September 14 2023  |  Catering

Staying lean and green with deSter

By Rachel Debling

This is a special feature from PAX International’s September 2023 IFSA EXPO issue on page 14.

Next to the technical aspects, deSter always keeps aesthetics in mind during its developments

Since merging with SPIRIANT in 2021, onboard experience expert deSter has made strides in several key areas of its business, allowing it to not only stay competitive but agile in a rapidly changing industry crowded with competition. This evolution is most apparent in its environmentally conscious product lines. These releases speak to a customer base more concerned than ever with its carbon footprint, due not only to changing regulations but the growing demand for eco-options from passengers. How does deSter achieve this? By not focusing on just the end product but on the entire production and manufacturing process, from the sourcing of materials to delivery.

For those who don’t believe the industry can have any significant impact on climate change, deSter and its team politely disagree — and with good reason.

“I would say, yes, indeed, the airline industry has a big challenge regarding its carbon footprint,” says Philippe De Naeyer, Director Sustainability at deSter. “Switching to sustainable aviation fuel and other low-carbon impact solutions takes time. Nevertheless, continuous focus is needed in order to accelerate the transition.”

And though the sector isn’t quite there yet, and the battle may seem uphill, the changes being implemented by airlines and their suppliers are making a difference, both now and in the future.

“Eventually, with the right focus and necessary regulations, flying neutral should become possible,” says De Naeyer. “Just stopping flying is not realistic. People still want to travel but become more conscious of evaluating their own footprint, so evaluating when taking a flight is key.”

This is precisely the reason that deSter set about to make the details of the air travel experience just as comfortable and decadent as possible, without compromising its
carbon footprint.

The company details this approach in its ESG strategy, through which they have set targets on all aspects of its design, research, development, production and delivery. Audits of their suppliers are undertaken, to ensure they share the same vision of sustainability. Transportation distances are minimized wherever possible. Technology that puts energy efficiency at the forefront takes precedence over convenience. For deSter, the shift to sustainability isn’t just a band-aid solution — it’s a responsibility that the company has to its clients, its clients’ customers and the world at large.

The three principles of deSter’s ESG strategy — people, planet and product — epitomize exactly why this endeavour is so important for the organization to succeed.

For deSter, “people” represents taking care of all who are touched by its business, from its employees to its customers and suppliers, right up to the communities that encompass them; “planet” means that its team strives to reduce carbon emissions and waste as much as possible; and “product” speaks to deSter’s goal to ensure its products lessen the impact on the environment: they are reusable, compostable or recyclable and contain responsibly sourced materials.

Case in point: since 2020, all deSter’s newly launched products adhere to its ESG pillar. Airline partners such as Etihad Airways, KLM and Cathay Pacific have flown the company’s reusable tableware, and its sustainably made single-use products were adopted by Lufthansa, Air Canada and Delta. But the efforts don’t stop there: deSter is the only supplier that is certified for the closed-loop recycling of its products.

“Working with us gives a guarantee of an integrated sustainability approach,” says De Naeyer. “Our recent EcoVadis Gold rating [the world’s largest independent provider of sustainability ratings] confirms our efforts on all sustainability aspects.”

The recent opening of deSter’s wet-molded fiber packaging production line in Prachinburi, Thailand, marks another venture that will help the company
live up to its internally set standards. By repurposing the byproducts resulting from its fiber production, the waste created through this process is minimized.

“In Asia, wet-molded fiber is primarily made of agricultural waste from sugarcane, or bagasse, reducing the demand for virgin materials,” explains Marc Van Doninck, Vice President Manufacturing at deSter. And the benefits don’t stop there.

The material is recyclable, biodegradable and compostable, making it a viable alternative to non-biodegradable materials that are currently filling landscapes. Plus, deSter uses materials that come from regional and local sources based on availability, quality and pricing, and right now, the company is sourcing rice straw pulp from the local community in Thailand.

The production of deSter’s latest onboard innovation, its wet-molded fiber packaging, was designed to reduce as much waste as possible

“Products from this material contribute to the circular economy and minimize environmental impact,” he adds. Creating a sustainable product of this nature required much research and development so that the result aligned with deSter’s ESG strategy. Additives were necessary to ensure that the fiber has a proper barrier to water and oil, which Van Doninck says was a big challenge for the team. They stayed up to date with the list of chemical components being banned across the globe and investigated the most suitable replacements, ones that would not compromise the fiber’s quality.

Another bonus is that the product created at this facility is completely free of PFAS (synthetic fluoro-based chemicals) that have been shown to potentially have serious health effects when built up in the human body. “We also created a closed loop for water supply in the production process: water is being used, recycled and reused,” notes Van Doninck.

It’s important to note that next to the technical aspects, deSter always keeps aesthetics in mind during its developments.

“Another challenge is the presentation of food,” says Van Doninck. “With single-use plastic, we are used to seeing food. This isn’t the case with wet-molded fiber, so we need a different solution. A window in the lid can provide a similar experience, so we worked hard to develop a cellulose-based transparent window that is compostable and good enough for our products and their applications.”

In addition to the wet-molded fiber packaging, deSter has been working with agood company to balance the comfort and sustainability of air travel. According to Angie Fung, Senior Category Director Amenities and Sleepwear at deSter, this Swedish business has a unique approach to the circularity of its products that pairs perfectly with deSter’s. Each of its products features a QR code leading to information about where the product originated, how it was produced and how to best use and dispose of it. This transparency to the supply chain empowers passengers to make the right decisions about who they fly with, knowing that the products provided during their journey are helping to reduce their overall environmental impact.

“Through this partnership, deSter will introduce a range of products like pouches, socks, eye shades and dental kits that incorporate the company’s sustainability principles,” says Fung. “By collaborating exclusively with this company in the airline industry, deSter is demonstrating its commitment to finding brands that share its values and goals, particularly regarding sustainability and passenger well-being.”

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