In this short episode, Victoria Meyer zooms in on three big key trends on sustainability. One is the importance of owning the narrative. The chemical industry already has various systems in place for sustainability. It just so happens that we allow less-informed groups to own the narrative. We need to be more transparent with our processes to showcase how we take sustainability seriously. Want to learn about the remaining key trends? Tune in!
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Key Trends On Sustainability: Why We Need To Own The Narrative
I’m going to be talking to you solo. This is the first in a series of episodes where I’m going to be sharing with you how leaders in the chemical industry are responding to key trends, including sustainability, digitization and supply chain disruptions. I am leveraging the insights that I’ve gained from my guests. I’ve had an opportunity to talk with them across these various topics. This will be, in many ways, a synthesis of their points of view, how they and their companies are approaching this, and giving an opportunity for us, myself, you as my readers, to learn from this, identify what fits you and your company, and be able to leverage and take that forward. This is the first in a series of that.
Let’s embrace sustainability in its broadest sense, even beyond the environmental aspect.
Don’t worry. This is not a signal of departure from my normal format. In fact, I’ve got a lot of great guests lined up over the coming months. I’m doing this series as an opportunity to synthesize what I’ve heard from my guests, relay it back to you and frankly, I’d love to get some dialogue going. I’d like to hear your feedback about, did you pick up some of the same things? Do you see these as some of the trends and the responses to these topics? We’ll be tackling these topics on an episode-by-episode basis, interspersing them with a show from interviewing other chemical industry leaders. You’ll be still hearing mostly majority of interviews with guests and occasionally these solo casts with me.
Before we jump into that, though, I want to say thank you. This show has been live for 4 months already. I am delighted and appreciative of the response and the positive feedback that I’ve gotten from people. Launching a show is a little scary. I had to go a little bit outside my comfort zone on this, but I knew that this was something important. I think it’s important for the chemical industry and the chemical leaders to get their stories out about their impact, leadership, what their companies are doing and all the great things that are happening. Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing the show, rating and reviewing, sending me emails, lovely notes, feedback and suggestions. I truly appreciate it.
Let’s go ahead and jump in to the topic.
The first trend that I want to talk about is sustainability: the acceleration and the focus on sustainability across the chemical industry. This is something I’ve had an opportunity to talk with almost all of my guests about. There’s been some similarities and some differences. I’m going to highlight those key responses that industry leaders are taking when they think about how they, their company and the industry as a whole respond to this increased focus on sustainability and that narrative.
As Neil Burns told me when we talked about this, he said, “This is not new. Environmental and government mandates have been in place for years. Mostly, they’re squared away.” Often when we think about sustainability it’s in the context of environmentalism: things like REACH, TSCA and other government mandates. There has been a lot of progress that the industry has been making for decades, but the industry is not necessarily telling its story very well. The first thing that comes out of these conversations is the need for the industry to own the narrative. In many cases, we’re letting the court of public opinion, the less educated in terms of what the chemical industry is doing and the impact it’s making on the narrative.
Yet the reality is we know that we’re already using a lot of renewable feedstocks. That green chemistry has a significant role. There are tremendous benefits of chemicals in use in driving sustainability. If you think about the benefit of plastics in use across a variety of places, transportation, etc., you’re reducing fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by the fact that you’re using this. We are not owning the narrative very well. Melissa Hockstad, when I spoke with her said, “One of the things that were important for ACI and its constituents is we need to be driving and defining this for the industry and taking bold collective action.” For them, it means greater transparency around products, uses and the chemical, environmental and sustainability impacts. Clearer communications, not just within our chemical industry, in our direct constituents, but more broadly with the end-users, the consumers that are driving some of these changes.
ESG reporting also has a role to play in this because that’s an opportunity for us to tell our story on ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) reporting. That becomes clear. One is this real need to own the narrative and be proud of it.
The second piece that comes out when companies and leaders talk about sustainability is embracing sustainability in its broadest sense. I think about linking that to the United Nations’ 2030 Goals for Sustainable Development. There are seventeen imperatives that the UN has laid out in its sustainable development goals. They range from people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. Those are the five Ps that they cover with the seventeen imperatives.
Sustainability is beyond environmental. This is something that chemical leaders recognize. It’s moving beyond numbers as it relates to the chemicals and the environmental impact. It’s beyond that. When I talk with Ron Zmich from Palmer Holland, one of the things he said is, “Our focus is also on non-chemical, socio-economic aspects of sustainability that’s gaining momentum. It includes things like core values, community engagement, diversity and conclusion. They’ve all become a priority.”
It links to a bigger view of sustainability, linking very closely to what the UN is saying its imperatives are. And, it ties back in with this whole ESG, Environmental, Social and Governance, reporting. I had a great conversation with Jennifer Sadenwater about this. Jennifer and her team do ESG reporting for companies across the chemical industry and others.
ESG reporting provides an opportunity to communicate what you’re doing across all these various measures to your stakeholders. It is critical to it.
The third theme around this is circularity. Circularity is getting a lot of press. We see this especially if we look at companies in the plastics value chain and elsewhere. Circularity is not new. We need to recognize and embrace the circularity that already exists in the chemical value chain. When I talked with Michael Suver, he and I chatted about this, frankly, offline and outside the show before we got on, and pointed out that we are already doing a lot of sustainability and recycling.
If you look at your manufacturing processes, there are many recycled streams taking place. We have by-product streams that we’ve figured out how to create new, valuable end-use products from. That’s a form of circularity already in place.
What we’re talking about in the public domain a lot is post-consumer products, the recyclability and recycling of those products. When I talked with Brad Beauchamp, who’s my first great guest, one of the things that he mentioned and I wasn’t aware of, is when they look at the carpet pad that they produce, it’s a recycled product from other urethanes that are used elsewhere in their chemical process.
He also said, “The downside is, as much as we’re doing, we’re still not recycling enough.” That’s where this focus is particularly on post-consumer recycling so that we can get the physical products back and then move into chemical recycling. I hear this from all the folks that I’ve talked to on and off the show as one of the critical things there.
You have probably have seen the American Chemistry Council Plastics Group issued a statement regarding the five actions they would like Congress to do to help accelerate the circular economy. I’m not going to get into the details of that, but it goes back to maybe my first statement, which is around owning the narrative. Owning the narrative, engaging early and it’s what these companies that I’m talking with, that leading chemical companies are doing is engaging early to define the solution. To be part of the solution, to own the narrative and to be able to create that external impact that then ties back to what they’re doing inside their companies. That’s what I’ve got. Those are the three biggies.
When I talk across all the different people I’ve spoken with, it’s around owning the narrative, circularity and then embracing sustainability in its broader sense. If we continue to progress on those three things, in fact, maybe accelerate on those three things, it’s going to help the chemical industry and our chemical companies be more successful and effective in the long-term.
That is what I wanted to share with you as it relates to sustainability. I would love to hear your feedback. Feel free to please send me a note on LinkedIn, an email, let me know what you thought. What else did you learn when you’ve read this and the leaders I’ve spoken with about what’s critical about sustainability to them, your companies and how you guys are reacting. Thank you for reading. I will talk with you again soon.
- Neil Burns – Previous episode
- Melissa Hockstad – Previous episode
- Jennifer Sadenwater – Previous episode
- Michael Suver – Previous episode
- Brad Beauchamp – Previous episode