TOP VOICES by Horton International Germany - Interview with International Thought Leaders

June 28, 2023


In an interview with Dr. Markus Neumann of the Horton International Life Sciences Practice, Eric de Kesel, responsible for sustainability at Swedish medical device manufacturer Mölnlycke, explains how disposable products can still generate a good eco-balance. He says: "Ethical behaviour attracts ethical behaviour." But it is not only this formula for success that is exemplary.

World market leader Mölnlycke Health Care is on its way to becoming a zero-waste company and is continuously reducing the ecological footprint of its products and processes. On what considerations and regulations is Mölnlycke's sustainable future based?

ERIC DE KESEL: "Our goal is to improve healthcare worldwide. And sustainability is a strategic priority. We recognise the importance of reducing our GHG emissions along our entire value chain and are in the process of building a sustainable ecosystem for the production of healthcare solutions that we offer, including minimising product waste and improved efficiency in the use of raw materials. By 2030, 95 per cent of our packaging will be recyclable and more than 80 per cent of all packaging will be made of recycled (PCR) and/or renewable material. Our sustainability goals are based on the relevant international conventions, including the goals of the United Nations Paris Climate Agreement, and the findings of science are fundamental to everything we do. We report on metrics in accordance with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. By 2050 at the latest, we aim to have achieved net zero emissions along the entire value chain and to both, have reduced material consumption and decoupled it from our growth. With 'WeCare', we have developed a medium and long-term sustainability plan ('roadmap') to create shared value for all our stakeholders. We see sustainability as a driver of growth, innovation and productivity, and an essential part of our value proposition to our people."

How is "WeCare" navigating the path to sustainable transformation?

ERIC DE KESEL: "We have defined three pillars for the 'WeCare roadmap': 'Green mindset', 'Responsible relationships' and 'Ethical business'. These are, according to the materiality analysis we conducted, the most important issues that represent sources of risks and opportunities for Mölnlycke and its stakeholders. When we focused fully on sustainable mindset and action, we also decided to think in an integrative way. This is because integration, thus the embedding of all three pillars in all functions and business areas within the company, is, in our experience, the key to innovation and a high degree of effectiveness. The close interweaving of sustainability work with all areas of our business facilitates detection and measurement of potential challenges at early stage and guides us in how to act on these. It is important to Mölnlycke to constantly measure and improve our sustainability approach."

"The goal is to transform Mölnlycke to become a global leader in sustainable healthcare."
Eric De Kesel, COO & EVP Sustainability, Mölnlycke Health Care

Mölnlycke manufactures disposable medical products – how can this be reconciled with sustainability?

ERIC DE KESEL: "Mölnlycke does not compromise on the safety and quality of its products; our promise is to be a premium supplier. At the same time, we are committed to offer our customers solutions with the smallest possible environmental footprint. Finding the right balance in this equation is not always easy or straightforward. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) shapes our main approach to sustainability in product development. The assessment helps us to ensure that the prudent management of natural resources and the environment provides the foundations for Mölnlycke’s sustainable business growth and supports Mölnlycke’s commitment to meet the growing needs of our customers for sustainable products while guaranteeing patient safety. Reusable is not always the best option due to the high amount of resource used and investigation on a case-to-case basis should be done, taking into account the entire value chain impact.

At Mölnlycke, we have been working on phasing out the use of fossil materials in our product formulations for quite some time now. One example is our ISCC-certified surgical drape product offers, produced with bio-based raw materials, contributing to effectively reducing GHG emissions compared to similar products with the same function. We are a pioneer in this, by the way. ISCC-certification also ensures full traceability of materials. Another example is a post-op wound dressing that can remain on surgical wounds for up to seven days. This significant reduction in dressing changes, as compared to conventional dressings, contributes to a reduction in material consumption as well as dressing costs and also helps reduce the risk of wound infections.”

Global zero balance is your goal. How far is Mölnlycke with renewable energy in terms of sustainable growth?

ERIC DE KESEL: "We plan to source 100 per cent electricity from fossil-free sources at all our sites worldwide by the end of 2024. Already today, we have a cumulative share of up to 57 per cent of fossil-free electricity in our production sites. One example: since the beginning of 2020, the electricity at our plant in Finland has been 100 per cent carbon-free. The energy that powers the production facilities, lighting, cooling and waste systems there comes from a combination of wind, solar and hydropower. We partner with ENGIE Impact, the sustainability consulting division of the world's leading low-carbon energy and services company, on the above Net Zero goal, from strategy to implementation.”

Every ethical behaviour includes a willingness to help. How does Mölnlycke live by this code?

ERIC DE KESEL: "We are committed to acting in a socially responsible way that benefits our customers, patients and society in the long term. We are aware of our responsibility and want to have a sustainable, positive impact. We support medical charities that can deliver credible and measurable results and are in line with our ethical guidelines. With 'Operation Smile', we support a global, non-profit charity organisation that provides free and safe surgeries for children with cleft lip and palate. In addition to donations in kind, we also support Operation Smile with employee volunteers and train healthcare professionals in infection prevention. In the fall of 2023, together with Operation Smile, we plan to open a centre of excellence for cleft treatment in the Philippine city of Cebu. In addition, we partner with Debra International – a network that works to improve the quality of life of people with the rare genetic skin disease epidermolysis bullosa (EB), also known as 'butterfly disease'. The wound patches we developed specifically for this condition are considered the gold standard of treatment worldwide."

Would you have a "tool kit" along the lines of Mölnlycke's that would help companies in a sustainable transformation of key business areas beyond the legal requirements?

ERIC DE KESEL: "It would be wonderful if such a fixed toolkit existed. But every transformation journey is different, depending on the company and the regulations of the country where it is located. ESG, the components of which – Environmental, Social, Governance – are still being shaped, illustrate well how broadly the topic of sustainability should be constructed. Mölnlycke recognises its responsibility, a good starting point for the journey to begin. We acknowledge the central role of social responsibility and involve our employees in a targeted way. Instead of applying a rigid 'tool-kit', companies should take action and apply appropriate measures courageously. Even if you fail, the learnings can be used to correct your own ESG path."

How does Mölnlycke motivate its employees to act sustainably?

ERIC DE KESEL: "In our business, employees are genuinely very motivated to work sustainably on their own accord. We believe in creating a first-class workplace, and ethical behaviour is crucial. We actively nurture integrity mindset and encourage our employees to speak up. We also believe that embracing diversity not only teaches tolerance for the individual differences but also contributes to boosting innovative thinking. We give a lot of support to our employees, including regular meetings, learning and leadership programmes and training. Overall, this creates a snowball effect, where ethical behaviour attracts even more ethical behaviour."

"Ethical behaviour attracts ethical behaviour."
Eric De Kesel, COO & EVP Sustainability, Mölnlycke Health Care

Does this also apply to partners and suppliers?

ERIC DE KESEL: "Absolutely. Mölnlycke expects its partners to act in the same responsible and ethical way. We promote and encourage values of our corporate culture, such as fairness and transparency among our suppliers, and ask them to promote this in turn with their own partners and suppliers. The company’s Supplier Code of Conduct is designed to ensure responsible business operations and respect for human rights in the supply chain, including human rights, employee relations and health and safety. Compliance with these principles is a key factor when choosing suppliers and business partners. If any issues of concern are identified, we work with the partner to investigate those issues and, where necessary, encourage the development of higher standards. If the partner does not change their behaviour, Mölnlycke will move away from using them whenever possible. We continually monitor our efforts to meet our own standards, as well as the needs and expectations of our customers and stakeholders, and report annually on its progress to the UN Global Compact. All reporting, including disclosures on human rights, connected communities, working conditions, discrimination and harassment in our operations, and modern slavery at company level, is carried out in accordance with local reporting requirements on non-financial information.”

How does Mölnlycke organise its talent management, and do you notice a shortage of skilled workers, as in Germany?

ERIC DE KESEL: "The shortage of skilled workers is not felt as strongly at Mölnlycke as elsewhere. A good 70 per cent of our managers have progressed through the ranks at our company, so they are insiders, which we encourage a lot. Mölnlycke owes its attractiveness to the purpose we stand for. Our product portfolio and our research bring positive value of improving many people's lives. This sense of purpose builds a certain reputation, which is reinforced by our sustainability profile, all of which is very attractive to existing and potential employees. This way, we minimise talent attrition in spite of not having targeted programmes to recruit talent."

Thank you very much for the interview, Mr. De Kesel!

About Mölnlycke:

Mölnlycke is a world-leading medical products and solutions company that equips healthcare professionals to achieve the best patient, clinical and economic outcomes. The core business is within the four Business Areas: Wound Care, Operating Room Solutions (ORS), Gloves, and Antiseptics.

Mölnlycke employs around 8,700 people. The headquarters are in Gothenburg, Sweden, and the company operates in more than 100 countries worldwide. Mölnlycke is owned by Patricia Industries AB, which is part of Investor AB, an engaged owner of high-quality, global companies founded by the Wallenberg family in 1916.

Eric De Kesel has held executive positions at Mölnlycke Health Care since 2002. As Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Executive Vice President (EVP) Sustainability, Belgian-born Eric is responsible for the development and implementation of Mölnlycke Health Care's sustainability strategic framework.

1. Beele, H. et al. A prospective randomized controlled clinical investigation comparing two post-operative wound dressings used after elective hip and knee replacement; Mepilex® Border Post-Op versus Aquacel® Surgical. International Journal of Orthopaedic and Trauma Nursing, 2020.

2. Zarghooni, K. et al. Is the use of modern versus conventional wound dressings warranted after primary knee and hip arthroplasty? Acta Orthopaedica Belgica, 2015.

3. Bredow, J. et al. Evaluation of Absorbent Versus Conventional Wound Dressing. A Randomized Controlled Study in Orthopedic Surgery. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, 2018.

Dr. Markus Neumann
As a licensed medical doctor, Dr. Neumann brings practical experience from his clinical work as a physician as well as many years of international industry experience. Since 1996, he has held various management positions for well-known life sciences and healthcare companies in Germany and abroad. In his role as a board member of the German Healthcare Alliance at the Federation of German Industries (BDI) he gained deep insights into the organizational structures of healthcare systems and bilateral trade relations as well as Government development projects. Prior to joining Horton International Germany, Dr. Neumann worked as an independent consultant on various mandates for management boards and healthcare investors.
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