Listen to Victoria and Karin’s Conversation Here:


Navigating the complexities of sustainability in the chemical industry requires partnerships, open communication, patience, and a positive, collective focus. Karin Krchnak, an environmental lawyer by training and the Managing Director of Sustainability at the American Chemistry Council (ACC) joins host Victoria Meyer to talk about the strides being made towards a greener future and the synergy between climate goals and water stewardship. 

Victoria and Karin discuss the innovations shaping the chemical industry, the rise of sustainability roles, and share personal tales of mentorship and career evolution.

 

Learn more about the following this week:

  • Keys to building alignment across numerous stakeholders
  • Chemical industry’s role as “solutions enablers” in the energy transition.
  • Important of water stewardship and understanding water risk
  • 3 P’s to carving a career in the chemical industry: patience, perseverance, and passion
  • Future STEM Scholars Initiative (FOSSI)

Killer quote: “Collaboration is essential; whether we’re talking about climate change, water stewardship, or innovation in the chemical industry, we need to leave egos at the door, practice patience, and maintain open communication for a sustainable future.” – Karin Krchnak 

 

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Watch Karin and Victoria Discuss ACC and Sustainability on Youtube Here:


Building Alignment to Tackle the Climate Challenge with Karin Krchnak

Hi, this is Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to The Chemical Show, where chemicals means business. Today, I am speaking with Karin Krchnak of the American Chemistry Council, also known as ACC. Karin is the Managing Director of Sustainability for ACC. She’s an environmental lawyer by training and has been working throughout her career to improve policies and procedures related to sustainable development worldwide. Prior to joining ACC, Karin worked at the World Bank where she partnered with over 300 companies in multi-stakeholder mechanisms, to advance programs, projects and policy reform to accelerate action to meet the sustainable development goals. There’s a lot more that I can talk about with Karin and we’re going to get to it as we have our conversation. So Karin, welcome to The Chemical Show.

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

I’m really glad to have you here. Let’s just start out with a little bit on your career. What prompted your interest in environmental law and ultimately a career in sustainability?

So I’ll be honest. My original intent was to be a criminal lawyer. I do watch a lot of the criminal law shows these days to make up the fact that didn’t go into criminal law.

There we go.

It was actually when I was in law school, international environmental law was beginning to be like an emerging field. My family had always been, interested in environmental issues. We immigrated from what was Czechoslovakia. I was born in Slovakia. So it was also right after the fall of the wall and the new Central and Eastern Europe that was emerging and international environmental law was an emerging area as well. So I decided to go into that and then from there really build it into bringing that expertise in what was sustainable development to Central Eastern Europe and the newly independent states. My first work after law school was actually based in Czechoslovakia, now Slovakia working on environmental issues, looking at air, water, and waste issues. Then from there I started working in the other countries in Central Eastern Europe.

So it was a combination of family background history, but also a new and emerging area. Environmental law, it was an area in international law, but international environmental law was really beginning to take hold. To me it was really intriguing and I did want to spend my career working around the world. So it came together in that way.

engineer in plant, climate change

That’s really cool. I did not realize that you had really started out being very global and as you say, focusing on Slovakia and addressing the environmental topics there. Now Chernobyl was obviously a big issue in Eastern Europe. Was that around the time that you were coming out? I don’t even remember what year that was.

I’ll be honest. I’m terrible with dates. I’m terrible with names.

That’s a good question. I should know this because one of my mom’s cousins worked for the atomic power plant that was in Slovakia. But we were always focused on that atomic power plant. So to be honest, I don’t remember. But the issues around Central Eastern Europe and what the environmental health looked like after all those decades, including Chernobyl, depending on when that happened definitely was a key topic. In terms of trying to address what were legacy issues, but also what does the new environmental law field look like for the newly independent states in Central and Eastern European countries.

So my bias being an American and frankly, just not knowing a lot about Eastern Europe, is I have an assumption that the laws just didn’t exist or that the laws were not as rigorous as perhaps they were in the U.S. and Europe, as they approached environmental concerns. Is that true? Is that a fair statement?

It’s a fair statement, it’s funny you spring that up because actually when I was working and I lived in Russia in the late 90s we couldn’t find a term for the word enforcement and you had to use basically several sentences of Russian to convey what you mean by enforcement. So it’s true. The strictness was not there, but also the kind of the comprehensiveness around environmental law, regulations and policies. The basics were there. They have codes, water code, all the different codes, but in terms of the depth there is in the U.S. that certainly was not there, but it was an emerging area.

Obviously we know that, across the globe, the US being no exception, that enforcement has not always been consistent. In fact, my husband and I just watched the movie, Erin Brockovich, last night. It’s been many years since I watched it and it’s a great movie and a lot of nastiness has happened from an environmental perspective for a variety of reasons. I’m glad that we’re living in the times that we’re in and as challenging as some of our policies and getting agreement on policies can be, I also recognize it is creating a better life and environment for myself, my family, my peers, and the people around us.

Absolutely. Yeah, I will say if I can do a shout out, I worked for a period of time for the American Bar Association, so they had a Central and Eastern European law initiative that they developed, which was really about bringing lawyers from the U.S. with backgrounds and experiences in different fields of law, it wasn’t just environmental in terms of how to bring these concepts and ideas around. Bringing a law reform forward. So it was great working with judges, law students, prosecutor offices, the whole gamut of the legal system is really an incredible experience.

That would be really awesome I can imagine. And then you spent a big part of your career most recently at the World Bank and focusing in, I think a lot on water. Is that right?

I did. So I was managing what’s called the 2030 Water Resources Group. It was actually an initiative that had been founded by the World Economic Forum and then moved over in transition. The World Economic Forum develops initiatives and then transitions to other hosting institutions. So it moved over to the World Bank. That’s when I was hired to come in and manage the 2030 Water Resources Group, which has water in the title, water is so cross cutting. So worked with agriculture, technology, textiles, mining companies, the whole gamut, because water touches everything. The idea was really building these multi-stakeholder platforms.

As you said, the term multi-stakeholder platforms, it’s an important term, but a lot to say there in terms of bringing governments, industry, companies, and non-government organizations together to work on different issues. In this case, it was related to water, but it really was very cross-cutting and very broad.

So I was going to ask this question later, but I’m going to bring it forward in our conversation. Building alignment is such a challenge. Building alignment inside of a company when you’re all working theoretically for the same purpose with the same interests is challenging. And then building alignment across multiple stakeholders is a real challenge. What have you found to be the real critical, significant things that help to get to that alignment?

So I would say there are a few things in terms of kind of building collaboration and alignment. One, is the one where people say, leave your ego at the door. If you have an approach that’s my way or the highway, it’s very difficult to build collaborative initiatives. You need to come with the mentality of, my agenda may not be exactly the same as every other organization’s agenda, but there’s enough common issues that we want to join on that we can work together on those issues. You don’t have to have everything in alignment. If you think about your spouses or partners or close friends, it’s not that you agree on everything, but there’s a core that you agree on that you say, okay, we want to have this collaboration. With organizations, I would say the same as well. The other thing I would say is patience. A lot of times I’ve found in my career that you’re taking two steps forward and maybe five steps backwards. Sometimes it seems like it’s not always like the steps forward. There are sometimes steps back because you need to look again at where is that common agenda or there might be differences of opinions that you just need to work through or your approach or methodologies or whatever it may be. So having that patience is important.

Then I would say communication. For collaborative initiatives to work, there needs to be an open channel of communication. And it’s not to say that, you have to wear your heart on your sleeve and put everything out there. But you need to be openly communicative enough that when there are some differences, you can work through them. That’s where that patience comes in as well. But at the core, having some sort of a common agenda to be able to say, okay, we’re going to work on this together and we have certain outcomes that we want to achieve and that’s what we’re going to put foremost in this collaboration.

Yeah. I think that’s great. I think as you maybe started with certainly having this belief of positive intent, that everybody’s got a positive intent in trying to achieve their outcomes and their desired objectives may not be aligned, but the positive intent that they’re doing this to make positive progress is so critical because it helps move past some of the disagreements.

Exactly. And like I said, it doesn’t mean that you have to agree on everything. But there needs to be enough of that core, and as you said, the positive intent for what you want to achieve and that when you have those steps backwards, then you’re set. It’s not that you give up on the collaboration, there’s enough there. You say, okay we’re going to keep moving forward and ultimately in the end, hopefully for those positive outcomes.

That’s great. So let’s turn the focus a little bit to ACC. So you’ve been there now a couple of years. Tell us, what’s your role? What’s your focus at ACC?

So I managing sustainability, which is great. One of the things I would say that attracted me to ACC is we’ve had the Foundation of Responsible Care for the last 35 years. That is the foundation around safety and sustainability. The chemical industry in terms of advancing responsible care I think is incredible. That already is a foundation that’s there. And that really attracted me. So coming in this role for sustainability, which has been an evolving division within ACC. Sustainability is still very much evolving. It’s one of those things.

I’ve been working on it for 28 years. I think in the last few years, the pace of change is unlike what it was 20 years ago. I mean now, when I look back then, it was like molasses in terms of sustainability issues but it’s really rapidly advancing. In ACC as well, to be proactive and looking at these issues. There are a number of areas that we work on, of course, climate change. That’s always on everybody’s mind in terms of how do we lower greenhouse gas emissions? How do we catalyze innovation and so forth. The other areas around water which is an area that I have focused a lot on. I’ve worked on climate, air, water, waste issues, but with water there is always something there that is intriguing in terms of addressing water issues.

In ACC, within our sustainability work it is also one of our priorities as well. The other area of work for us is around air. So improving and addressing air quality is another area, which is again, I’ve worked on, so it’s really interesting to be able to work with the chemical industry in advancing air quality. The other is around sustainable chemistry and how to promote innovation in terms of a sustainable chemistry going forward, and then the last area that’s really cross cutting is circularity. There’s been a lot over the last few years around circularity. What do we mean by circularity? How do we move from something that was linear to circular? How do you do that within all aspects of circularity? In terms of reuse, reducing and so forth, as well as the innovation there. So those are the key areas that we’re working on in sustainability.

We work supporting our members. So as new and emerging areas are coming up as well, we’re making sure that we’re tracking and looking to see how we can support our members to really be at the forefront of sustainability.

And in sustainability too, you’ve been working in this space for 25 years, it’s certainly evolved. I agree with you that the pace of change and the pace of interest in the focus on sustainability has rapidly increased. At the same time I’ve talked with some people who are like, we’re getting a little tired of talking sustainability first, there really has to be a business case and that sustainability is critical and it’s an underpinning but it’s not all of business. So I think striking that balance is something that companies are working on and maybe struggling with. Maybe you see that when you guys work with your constituents.

That’s true. But I think if we look at sustainability overall, if you think about sustainability and kind of the origins of sustainable development, you look at different processes, especially UN processes and other processes, it was really governments that were discussing sustainable development, and setting agendas and so forth. Then the non-governmental organizations came in and private sector came in later. I have to say, I was in New York when the sustainable development goals were being adopted, and I’ve been involved in the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development for, I guess 10 years at that point, and it was the first time that the private sector was actually addressed by governments as a key partner or as part of sustainability and the sustainable development agenda.

That wasn’t that long ago, if we think about it. I think the other challenge too at that time was, a lot of people were looking at industry as kind of an ATM machine, of just bring in money to solve sustainability issues. And that’s not the right approach. It is part of the solutions, and I see that even with our chemical industry, our members really being the enablers of a sustainable future. But you’re right. It does take time to build that business case. And it looks different for everyone. We have small and medium sized members. We have large members for small and medium sized members.

There’s a lot that people are trying to manage, because they don’t have entire sustainability departments. So it takes time and patience is important. You do have to build that business case. Even in my previous role at the World Bank, when we were building partnerships we had to build the business case, but it takes time because it can look different for everyone involved.

I think that’s a great point. Everybody’s contributing differently, coming at it differently, has different resources. So when you talk about the setting of the sustainable development goals, the UN has, is it 22?

There are 17 goals.

That’s it. Okay.

Yeah, actually number 17 is around partnerships, which is kind of a new one.

I had been involved in the Millennium Development Goals, actually. And then the new development of the Sustainable Development Goals. And partnerships were added at 17.

Makes perfect sense, really. Did those get established around the same time as the Paris Agreement, or were they separate from that?

I think what’s significant, in fact, if I think about dates and we just look ahead, certainly the Paris Agreement talks about limiting temperature increase to less than two degrees centigrade. I personally view it as being tied to net zero by 2050. There’s obviously some goals around 2030 and I’ve never been 100% clear quite handedly on what’s our 2030 goal. And so there’s a lot of different goals out there. You talk about this as a public private partnership collaboration opportunity and clearly the chemical industry has to take action on it, and it is a enabler of the energy transition of achieving some of these net zero goals.

Can you talk about that a little bit more and how you and how ACC see this?

Yeah. Absolutely. The chemical industry, to me, it’s incredible because it’s really the energy, the future, the enabler. Even if we look at renewables like wind and solar and electric vehicles and batteries, all of that depends on chemistry. So bringing that aspect of contributing to a lower emissions future and at the same time, also looking at our own emissions. How do we reduce our own emissions and our processes? And that’s where ACC is working with our members in terms of trying to see how we can do that. Realistically, of course. As we look at different technologies, we’ve been looking how to advance carbon capture utilization and storage. Clean hydrogen. Other aspects of different innovative technologies that are all different stages of innovation and development. How do we drive forward on those different abatement technologies and the processes looking at the future of nuclear. And electrification, of course, as a possibility in the future. But we know from also our collaboration and a lot of discussions we have, for example, with agencies like The Department of Energy and others, these technologies are still in processes of development. Our members and ACC, we’re looking to see how do we do foster those collaborations and that information sharing. Because it will take time for these technologies to be at the point that they’re really scalable.

So that’s where we’re really driving forward. I would say both from contributing to that renewable future from the products that the chemical companies are promoting and advancing, but also in terms of our own emissions reductions technologies. What can be that mix there in terms of driving for that future? But it comes back to that patience, I think everybody wants something overnight and that’s not the case.

Sustainable development with icons of renewable energy and natural resources preservation with environment protection inside connected gears.Businessman hand working concept. Documents finance graphic chart. climate change

I think that’s right. It’s a big set of puzzle pieces that all have to come together at the same time. And they’re not going to come together at the same time. If we think about how we have to build a puzzle, maybe it’s building the outside edges first. Find all your outer edges and then start filling in. It seems like finding solutions to the climate challenge and sustainability is a bit like building a puzzle. Different people have different approaches on it, but at the end of the day, it all has to come together. Bit by bit, piece by piece.

I know one of the challenges when I talk to my clients and other companies is sometimes it feels like there’s a bit of a misalignment between regulators and the regulations that are in place. Maybe the timing and how they’re assessing new technologies that are critically needed to support the future chemical industry that we want, the future world that we want. When we think about that. How do you recommend people tackle this challenge? How can companies influence it? How is ACC working to influence that?

You’re right. It is a puzzle with different pieces coming in at different times. I think it comes back to the point I made earlier about communication. This is one of the things that ACC is working with different agencies to see how can we bring industry to the table so that everybody understands the role of the chemical industry. People just don’t understand the role of the chemical industry. So it’s fostering, first, that understanding and that awareness of what it will take. The chemical industry, as I said, our members are actively working to address sustainability issues. But again, these things can’t be done in silos. So how can we work with different agencies and others to bring industry to the table to actually look at the timing as an evolution process.

If we look at different technologies, CCUS or even clean hydrogen and direct air capture, it’s in early stages. It’s not at the point, even agencies will say it’s not scalable. To get to scale, that’s always the big challenge. I found that throughout my career, with any type of innovations or technologies, people get stuck when going to scale. That’s where I think the collaboration is really critical because everyone then can bring in those different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together as opposed to at different times. It can’t seem misaligned, one depends on the other. Especially if you’re trying to drive innovation and certainly for American Chemistry Council, we want to make sure we have a strong chemical manufacturing sector in the United States. And so how do we advance policies and initiatives to make sure that is the case? That the U.S. is in the lead when it comes to a strong chemical industry that contributes to all the products that everyone wants to have in their daily lives.

I think patience is the key. It doesn’t feel like we have a lot of time though, so just as we were talking to get started here we are basically at the end of the first quarter and boy, that was fast. And soon we’re going to be at 2030. Which is where a lot of targets are and not too far away is 2050 in the grand scheme of things. You have to slow down to go fast, there’s that whole theory, but it feels like we have to keep marching along because the clock keeps ticking.

No, it’s true. We can’t sit back and rest, that’s for sure. We have to keep innovation. I know with our ACC members from the smallest members to our largest members, they are dedicated in research and development to really bring the newest when it comes to technologies and processes for a sustainable future and a healthy environment. Especially as our members work in engaging communities and so forth in a healthy environment, but it is that one of, be realistic. Don’t look too far to the future. Then you miss how you put those pieces together now. And I think, it’s about trying to stay present. You’re learning from what’s happened in the past and you’re looking to the future, but really staying present to see what do we need to do today that will have that domino effect for the future.

And that’s not always easy to do, because you’re right. We’re like hamsters in the wheel rushing. We want to get there fast and we will get there. Even for me, as I said, we’ve been talking here and I probably shouldn’t have admitted how long I’ve been working on sustainability, it’s amazing where we are today compared to, 20 some years ago.

It’s very different. I remember when I first really became aware of sustainability and I was working at Shell and all of a sudden we had those sustainability people. I remember saying “Oh, I don’t understand. What is it that you’re talking about?” Of course, I’m not sure that I fully vocalized it. In the corporate world, you can’t always vocalize when those misunderstandings are there, but it took quite a while because for those people that are working closely with it, it’s easier to understand, but it’s really just gotten into everyday vocabulary for business in the last 5 years.

I agree with you.

Up until then it was not an everyday conversation, strategic decision. It was understood. We understood the environmental aspects. We understood safety, we didn’t necessarily know how to put it all together and I group sustainability as putting it all together. That may be incorrect as well in some ways, but it’s got a lot of tentacles and how it all connects. But really, until the last five years, it has not been an everyday conversation.

That’s true. If you look at even the admin growth of Chief Sustainability Officer positions, or I was just reading the other day about an ESG Controller position. These positions have been growing only in the last few years. Those were not there 20 years ago, I can vouch for that. and it will be something different in the next 5, 10, 20 years, right? It’s going to continue to evolve. That’s exactly right. And you’re right with sustainability, it is one of those areas. This is where, even when we look at the sustainable development goals, it’s been such an evolution because they stand on their own, but it’s the interconnectedness that’s really important. As we touched on water, climate and water are related. So you could say, okay, I’m only focused on climate or I’m only focused on water.

But at some point, they’re connected.

Absolutely.

It’s trying to at least acknowledging that, and so I think that will, as you said, transform the positions of the future.

Yeah, absolutely. At The Chemical Summit last year, you made a statement along the lines, and I’m probably paraphrasing a bit, that most natural disasters are related to water, either too much of it or too little of it. Can you elaborate on that?

Sure, and this is where climate comes in. I won’t go in deep on the hydrological cycle because that’ll probably take a 20 hour show maybe. But the impacts from climate then are seen in either scarcity in many places or too much water in terms of floods. We’re seeing more and more of that and it does vary, some regions of the globe where you’ve seen scarcity for periods of time.

Now we’re seeing lots of water, and other areas that have had, flooding on an ongoing basis now are experienced scarcity. So it doesn’t mean that it’s always exactly a cookie cutter approach either, but the climate impacts are felt in water, either too much or too little. I think we’re going to be seeing more of that as well. But understanding that it does vary over time and regions, and it’s really about trying to be adaptive to that as that becomes more frequent.

Yeah. Is there something that we do to influence it other than continuing to work on our sustainability and climate measures?

I think so. One of the things actually I will say that also really attracted me to ACC was actually the proactive approach on water issues. So at ACC we’ve been working with our members to look at water stewardship and water risks because water is a shared resource. It’s not one of those things where you can look in your own four walls and say, “Okay, this is the only thing I’m focused on.” So we have been working with our members and we also have a partner, The Water Council we’ve been working with to support our members in looking at water risks proactively, to do an assessment, look at your water risks and then develop. Mitigation approaches to address those risks through a water body risk assessment. So it’s a step by step process. What it does especially, is it helps our members also start engage with stakeholders in the watershed.

Because again, water is a shared resource. So it really depends on engaging with those other actors, those stakeholders, like Water Utilities, for example and other organizations in a watershed to understand first, at a very basic level, what are those future demands for water? We’ve had our members looking, for example, in watersheds where, there’s a lot of urban growth. So you’re going to have a lot more demand for water as those urban areas grow. So how do the utilities manage that where there’s already existing industry or there’s also an industry that wants to grow, for example. Or you have agriculture there and agriculture actually uses a considerable amount of water. So how do you manage all of those demands and plan in a way that it addresses that, and also creates mitigation plans in cases where there might be too little water or too much water as well. So we’ve been working actively with our members on that.

We’re all actively working on supporting our members also in how to engage with stakeholders in the watersheds. Understanding that, does require time and effort as well in terms of engaging with stakeholders. But it’s really important if we’re trying to look at those water risks. In some places, our members may not have a high level of risk. But it is at least saying, okay, in the future that could change and to be ready for that.

sustainability, plant growing, effects of climate change

Yeah, makes a lot of sense. In fact for the long time, really, when I thought about water issues for the chemical industry, and first, certainly for my own personal experience working in manufacturing, working in big businesses it was really around the cleanliness. The environmental characteristics, making sure that if we’re taking water out of the river, we’re putting very clean water back into the river. So this whole issue of too much, too little thinking about watersheds I know it’s always probably been there but it’s certainly becoming a bigger focus area.

Yeah. You touched on a really good point in terms of drinking water. I overlooked this because it’s the foundation of chemistry, but making sure that we have drinkable water. It’s like we always take it for granted, thanks to chemistry we have drinkable water. But at the same time, as I said, these other water risks are maybe growing in the region. But yes, absolutely. The foundation of having drinkable water is thanks to the chemistry.

Absolutely. It’s a good reminder for all of us. I had the opportunity to go to the Hoover Dam last week. So that was the first time ever for me. My kids had spring break, so we took a vacation out to Vegas and did a mixture of nature and neon, as I like to call it. And first time visiting the Hoover Dam, which was fascinating because one thing I hadn’t appreciated is we’ve already talked about just the collaboration and the patience and the ingenuity to get to that point. And frankly, the patience.

It all comes back to that patience.

It took a long time to get that. Yet it’s certainly foundational for power in the Western part of the U.S. And also what I had not fully appreciated and then I thought about it, part of the reason they did this was of course, terrible flooding in the Colorado river that persisted over, probably hundreds of years would be my guess or thousands of years. So being able to channel that water effectively to create power and to control the downstream. And of course it created Lake Mead, which now is at all time lows.

The dam and Lake Mead and that entire infrastructure was creating during a period of abundance of water. Now there’s certainly a shortage and we’ve turned to more of a scarcity of water. There’s probably a lot of reasons behind that, both climate and use. So it was really cool. I think my kids even thought it was cool. Even though people say, don’t assume your kids are going to like it. We all liked it and the views are good, but the science behind it was really cool as well.

Oh, good. Yeah, and again as you said, this was developed in a period of time where water availability was different and it’s changed now. That’s again where that collaboration remains still central to address as that is the shifting climate, what that means in terms of the region and reduced water levels. And absolutely that collaboration is still critical going forward.

So Karin, we’re in women’s history month as we’re recording this. So I feel like I want to add this and ask this question of you as a woman who has really been successful in an international career At a time where perhaps women weren’t as successful as certainly in the early days in international roles and you’ve worked with a lot of companies and individuals and governments around the globe. What’s been significant? What’s the secret of success? What surprised you? What advice would you have maybe in terms of that?

What a good question, especially in this month. I think I keep coming back to that patience honestly. I remember actually, I was in the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 and I was on all these panels and it was all panels of men and me. There was one panel, it was 10 of us and nine men and me.

They were probably older than you, right? So you were young and a female on panels with esteemed colleagues and peers.

Absolutely, they were all incredible professionals in their careers, engineers. Incredible. But yes, I was the lone woman there. For me, having that patience, but also perseverance of feeling that you know what you know and there’s a lot that I don’t know. Obviously dates. I’m terrible with dates.

Keep that in mind.

But there’s a big understanding what you know and what you don’t know and then having the passion for it. That’s what I saw certainly in the World Summit on Sustainable Development through that whole process. Actually, it was a colleague of mine. We brought water because water was missing in the agenda and we had a passion about water. Addressing water issues, even though I was working more broadly on environmental issues. We were committed saying, you know what, water needs to be here in the agenda. We’re going to fight for it. I remember the first time in that process, we got two paragraphs on water. But there had been zero before, so even that was a success.

So I would say it is really combination of that patience and passion. The Ps patience, perseverance and passion.

There’s a lot of life lessons there that we can all remember. That’s probably a good model. Patience, perseverance, and passion.

I would say the other is, just to know that it is always changing. The world is changing, right? The number of women you see now in different roles is incredible. As chief sustainability officers or even as CEOs and so forth it’s definitely evolving.

I think that’s right. I would reflect on the same. Similarly for me, I like the perseverance piece. Many times I was the only woman presenting in a room or a senior leadership meeting. I was really fortunate. I spent a big part of my career at Shell and Shell’s done a great job of advocating, developing and promoting women. So I’d never felt always truly like the only one, but you’d be the only one in the moment. And I would recognize it, but I’d be like, okay, here we go.

It doesn’t stop you. It’s that perseverance piece.

When we think about technical roles, like engineers and scientists and STEM roles, if you’re graduating 25% women in those fields you’re never going to get 50% women in engineering if the pool that you’re pulling from is 25%. So there’s this aspect of it is changing, but it’s only can change to the extent that the feeder pool changes as well. So I think we have to continue to develop that and promote and encourage it.

Absolutely. ACC, many may not realize, we have the Future STEM Scholars Initiative, FOSSI, which is providing support for students at historically black colleges and universities to study for four years with the idea that they would come out as chemical engineers, but also it’s not just the support for the studies, but also mentorship and so forth. I think that’s what I’m thrilled to see ACC doing because it’s one of those things when we look at these issues, it’s not just a matter of providing financial resources. It is that mentorship. If I look back, even in my own career, there are people that I would often go back to, especially as a woman in the field, to say “I just need a little bit of support here or am I doing the right thing?” You come to crossroads in your life, I had a few in my life where I was like, should I go that way or that way? I’d go back and just talk to some more senior people who I respected and who would give me the time of day to talk knowing that I was still very early in my career. This is what we’re doing with FOSSI, including that mentorship is incredible and fabulous because that’s just as important as the resources to be able to do the studies.

Group Of People Having Business Meeting climate change

Absolutely. I think we sometimes take it for granted. Certainly, my kids, your kids, if you have any, if we have the advantage of having parents that can coach and mentor and encourage, and yet many people don’t. I look back, my parents, they did encourage me and they were great encouragers, but they didn’t have direct experience and couldn’t mentor in the same way. So having third party mentors whether via a program like FOSSI or at your company, it is so critical to have examples that you can look at. Having people that can support you, that can engage with you and help you talk through those options, see what the paths may be there, and provide that mentorship is really important.

Yeah, it’s funny you say that because my parents, we were immigrants, so neither of my parents spoke English when we came to the U.S. I thank them for everything they did, but in terms of that pure mentorship, no. I do have one child and maybe I over mentored. Maybe that’s the problem now.

That is a challenge and maybe I’ll mentor your kid and you can mentor mine because they don’t always like to listen to mom and dad anyway.

Exactly.

So Karin, what’s on the horizon for the rest of 2024? We’re here at the end of the first quarter. What should we be looking forward to as it relates to ACC and sustainability as we look ahead for the rest of the year?

I would say, in the areas that I described early on first, we keep advancing those because again, it is keep putting that foot forward, especially on climate. Driving the innovations and the advancements and the different technologies is really important and something that we’re focusing on at ACC. How can we drive, as I mentioned, a strong U.S. chemical manufacturing sector, is central for us in 2024 and beyond.

Making sure that our members of all different sizes are able to take their strengths and contribute for that strong U.S. chemical manufacturing sector in a rapidly sustainability evolving area as well as these areas that are rapidly evolving. So it’s really making sure that we’re here to serve our members to be as best informed and as well prepared for the future that they can be.

Awesome. Thank you, Karin. This has been a great conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it. Thanks for joining us today on The Chemical Show.

Thank you for having me.

Absolutely. And thank you everyone for listening. Keep listening, keep following, keep sharing, and we’ll talk to you again soon.


About Karin Krchnak:

ACC Managing Director, Sustainability

As an environmental lawyer, Karin has worked to improve policies and procedures related to sustainable development worldwide for more than 25 years. She is currently Managing Director for Sustainability at the American Chemistry Council (ACC). Prior to joining ACC, Ms. Krchnak worked in the World Bank Group, managing the 2030 Water Resources Group. In this role, she partnered with over 300 companies in multi-stakeholder mechanisms to advance the incubation and implementation of innovative programs, projects, and policy reform processes to accelerate action to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. She has worked for non-governmental organizations and the private sector building good governance systems to further sustainability, including through public-private partnerships. 

Karin received her B.A. in Political Science from Duke University and her J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law. She has published extensively in the area of international environmental policy and sustainable development, particularly on freshwater issues.