In this series,

A Tale of Two Cities: Scaling Sustainability, we’ll get an inside glimpse into the innovative manufacturing practices at two very different IFF facilities, showing how sustainability is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. We’ll explore how each location uniquely adapts its sustainability strategy to integrate with its local community, environment, available natural resources and regulatory framework.

From their proactive waste diversion programs to innovative water conservation initiatives, each site exemplifies how industry can indeed contribute to restorative ecosystems and lead the way for a more sustainable future.

Thriving Together: Growing Biotech While Protecting People and the Planet

On the southernmost tip of Finland sits Hanko, a seaside resort town known for its natural beauty, long stretches of sandy beaches along the Baltic Sea, and tranquil pine forests. Deeply rooted in this community, the IFF Hanko biotech manufacturing site is taking a holistic approach to manufacturing to drive responsible growth.

Specializing in industrial enzymes for the home and personal care, and food and beverage sectors, the site puts environmental stewardship, local partnerships and continuous improvement at the center of its operating plan.

Over the past decade, the site has almost doubled its capacity, while simultaneously cutting its nutrient discharge into the sea to less than half.

Industrial expansion has long been cited as an example of the “tragedy of the commons,” the idea that when people and organizations have free access to shared resources — such as air, water and fisheries — they’ll inevitably act in their own self-interest at the expense of others. But the Hanko site is challenging this narrative by showing that when businesses are closely integrated with their local environments and the communities in which they operate, they can in fact thrive for the benefit of all.

As a part of the IFF corporate family, the Hanko site embodies the company’s commitment to apply science and creativity to “Do More Good” for people, communities and the planet.

“We’re proud to have science-based targets to reduce our carbon emissions to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C while still expanding our business to deliver innovative solutions for customers to meet their sustainability goals.”

Renee Henze

Chief Sustainability Officer at IFF

Sustainability gets personal

About every four years, the Hanko site leadership revamps its vision and operational mission statement and runs a logo contest for employees to capture this vision. The evolution of these logos tells the story of the site’s sustainability journey. Past versions emphasized the company’s safety measures, productivity and environmental protection. The most recent creation adds a family walking together on a nearby beach, showing how every employee is conscious of their impact on the local community and natural surroundings, specifically the air, sea and groundwater.

“When we set our mission, we’re not just talking about investing in new equipment to make the plant more sustainable. It’s about ‘I want to do it. I’m making a choice on a personal level every day in my job to get there. I want to work at a plant that I can be proud of.’”

Stefan Ekbom

Plant Manager, IFF Hanko Manufacturing Site

As a testament to how much community harmony is prioritized, Hanko provides access to a site app with the plant’s closest neighbors so they can report any bothersome odors coming from the facility. The shift supervisor on duty will immediately receive a text and check the plant dashboard to fix any potential issue.

Necessity, the mother of innovation

In part, the Hanko site has been ahead of the sustainability curve out of necessity. Among the top sustainable nations in the world, Finland has strict environmental laws. At the local level, the city of Hanko is targeting to be carbon neutral by 2030, outpacing many other cities, countries and corporations that have set similar targets for 2040 and 2050.

“It’s a quite ambitious timeline for the Hanko site. It pushes them to get to that North Star by operating in this strict environment, and they’re really leading the way for other industrial manufacturers to show what’s possible.”

Alexandra Schuler

sustainability and certification manager at IFF


Nearly 15 years ago, the Hanko team had the foresight to partner with the energy company Adven to install a state-of-the-art wood-chip boiler to shift away from fossil fuels. This renewable bio-fuel source used in the base load energy production is considered sustainable according to EU’s Renewable Energy Directive. Since switching to the wood-chip boiler in 2010, Hanko has reduced its fossil-fuel based carbon emissions from industrial steam by 85% as of 2023.

Since switching to the wood-chip boiler in 2010, Hanko has reduced its fossil-fuel-based carbon emissions from industrial steam by 85% as of 2023.

Further, the excess heat from its operations, which would otherwise be released into the surrounding environment, is channeled into the district heating system of Hanko municipal. It’s a virtuous cycle: fueling industry to build sustainable products, helping to warm homes in the community and driving the city’s sustainability goals.

As biotech manufacturing requires a great deal of heating and cooling, Hanko’s engineers have a disciplined approach to finding ways to recover and reuse heat. This is done by heat pumps and heat recovery from compressed air systems. Each year, the Hanko site saves 18 GWh in energy from these efforts, leading to an approximately 15% reduction in its steam usage.

“As an engineer, I consider it my responsibility to always find ways to use resources as efficiently as possible and tap into the potential of reusing waste heat. ”

Antti Kosola

Manufacturing Technology Director, IFF

Innovative approaches to water protection

With groundwater shortages escalating around the globe, the Hanko site is tapping the nearby Baltic Sea to reduce the company’s reliance on local groundwater and public utilities. In 2004, the site built its own reverse osmosis (RO) facility, which has since expanded several times as production has grown. Through the RO process, low-salinity seawater is pushed through a membrane to create freshwater.

In 2023, Hanko produced over 400,000 m3 of useable water, enough to fill 160 Olympic-sized swimming pools.


Applying creativity to push the limits of what’s possible

The Hanko team is also focused on minimizing their environmental footprint, notably in wastewater management. This aligns with IFF’s broader corporate goals to have zero waste to landfill by 2030.

About a decade ago, as the Hanko leadership looked to expand their site, they faced a challenge: They were already operating near the maximum allowed discharge levels for nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, and any production increase would push them past these permits. And as they set out to overcome this hurdle, their goal wasn’t merely compliance, but to operate as far as possible from the boundary limits.

“This gives us peace of mind and more freedom to operate in our day-to-day business,” says Ekbom. “We create room for expansion to meet future customer needs.”

They initially consulted outside expertise but couldn’t find the solution.

The team forged on alone, and eventually devised a creative workaround that leans into their core expertise in fermentation and recovery processes. These same techniques are used in wastewater treatment to break down organic materials and separate materials. Building on this foundational expertise, the team upgraded their existing wastewater treatment plant to be highly-automated and to operate like one of their optimized fermentation and recovery plants.

The innovative plant operates as a joint venture today with Fermion, a neighboring company, collaborating to enhance performance in managing effluence streams.

And they’ve gone on to push the limits of what was deemed possible. As Hanko almost doubled its enzyme production capacity in the last decade, it cut its nitrogen emissions to nearly a third, reducing the nutrient byproducts entering the environment. Today, they’re not only staying within the permitted limits, but continuously have created an increasing buffer for possible future expansion. Every expansion creates the opportunity to implement new technology that can again improve the overall environmental performance of the plant.

And with Hanko’s own operators running the facility, the entire production process is now an end-to-end integrated system, leveraging advanced technology. The wastewater treatment plant features an automated self-protection program, utilizing measurements and continuous load calculations. This program communicates with the production side to adjust accordingly.

Breaking down the silos between these processes has led to a shared responsibility among the team.

“Now we have ownership of the entire operation, and our employees don’t just think about their own daily tasks, but how these impact the whole system.”

Stefan Ekbom, IFF Hanko Manufacturing Plant Manager


Embracing this integrated mindset throughout its operations and within the surrounding environment, Hanko has shown that sustainable manufacturing and upholding the values of the community while thriving as a business aren’t mutually exclusive endeavors.



A Tale of Two Cities: Cedar Rapids

In part 2 of our series "Scaling Sustainability" we'll explore innovative sustainability practices in the heart of the US corn belt.