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A man in a blue shirt stands in front of a banana tree and holds bananas in his hand.

A Green Oasis on the Factory Grounds

“We all take care!” These four words stand for the extraordinary commitment of employees working at Freudenberg and its business groups. The program encourages them to promote sustainability at every company location, and then share their ideas with other facilities – whether in the field of occupational safety, health or environmental protection. Employees at the company’s location in Chennai recently came up with an impressive ecological project.

A metropolis with millions of inhabitants, Chennai is located in the south of the Indian subcontinent. It is known by two other names as well: Until the 1990s, this coastal city was officially called Madras. And due to the important automotive companies located there, it’s also known as “India’s Detroit.” Freudenberg-NOK Pvt. Ltd (FNI), a unit of Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, built a plant in Chennai several years ago. After all, Freudenberg seals are in demand in India’s auto industry, and the location guarantees that the plant’s products only have to travel short distances to reach its customers.

Fertile soil: In the surroundings of the factory's own Effluent Treatment Plant, a lush fruit and vegetable garden quickly developed.

High-Quality Water Treatment in the Era of Sustainability

A state-of-the-art Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) has been operating on the factory grounds since January 2020. It treats the industrial water generated by the Chennai plant’s phosphatization facility. In the process, the steel carrier parts for certain seals are dipped in a dilute solution to clean them. The benefit: Phosphatization protects metal parts from corrosion. This step enables seals to maintain their function as long as possible. For its part, the use of the ETP ensures that the wastewater is cleaned so thoroughly that it can be used for other purposes in the factory’s processes. Especially in Chennai, that is no small advantage: Like many other cities in India, it is heavily dependent on monsoon rains. If they don’t arrive on time or are less abundant than usual, the shortfall can affect the region’s water supply.

Accordingly, the ETP at the Freudenberg site is taking an approach that is both significant and sustainable in equal measure. It is not only possible to safely reuse the treated effluent – the system also helps the Chennai site conserve water. The heat wave that struck wide swaths of India in the spring of 2022 highlighted the need to deal especially carefully with water as a resource. Shortly after the completion of the ETP, Chennai’s management highlighted the importance of sustainable operations, spurring the formation of a “Corporate Social Responsibility” team. Once the CSR team took shape, it coordinated employee training. “With these measures, we wanted to create an awareness of how important it is to conserve the environment and natural resources,” said Jagannath Umapathy, a member of a team that helps to get sustainability projects rolling. “After all, we absolutely have to preserve the environment for future generations.”

Major Commitment Leads to Targeted “Greening”

The training immediately fell on fertile soil. A team of employees came together to take some specific steps. They wanted to create more environmentally friendly surroundings on the plant grounds – and do it in the immediate area of the ETP. Just one month later, in February 2021, five employees began to plant vegetation sustainably on what had been a sparse green strip around the unit. Under their own initiative, they also began to cultivate fruit and vegetables along with other useful crops.

Okra fruits lay in front of the tree.

The men pressed ahead with the plant’s “greening” in their free time, and, all in all, they planted more than 500 fruit and vegetable seedlings. The management provided financial support for the purchase of the plants. Just a few months later, the area around the ETP was hardly recognizable. There are now brightly colored flowers, huge banana trees, large growths of eggplant, and many okra plants – whose pods resemble peppers – in an area where just a few trees had previously stood out against the monochromatic facade of the ETP. It is as though the scenery had been splashed with color. Birds and insects are already busy conquering their new habitat. Employees also use the grounds as a fruit and vegetable garden. “We are literally harvesting the fruits of our labor,” said Prabhakar Bulbule, one of the participants. “It is beautiful and, at the same time, immensely satisfying to see the results of our work.”

Collaborative gardening: The project team and its supporters are driving sustainability at the Chennai plant.

The first harvest turned out to be very productive: 600 bananas, 126 portions of spinach, 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of eggplant and the same amount of okra, 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of tomatoes, and 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of green chilis. The quantity of peas and green beans came to 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) in each case. The core team passed the fruits and vegetables out to plant employees. In turn, the bio-waste serves as fertilizer to further improve soil quality.

Positive Effects and an Encouraging Response

The project was met with a positive response from employees – and not just because they received a share of the fruit and vegetables. The “greening” of the facility transformed it into a popular site for employees to visit when they take their breaks. The collaborative gardening also had a positive effect on the solidarity of the employees taking part. A large pond has been created near the ETP; fish and ducks now frolic there. The pond captures the rainwater channeled from the roofs of buildings and pathways at the site. The project team is thinking about turning the entire Chennai site into a Freudenberg Eco Park. The early experience with planting crops and greenery at the ETP are also expected to set an example.

Whatever the future scope of the project, it has already generated a positive response beyond the plant’s boundaries. For 20 years, the Freudenberg Group has been encouraging employees at all its sites to participate in processes to raise the level of their facility’s sustainability. The focus was initially on occupational safety, but now encompasses health and environmental protection as well. Year after year, the plants gather their best ideas and submit them as part of a group-wide competition, “We all take care!”, where they compete with other submissions. The project promoting ecology at the Chennai site was impressive enough to make it one of the winners this year – to the great satisfaction of the SCR team. “We see the award as the recognition of our idea and our commitment,” Bulbule said. “But we also see it as motivation to press on and inspire more of our coworkers and other locations to protect the environment.”

This article originally appeared in ESSENTIAL, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies’ corporate magazine that covers, trends, industries and new ideas. To read more stories like this, click here .

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