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Senior executives responsible for sustainability at major chemical companies including AkzoNobel, BASF, Bayer and DuPont, say environmental performance has become central to their core business activities. Leading companies have already begun to gather data across their supply chains to identify where the biggest sustainability, and financial, gains and risk reductions can be made.
"We are seeing a significant shift in the industry to reinvent the corporate sustainability agenda, to drive innovation by focusing on more eco-friendly products, to differentiate the brand to improve top line, and to control carbon emissions to enhance the bottom line," says Chuck Deise, v.p. for chemicals at CSC (Falls Church, VA). A recent survey of more than 200 chemical companies by CW in association with CSC indicates that sustainability agendas are far-reaching and crucial to corporate success (box, p. 27).
AkzoNobel is betting its future on its ability to deliver sustainable products and draw on a sustainable supply chain, not only to provide better products for the established western markets but for the hundreds of millions of middle class consumers emerging in the developing world. The company has built on its approach of treating sustainability from a position of focusing solely on risk management to one of building its future business around sustainable or "eco-premium solutions" which AkzoNobel defines as competitively priced, high-end products that have more environmental benefits than their mainstream equivalents.
The company's risk management activities include standards for its suppliers verified by environment, health and safety (EH&S) audits. These are a necessary "foundation" for any sustainable development strategy at a chemical company. As part of its evaluation of activities AkzoNobel has completed a full life-cycle assessment (LCA) of 200 key value chains for its products. The second phase of AkzoNobel's sustainability strategy has involved making more from fewer resources and reducing the cost of production. Moving to the third phase of developing and selling eco-premium products without having the foundation of phases one and two in place could undermine the effectiveness of a sustainable development approach, Veneman says.
Two years ago, 18% of AkzoNobers products were eco-premium. Today the figure is 21% and the company is targeting 30% in 2015. Eco-premium product examples include a surfactant that cuts by 30% the energy required for asphalting roads as it lowers the temperature at which asphalt has to be heated. AkzoNobel generates 4.6 million m.t. of C[O.sub.2]e from its products, or about 25 million m.t. C[O.sub.2]e if the whole supply chain for its products is included. The company is working internally and with customers to cut that figure in future products and processes. Phasing out solvents could save 2 million m.t. of C[O.sub.2]e, reducing the curing temperature of coatings could cut a further 1.5 million m.t. of C[O.sub.2]e, Veneman says. AkzoNobel was recognized …