Winners 2023

Best sustainability initiative

No excuses – designing a fossil free future
UPM Biochemicals
Agency: The Tilton Consultancy

There is an urgent need for industry to reduce its dependence on virgin fossil-based resources. UPM in Finland is investing Eu1 billion in a world-first biorefinery in Germany to enable brands to drive down their carbon footprint, by replacing fossil-based chemicals with renewable biochemicals, sourced from sustainable forests. These ingredients have a carbon footprint up to 90 per cent lower than their petrochemical alternatives.

But while UPM has a long history in forestry, paper and pulp, it is not familiar to sectors, such as fashion, automotive and chemicals, which are hoping to exit fossil fuels, and could be the perfect customers for its products.

Nor is the concept of biorefinery easily understood. When construction is completed in 2024, the plant will source biomass from local, sustainably managed FSC certified forests. It diverts forest waste from being burned (as firewood) and, unlike other biomass forms, does not compete with agricultural use. Until then, there is little to show potential clients.

The Tilton Consultancy has been working with UPM since early 2022. It has designed and executed an engagement strategy to build brand recognition and prove the technology works, targeting commercial stakeholders and policy makers.

Its strategy began with audience segmentation, benchmarking other players in the bioeconomy space, and setting clear goals for a ‘fossil free future’. This meant building a website, activating social channels and building media relationships.

There was a need to simplify the offering, which led to the creation of explanatory articles about carbon neutrality, the benefits to forests and how products, such as glycols and renewable functional fillers, serve as ready made replacements for fossil-based materials.

Hyper-focused digital campaigns, targeting decision makers in the key sectors, followed, along with placed op-eds, interviews and tech features in target media. Similarly, UPM started to appear at high profile events, such as the Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen, where German outerwear brand Vaude shared how it is trying to create the world’s first fleece jacket made from wood-based polyester. This action prompted direct commercial leads.

A collaboration between UPM and Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, encouraged more than 50 students to develop products using sample UPM biochemical ingredients to demonstrate that there ‘are no excuses’ in renewable circularity. The products, which included footwear, camping gear, musical devices and furniture, went on display at the London Design Festival in September.  Tilton is also establishing a mentorship programme to connect these students with investors, designers and brands.

To date, several major companies have committed to exiting fossil fuels, and work with UPM’s renewable biochemicals. These include Vaude, Korean-based DongSung, which supplies many global sports footwear brands, Germany’s Haertol, which produces anti-freeze products, insulation solutions provider Ursa and America’s Selenis, which manufactures cosmetics packaging.

The judges described the campaign as ‘brilliant’, adding: ‘The idea itself is stand-out but also the sheer creativity and breadth of the comms activation is superb. And the results – in terms of the speed and scale of adoption by others – are clearly impressive with, hopefully, more to come.’