What is a Sustainable Response to Coronavirus?


  • Jacob Holm and Sontara® brand nonwovens are being used across the U.S. and Europe in protective apparel and disinfectant wipes to stop the spread of COVID-19.
  • Jacob Holm hired 67 new employees since March to keep pace with 65% increase in demand for medical-grade nonwoven fabrics.
  • Focus on safety and sustainability as part of Jacob Holm’s 2020 strategy has led to increased partnerships, collaboration and community support during global pandemic. 

BASEL, Switzerland – Through the outbreak of a global pandemic, as individuals, we’ve been trying to soldier through each day. The future feels uncertain. We’ve lost loved ones. Loved ones have lost their livelihoods. We’ve been protecting and fighting for ourselves and families in what must be one of the most boring ways imaginable. Stuck at home, we’re receiving emails and posts in our social feeds from the well-meaning. Everyone from our childhood dentist to the local barbecue restaurant to that one celebrity from that movie wants us to know that ‘We’re All in This Together.’ The sentiment is nice, community solidarity in the face of crisis. But what does it actually mean? What does community solidarity look like from 6 or more feet away from your nearest neighbor?

As a company, and most pertinent to this period of our 225 year history: an ‘essential business,’ we’ve pondered this question and come up with the expected answer. Our 24/7 manufacturing has prioritized the momentous increase in Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) orders for mask and surgical gown components and disinfectant wipes. The dedication from our manufacturing employees has been truly staggering. We’ve hired 67 new employees who have already worked more than 2,000 hours of overtime. Two of our four manufacturing plants broke production volume records last month. One more saw a 65% increase in demand as we adapted to this new normal.


Yet, we weren’t really satisfied – many on our production teams would tease that this is always the case. Record production and still wanting?! But it’s our ethos to strive and to push ourselves, not just to do what is good, but to do our best. So we took the question from our executive committee to our teams: a mix of those of us who are stuck indoors with our kids and pets trying to still give our diligent focus and even change out of sweatpants every few days and those of us in the first line of defense at our factories, navigating how to best protect ourselves while being tasked with the safety of so many others.

Again, Jacob Holm found ourselves in the same boat as many in the market: there is no appetite for switching course in this climate of uncertainty. For Jacob Holm, this meant doubling down on our 2020 strategic plan – if not for a time of wild unpredictability such as this, then what was a plan made for? Our guiding tenets this year began first with Safety, and followed with Sustainability, which for us means taking responsibility for our business, economically, environmentally and socially.

Through the lenses of our sustainability committees in particular, our question sharpened and focused to become: how can we make an impact on the safety and well-being of those in our communities?

Throwing money at a problem is never a dull solution (and, despite popular wisdom, is also both efficient and impactful) so we started there. Jacob Holm CEO, Martin Mikkelsen, dedicated a lump sum to each plant to use at their discretion to impact those emergency personnel, restauranteurs, local business partners and neighbors who are hurting.

Then, we turned to our current employees. We had already secured and released our fair share of new PPE and a host of new behavioral regulations to guide us through manufacturing in a pandemic, but how could we better tend to their personal needs? Our tremendous H.R. team immediately initiated a new policy for staffing up with the furloughed and laid off among employees’ immediate families. Spouses, adult children and at least one boyfriend have been offered temporary relief and dependable income in our manufacturing workforce and have been welcomed onto our experienced production teams to meet the swift demand increase we face.

Next, we scoured our store rooms for any and all PPE above and beyond our immediate needs. In Soultz, France, we were able to gather and distribute FFP3 and 2 face masks, hair nets and protective suits to regional hospitals and pharmacies.

In Old Hickory, Tennessee, a product development technician located 600 Biosecurity Kits, which include antiseptic spray, disinfectant cleaner, a spray bottle, 30 surgical masks, 1 digital thermometer, and 2 pairs of nitrile gloves. This was enough to fully protect all three of our regional facilities and one of our American suppliers, another local essential business.


In concert, a Sontara® Old Hickory production team member located 60 N95 Masks and over 350 unopened surgical gowns. We partnered with Meharry Medical College, a HBCU in Nashville, to donate these plus additional Sontara® fabric material to lend our support for their contributions to drive-by virus testing.


Out of extra PPE yet still full of talented and resourceful team members, our Sontara® employees in Asturias, Spain, expanded their roll donation program to meet the needs of a particularly vulnerable population: residents of private long-term adult care facilities. Right away, we were able to release 300 kilograms of material, which dedicated local volunteers turned into enough masks for 45 different care facilities covering a total of 1,952 site locations. Word of this initiative spread and rapidly snowballed.


To date, an additional 4200 kg of material has been donated locally. Organizing through social media, an army of volunteers have sewn and ozone sterilized more than 20,000 face masks, while the local government has produced another 9,000, all of which were distributed to emergency personnel in hospitals and care facilities, to essential workers such as home help aids, and to local businesses for public use. With continued support in production and distribution, the non-profit is working to turn our humble donation into up to a million masks.

Sharing the experience, our team in Soultz, France, were inspired to get material into the hands of the Alsace Citizens Movement against COVID-19. This group includes 6 material cutters and 162 seamstresses divided into 14 teams that have been able to create duck masks according to AFNOR recommendations of different filtration levels and gowns for the Mulhouse Sud-Alsace Regional Hospital Group to protect nurses, doctors and local government workers.


Managing many of the aforementioned logistic challenges were our dedicated Sontara® and Jacob Holm customer service and inside sales representatives, who have been fielding a huge additional call volume to be able to coordinate these inquiries and distributions.

Two such calls came from global sports performance brand Under Armour in Baltimore, Maryland, and 99Degrees in Lawrence, Massachusetts, who we have been able to arm with both medical-grade fabrics and an intimate knowledge of the requirements of healthcare protective apparel. Between the two businesses, they’ve rapidly innovated to develop solutions to fight the shortage of protective apparel. Under Armour  to date has produced and supplied more than 1.1 million face masks to support healthcare organizations, housing/community agencies and human services across Maryland.  99 Degrees’ partnership has come to the acclaim of the Massachusetts state government, and exponential growth is anticipated as both companies continue tooling up.

99Degrees CEO displays Sontara gown at Massachusetts state government press conference on manufacturing

So, with our families economically secured and our communities out in full force protecting the essential and vulnerable among us, what else is there to do?

The daunting yet urgent task of mental wellness stood before us.

Uncertainty breeds anxiety in most of us. First and foremost, we’ve ensured all of our employees have access to telehealth services for mental healthcare, which are covered by our corporate insurance plans in the U.S. But how do you keep people feeling connected when they can’t be close?

 Nurse gives thumbs up for donation of chocolates from Sontara Asturias.

We’ve found it through sharing goodwill: offering free coffee to all on-site employees and hardworking truck drivers in Soultz, France; providing meals as a gesture of gratitude to our on-site employees in Old Hickory, Tennessee, for being safe, alert, and present despite the risks and challenges; holding birthday parties over Skype for employees in Candler, NC; donating more than 900 bags of chocolates to thank healthcare workers in Asturias, Spain; and ensuring all of our global employees know that their work is appreciated through thank you videos from Martin (and the four youngest members of the Jacob Holm family, his children).

Mikkelsen children say thank you

None of these efforts fix the very precarious situation we’re facing, yet we know that taking care of and being there for each other and our communities, even and especially in the face of unprecedented uncertainty, is the only way to make it through this chapter of our history.

Ultimately, we have been able to continuously rise to meet the needs of our customers and communities only by joining together. Seeing the work we’ve contributed protect and take care of our communities keeps us centered. As a company, whether from our PPE or our pajamas, it’s our mission to maintain our focus on our impact and to always continue striving to do what is good, to do our best and, then, to try to do even better than that.