Using Less, Getting More

Sustainability is never static. This is the philosophy that moves Jeffrey L. Powell, president and CEO of Kadant, to continuously encourage development in people, products, and processes. He sees each individual at Kadant as capable of innovation, helping customers produce more with less.

As a global supplier of high-value, critical components and engineered systems, Kadant’s products, technologies, and services play an integral role in enhancing industrial processes and improving overall efficiency. Powell places a high priority on supporting customers’ sustainability goals. Over the past decade, more than one billion tons of paper have been recycled using Kadant equipment. Most of the company’s products reduce waste or generate more yield with fewer inputs, particularly energy and water; this allows Kadant’s customers the opportunity to create more value and realize higher profitability.

Talk about Kadant’s decision to join the United Nations Global Compact.

Read on for more of Powell’s views on sustainability.

Paper360°: Describe your company’s approach to sustainability.

Powell: Our technology and value proposition centers around using the absolute minimum of natural resources to produce more. Sustainably is the way we have always run our businesses, including acquisitions that fit our model. Going back 100 years, long before the word “sustainability” dominated the business lexicon, you can see this pattern at Kadant.

Kadant Carmanah stranding know-how is essential technology for processing OSB (oriented strand board). The core competence is to improve strand geometry, minimizing fines, maximizing chip quality, or reducing debarking fiber loss.

Value around (cellulose) fiber is our core. Maximizing fiber yield, while optimizing energy and water utilization: that’s the bottom line for our customers. Sustainability is truly in our hearts—it’s the life force of our company.

The UN Global Compact fits well with who we are at Kadant. Members are encouraged to align their operations and strategies with universal principles on human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption and take strategic actions to advance broader societal goals, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

We are proud to interact with thousands of companies globally that are committed to taking responsible business actions to create a better world. This collective effort aligns well with our commitment to provide innovative products and technologies that positively impact the use and preservation of our earth’s natural resources and benefit the well-being of society.

Before getting into your long-term approach to business, talk about the recent pandemic’s impact.

Living in a world shaken by a global pandemic, I am proud of the pivotal role Kadant has played to support critical infrastructure manufacturers. Customers have used our engineered products and technologies to produce life-sustaining consumer products in a responsible and effective manner. I am also proud of our talented and dedicated employees for the work they have done and continue to do to serve our customers and each other.

Working under enhanced protocols designed to safeguard our workplaces and protect the health and safety of our employees and customers, we adapted well under challenging circumstances. Our employees continue to find ways to support our customers in creative ways and those efforts allow us to safely provide our products throughout the pandemic.

So what’s Kadant’s approach to growth and profitability?

Delivering exceptional customer value is a top priority. Our customer-centric approach means we focus on making the best solutions possible through innovative products and consultative technical sales teams around the globe. I feel our deep application expertise and responsiveness set us apart.

We lead with technology that helps customers reduce input costs while improving output. For us, being innovators keeps us at the leading edge. We strive to produce ever more efficient, higher quality products. When our product innovations further reduce energy, chemicals, and water consumption while adding value to fiber, we know we are on the right track.

How do people fit into your sustainability equation? 

Growth of each person is essential. We can’t be a great company without the best people. We strive to cultivate a culture and vision of diversity and inclusion that supports and enhances our ability to recruit, develop, and retain talent at every level. Our decentralized structure, where decision-making is at the customer level, attracts entrepreneurial people and this leads to a greater focus on our customers and how to best serve their needs.

We embrace the diversity of our employees, including their unique backgrounds, experiences, and talents. Leadership and executive development programs, as well as ongoing technical and other professional training, encourage positive and productive mindsets. Our people feel good about themselves and the contributions they make to support our customers and advance our business. Every person at Kadant has the potential for innovation, often outside of their functional area.

Give us some examples of value-added offerings from Kadant.

Our fiber processing team invented a process to recycle multi-layer food packaging and disposable coffee cups which traditionally are sent to landfill. Now, valuable fiber is recovered, and other value streams such as plastics and aluminum are recovered and reused.

Kadant’s M-clean™ system, which helps papermakers run cleaner and use less water, is now a world standard for cleaning fabrics, belts, and rolls, especially when stickies are a menace to runnability and productivity. It’s very popular in Asia, Europe, and is growing rapidly in North America.

As another example, Kadant Carmanah is a global leader in stranding, which is the essential technology for processing OSB (oriented strand board) used in construction, home building, and furniture, among other applications. Their focus on safety and efficiency includes safer knives that improve strand quality and save time in maintenance. The equipment they make fits well into our global manufacturing model, which is well-established in all major cellulose fiber producing regions of the world.

Our granular carrier business, Kadant GranTek, converts paper sludge into bio-dynamic granules used to help crops, lawns, gardens, and mushrooms grow. Because of the efficacy of the granular carrier technology we offer, the drift of sprayable fungicides and insecticide is eliminated, making application easier and safer. Not only does that benefit the user, it also reduces waste to landfill.

Other offerings with impact on customer sustainability include:

•  Fiber processing systems for recovering recycled fibers and processing virgin fibers;

•  Fluid handling systems that transfer fluid, power, and data between fixed piping and rotating components;

•  Roll doctoring and scraping products that clean roll surfaces;

•  Cleaning and filtration systems that clean fabrics and filter and recycle process water;

•  Baling equipment and systems to process recyclable waste and other materials for transport and storage; and

•  Bulk material handling equipment for conveying, feeding, screening, and elevating material.

Our manufacturing facilities are interconnected and highly collaborative. Teams meet virtually and in person to advance lean manufacturing tips and share process improvements to promote further innovation.

With digital transformation happening in forest products and all industries, how are you advancing?

Operational excellence happens when you get relevant data to operators and decision makers in real time, when you optimize your products for the least amount of input. This means:

•  Real-time decisions and adjustments, to maximize input;

•  Data get into decision-makers’ hands; and

•  Companies can do less to get more.

Technology serves us well when it helps increase our standard of living, while also improving life on the planet. Cogent, one of our more recent acquisitions, signals our commitment to digital transformation. Bringing vision, insights, and the ability to quickly adjust individual pieces of equipment and entire processes are a high priority for us.

For instance, an offering we call the illumen.X digital platform makes it easy to view, connect, and optimize plant equipment and operations to drive overall plant efficiency. The illumen.X platform creates a robust, reliable digital ecosystem that is adaptable and scalable to meet the unique needs of our customers’ digital infrastructures, enabling plant personnel to manage and improve operational performance.

Kadant has gotten some ESG recognition recently—can you tell us about that?

Last year we were recognized for our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) efforts by the Associated Industries of Massachusetts and named one of America’s most responsible companies by Newsweek magazine. We are proud to be recognized by these organizations for our efforts to deliver value to our customers in a responsible way while taking care of our people and communities. These were not accolades we were pursuing, but we’re humbled and honored to be recognized for the work we are doing to generate value for our stakeholders and make our planet a better place.

In July of this year, we were recognized by Corporate Register for our 2020 sustainability report in the category of “best first-time report.” In September, we achieved one of our 2021 climate goals: sourcing 100 percent renewable electricity for all our operating sites worldwide by purchasing renewable energy certificates, representing electricity generated from renewable resources, covering all non-renewable electricity usage across all its businesses. This will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 30 percent.

Kadant has a rich sustainability heritage and one that works to benefit our customers, employees, and all stakeholders. We take great pride in helping our customers maximize natural resources, which in turn helps support our collective sustainability goals. 

Editor’s Note: Hear more of Jeff Powell’s perspectives on leveraging sustainability to get more with less on the Paper360° podcast series, “Better Together: Conversations with Innovative Leaders.” Visit to subscribe and listen.