Milliken’s steps to CSR success

Posted on 5 Aug 2011 by The Manufacturer

A Q&A session with carpet manufacturer Milliken on how to create a robust corporate social responsibility strategy and why it is necessary to do so.

The Manufacturer: Where does Milliken’s CSR agenda spring from. Is the strategy a formal one and if so, when was the decision taken to formalise and why?

Kate Burnett, development manager at Milliken: Our former leader, the late Roger Milliken was a passionate environmentalist long before the term “green” was fashionable. Sustainability has long been a watchword at Milliken & Company and was acted on in tangible ways, as the company pursued exemplary recycling and emissions- and waste-reduction programs. The company diverts 99.98% of all the company’s waste away from landfills and to places where it can be reused, recycled, or converted to energy. Milliken and Company has reduced its rate of water usage by over 50% since 1991.

Mr Milliken loved the beauty of nature and worked with landscape architects and foresters to create beauty in and around Milliken plant locations. Passionate about the connection between environment and humans, Mr Milliken always paid keen attention to the effects of landscape and buildings on those who worked or walked within them. Mr Milliken’s environmental stewardship was just one of the reasons why the company was chosen as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere magazine in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

More formal environmental policies were standardised in the early 90s, most with a strong manufacturing bias, given that this is the greatest area of impact for our operations. These are balanced with our clear intent to support our workforces and surrounding local communities.

TM: More generally, what are the incentives for a manufacturer to form a CSR plan? Both the carrots and the sticks

KB: Our CSR is perhaps different from those of other manufacturers, it is embedded in the culture of our company and impacts on all decisions including the way we design and make products. It is not something that we need carrots and sticks for, it is just the way that we do business.

Increasingly clients will only do business with reputable suppliers that bear strong CSR credentials and it is this that probably serves as both the carrot and the stick for other manufacturers to adopt a CSR agenda.

TM: How were area of priority identified within your CSR agenda and how do you measure success?

KB: Based on our environmental policy, KPIs are in place on all key environmental impacts at every manufacturing location. These are recorded monthly and reported quarterly to the board of directors. Strong targets are put in place with a culture of continuous improvement and third parties are engaged to verify our carbon footprint on an annual basis.

In addition, individual business units will identify priorities based not just on corporate targets, but also based on client needs. This could include products with a better life cycle, increased performance or reduced environmental impact.

For social responsibility we look towards our employees to provide input as to what organisations and schemes will be of benefit to local communities across our regional markets. Any fundraising through our Charity Committee is matched by company donations and we also support local education schemes.

TM: What is the flooring market as a whole like for CSR?

KB: As with any industry, individual sectors of the flooring market present different challenges and with carpet many of the raw materials used are oil-based. This means the focus is firmly on minimising wasteful use of resources through reuse and recycling. Overall the industry is increasingly proactive in coming together to work out solutions. The recent formation of Carpet Recycling UK – an industry wide body involving manufacturers and recyclers – is testament to these efforts. The carpet sector recognises that to reduce its impact it is necessary to work together, rather than as individual units.

TM: What are the primary benefits of a structured CSR agenda?

KB: There are an increasing number of clients who demand suppliers that demonstrate a high level of CSR and strong environmental benefits within products as standard. Without this in place, many supply contracts would be out of reach both for public sector and corporate end users, as well as the architecture and interior design communities. Employee feedback from STGBC also demonstrated that working for an employer who they perceive to be doing the ‘right thing’ is also a key factor in attracting and retaining a well-motivated workforce.

TM: Do you sometimes find your efforts are derailed by the actions of suppliers or customers? How do you deal with this?

KB: Milliken tend to partner with local suppliers where possible and foster good relationships throughout the supply chain. We ensure that our suppliers can meet Milliken’s ethical and environmental needs before beginning any partnership and where appropriate we will carry out site audits.

We also try to raise awareness among our customer base on how their specification choices can impact on the environment. We give presentations on the environmental issues and inform them of the benefits we offer, such as taking back old product at the end of its life to avoid landfill.

Customers tend to be very receptive provided the information they are given is sound. Conjecture is no longer tolerated by customers and with increased understanding of environmental impact, ‘greenwash’ is becoming a thing of the past.

TM: What advice would you give to SME manufacturers looking to improve their CSR activities?

KB: Milliken’s success has resulted from having a clear vision and culture established from the top. All associates know that they have a personal responsibility to uphold the company’s standards and reputation.

Manageable goals are set at each location so progress can be clearly tracked. At every level, from the board of directors through to production, associate engagement with a shared vision, measured through environmental and fiscal KPIs, ensures there is focus on doing things right.

In the September edition of TM you can read more on how CSR as we talk to Coca Cola Enterprises and chemical firm, Croda about how they formed their CSR agenda’s and why.