an ongoing process. We have learned a lot in the development of GREEN & PROTECT. Now, of course, we can apply this knowledge to other products in the long term. The journey is definitely not over yet and I am looking forward to all future challenges that we will face together as a team to build on our sustainability agenda and our purpose “We’ve got you covered. For a life uninterrupted”. Because this is what drives our work – today and in the future.

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