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Sustainability and CSR in the chemical industry

The ECCT's CSR and Energy & Environment committees jointly hosted a lunch together with Amcham featuring guest speaker Dr Christian Haessler, Global Head of Sustainability at Covestro. The speaker gave his views on what it means to be a sustainability leader.

 According to the speaker, 80% of his company’s R&D is devoted to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) while the company’s business development goals and operations are all geared towards the SGDs. This includes reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and improving the living conditions of 10 million people in underserved markets.

Covestro takes a holistic approach to sustainability that covers the entire value chain, from procurement, production and logistics to products in use and products after use. The main focus is on closing the carbon loop with recycled feedstock. Resource efficiency is crucial since this is the area that is responsible for the largest portion of the company’s carbon footprint. Since the raw material for most plastics today is oil, the company is working on developing alternatives including bio (plant matter), carbon dioxide or waste-based materials. By using alternative raw materials from plants, CO2 or waste, the company aims to become a pioneer on the way to a fossil-free future.

In terms of increasing carbon productivity, the company is working on ways to increase the efficiency of its operations, the durability and recyclability of its products and the use of green energy. The company has developed a way to crack CO2 into carbon to use as a raw material. It currently only has a pilot plant, which it plans to scale up in the future.

The speaker noted that his company is committed to ending plastic waste by improving the design, reusability, collection, sorting and recycling of plastics. He made the point that plastic plays an important role in reducing carbon emissions given that plastic products are lighter than metal and glass, which makes them extremely useful for reducing the weight of vehicles and planes, thereby leading to a reduction in energy consumption for all types of mobility.

While plastic can do a lot of damage to the natural environment if it is not controlled, he said that the solution is not to end the use of plastics but to manage them better, close the loops to make sure that all plastic remains in the value chain to be constantly reused and does not escape into the natural environment. He added that when considering alternatives to plastic, you have to also consider the environmental impact, benefits as well as drawbacks of these alternatives.

He went on to talk about some of Covestro’s CSR activities. In Taiwan, this includes education initiatives such as providing resources to all the hearing impaired schools in Taiwan, setting up science clubs and holding science camps. Internationally, Covestro sponsors the UN Environment Young Champions of the Earth, which helps young environmental entrepreneurs, and a team participating in the World Solar Challenge in Australia (a competition for solar-powered cars).