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How Lenzing’s Krishna Manda Is Working to ‘Embed’ Sustainability Companywide

Last month, Lenzing appointed Krishna Manda, co-lead and senior manager of sustainability integration, as its new vice president of corporate sustainability. Located in Lenzing, Austria, Manda has been with the Lenzing Group for the past 10 years in various capacities and has played an instrumental role in setting up the sustainability function.

In his new role, he will be responsible for the corporate sustainability function for the Lenzing Group and integrating sustainability in the core business. The role will require strong collaboration with the business units, functions, sites and external stakeholders to solidify Lenzing’s sustainability leadership in the industry.

Manda spoke to Sourcing Journal about his new position, his plans and what his approach will be. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Sourcing Journal: What are your priorities in your new position as Lenzing’s vice president of sustainability?

Krishna Manda: The most important thing is embedding sustainability in the company. What I mean is we need to do it more systematically–how decisions are being made on a day-to-day basis. You have procurement or supply chain, how you actually buy raw materials, but also how you run your operations, maybe invest money in improving your emissions, energy, but also what type of products you are going to innovate and create in the future because those products should have a layer of sustainability.

Also, when you are expanding your operations like building new facilities, you also need to consider sustainability such as what type of energy scenario should I plan, what type of equipment should I buy? So, coming back to all these business functions, whether it’s operations, procurement, strategy, innovation and business management…I do see a role for sustainability. So, that’s what I call…embedding sustainability in the business function.

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Then the second is execution of the sustainability strategy. We have a strategy, but the strategy will only be successful when we execute it right. We are doing the execution of sustainability strategy with very dedicated governance roles and responsibilities starting from the board level down to target teams.

Then supporting our customer’s sustainability journey. For example, we work with so many brands and retailers and they have some ambitions they want to meet. Then we actually try to provide them not only the communication material on sustainability impact, but also we engage them on understanding what are their needs, what type of products should we innovate in the future, products we should launch.

Doing all these things is one step, but also if you want to bring change at the industry level, you need to actually have a collaborative approach. From that point of view, we are work with initiatives like Textile Exchange and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to kind of push the boundaries of the industry, and at the same time make ourselves relevant as leaders.

Despite having all these things, if there are no support policy structures, then sustainable businesses and materials won’t actually exist or succeed. So, I’m also working with policymakers like the European Commission to encourage them to create more forward-looking policy frameworks, which will create opportunities for sustainable materials and businesses. Finally, whatever we do, that should fit into the bigger picture of society. Are we contributing in improving society?

Lenzing's new vice president of corporate sustainability discusses his new position, his plans and what his approach will be.
Apparel made with Lenzing Ecovero. Courtesy

SJ: What are Lenzing’s key accomplishments in sustainability?

KM: We had many accomplishments in 2021. We were proud to achieve a CDP AAA for Forest Water and Climate Disclosures. It’s based on how well we integrate these aspects in our business. There are only 14 companies in the world with an AAA ranking.

The rating agency MSCI upgraded its rating for the Lenzing Group from ‘A’ to ‘AA’ in September. Only the top 6 percent of the companies in the world have that in recognition of its performance in sustainability. (The upgrade to the MSCI ESG rating will also lead to a reduction in Lenzing’s interest expense.)

We were also awarded Platinum status in EcoVadis’ CSR rating. The assessment comprehensively covers the four main Corporate Social Responsibility practices of the environment, fair working conditions and human rights, as well as ethics and sustainable procurement.

We retained our “dark green” marks on CanopyStyle’s “2021 Hot Button Report,” (reaffirming our “status as true leaders in the field” of man-made cellulosic fibers.)

From the product, innovation and launch point of view, we also launched Refibra, which is our fiber made from recycled content, as carbon neutral. So, it’s both circular and also a climate-benefiting product.

From the operational footprint point of view, four of our facilities use 100 percent renewable electricity. We have also improving the operational performance of some of our production facilities to reduce emissions, water usage, and carbon footprint.

We have created physical traceability for all our specialty products like Tencel branded fibers and also Ecovero branded fibers, so that you can find the final garment if it is coming from Lenzing fiber. We also do this for the digital traceability. We have actually made more than 600 value chain partnerships to have digital traceability with the TextileGenesis blockchain technology.

Lenzing's new vice president of corporate sustainability discusses his new position, his plans and what his approach will be.
Lenzing pulp processing. Courtesy

SJ: What are your personal and the company’s short-term and long-term targets in 2022?

KM: We have a very ambitious goal of reducing 50 percent of our Co2 emissions per ton of product by 2030 and we have the interim goal of 40 percent reduction of CO2 from Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 2024. We also we have ambitious circularity targets. For example, we would like to have all three generations of fiber–viscose, model and lyocell–available with up to 50 percent recycled content, and we would like to have predominantly post-consumer recycled content, by 2025. Also, we would like to recycle around 25,000 tons of textile waste by 2025.

SJ: Why is sustainability so vital to Lenzing?

KM: Lenzing’s business model is based on renewable raw material, which is wood. Then we have a closed loop manufacturing process and our products are biodegradable and compostable at the end of their life. So, if you look from this whole business model point of view, this is based on sustainability credentials.

To exist, we have invest. We got into that mode more than 40 years ago and that’s why we’re successful today. I can say that sustainability ensured our successful existence and became a lifeblood. We are creating more products that have the lowest impact footprint, not from the manufacturing side, but also from the value chain point of view until their production.

We have made a point that if we want to invest in a new facility—for example, in Brazil, we are investing more than $1 billion in a facility—we want to make sure that new growth is carbon neutral. That means we are using 100 percent bioenergy there based on sustainable sourcing.

SJ: What are your goals in your new job professionally and personally?

KM: For me, these are mostly the unspoken rules and behaviors of the people that I would like to focus on. The first and foremost is how can I support a sustainable culture. I believe people should have a growth mindset, where the focus should be on learning and taking challenges to improve ourselves rather than complementing what we know. It’s about curiosity, openness and those kinds of things I would like to see improve.

Diversity and inclusion–I am from India, but I’m working for an Austrian company now globally known–and I know that we can make even more progress there with women representation in leadership roles and a more diverse workforce. Also, sometimes you need to speak the truth and that means you need to be vulnerable. So, courage and vulnerability are something that I am practicing by myself in those kind of risky situations, you may say, but of course with a healthy dose of respect toward other people.

That comes back to values like empathy. You might think this is the right thing to do sometimes, but you need to also understand what is the situation? Values like recognition and humility are important, because if we don’t have intellectual humility, you will not actually learn anything new and you might meet great people, because there are so many people who are doing excellent jobs and work: how can we learn from each other? So, I would like to see a sustainable culture based on these kind of qualities. I believe these qualities will make our company more successful in the future.

The second is that many companies have sustainability teams, but when the magic happens the main business functions take responsibility for doing it. I would like to drive improved sustainability ownership and drive results in the company, so each function takes responsibility for their part of sustainability. At the end of the day, I would like to say that sustainability is everybody’s job.

I’m lucky to be given a position to lead people. I believe that every opportunity comes with responsibility. I would like to look into the people development aspects, with coaching and mentoring to help people succeed at whatever they are doing to create positive impact and support them. The most important thing is that I need to continue to nurture my inner citadel.