Avon Lake, Ohio — As PolyOne Corp.'s first-ever vice president of sustainability, Walt Ripple has gone back to school.
"I've learned lot in these first few months," Ripple said April 9 in an interview at the firm's headquarters in Avon Lake. "We have a wide portfolio of sustainable products that can reduce weight and improve recyclability."
PolyOne, one of North America's largest compounders, concentrate makers and resin distributors, appointed Ripple to the new role in January. He has almost 30 years of plastics industry experience and has been with PolyOne since 2008, most recently as vice president and general manager of the firm's Specialty Engineered Materials (SEM) unit.
In his new position, Ripple is responsible for leading initiatives that help customers and PolyOne achieve sustainability and performance goals.
"The creation of this senior position shows the importance of sustainability to PolyOne," he added. "My job is to keep up with dynamic changes in our industry and to help our customers meet their sustainability goals.
"We're committed to meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations," he said.
From 2016-18, PolyOne sold $1.3 billion of sustainable products. That total includes biopolymers and materials made with recycled content and represents more than 10 percent of the firm's total for that period.
"Sustainability has been a foundation component for PolyOne for some time now," Ripple said. "We expect that amount to grow in 2019."
PolyOne's sustainable materials also can help customers with reduced energy use and reduced material requirements. Recent success stories for these materials include ColorMatrix Amosorb — an oxygen scavenger additive for PET packaging that can reduce weight and extend shelf life — and ColorMatrix Lactra SX, which can provide light blocking for HDPE dairy packaging.
The Nymax product line at PolyOne includes materials made with at least 50 percent reclaimed, post-industrial nylon. Maxxam LO materials are PP-based and can reduce volatile organic compound rates by as much as 80 percent.
"With biopolymers, we can formulate a material to meet your goals," Ripple said. And depending on the value proposition of a sustainable material, he added, customers sometimes are willing to pay a premium.
PolyOne has done extensive sustainability work at its production plant in Assesse, Belgium. That site has three wind turbines as well as solar panels to generate power. The plant now gets 80 percent of its production energy from solar and wind sources. A PolyOne plant in Pune, India, also uses solar panels for some of its energy needs.
Across the company, PolyOne reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent between 2016-2018. The firm also used almost 80 million pounds of reclaimed raw materials for production in that time period.
But officials said that PolyOne still has work to do in reducing its energy and water intensity, both of which increased from 2016-2018.
Working with customers will be a key step in PolyOne's ongoing sustainability efforts, Ripple said.
"We're trying to understand customers' unmet needs around sustainability. It could be many different things," he added. "We have to make sure they know what's available and then help them find solutions."
PolyOne employs 6,000 worldwide. The firm posted sales of just over $3.5 billion in 2018, up more than 9 percent over the previous year.