Customer, consumer, investor focus to drive sustainability

7:35 AM, 2nd January 2021
Nicole Voss, Director, Environmental Health, Safety and Sustainability, Ashland notes how the chemical industry is increasingly focused on natural, renewable, biodegradable and recyclable products, owing to customer demand.

Nicole Voss, Director, Environmental Health, Safety and Sustainability, Ashland notes how the chemical industry is focusing on natural, renewable, biodegradable and recyclable products, as consumers continue to look for quality products with a decreased carbon footprint.

By Shivani Mody

Global trends leading to improved sustainability adoption. 

Across the chemical industry there is increased focus on natural, renewable, biodegradable, recyclable products. Consumers continue to push for products with the same efficacy and usability but with a decreased carbon footprint. Sustainably advantaged products continue to outperform in terms of sales growth, and this trend will continue in the future as well. Customer, consumer, and investor focus on sustainability and ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) is driving the chemical industry to set more ambitious goals and innovate with a conscience for the future.   

Global sustainability trends related to the chemical industry.

When I think about global sustainability trends, I think of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). To some extent, the chemical industry has the potential to impact nearly every one of the 17 sustainable development goals. Which UN SDGs are most applicable will vary somewhat from company to company even within the chemical industry, so it’s important for every company to assess which of the UN SDGs are most material to their company, essentially where their actions can have the largest impact and then set targets accordingly and make progress.  

Sustainability potential in Asia Pacific & India markets. 

With some of the largest populations in the world and a fast-growing middle class, the Asia Pacific & India markets will undoubtedly fuel the growth of more sustainable products. Necessity is the mother of invention and growing need will force companies to innovate for sustainability. There will be an increasing focus on traceability and transparency in supply chains enabled by current advances in technology, as well as a focus on decreased carbon content and a continued focus on naturality and biodegradability.  

Potential for renewable raw materials, biobased chemicals and circular economy. 

Around the globe, society is transitioning from a take, make, waste economy to one of circularity and that will not only have a profound impact, but the chemical industry will be vital to enabling that circular economy. In most cases, you can’t get to circular without chemistry. As a business to business company, Ashland is seeing a change in customers expectations for products including increased need for renewable, bio-based, biodegradable, natural or nature identical products.

Additionally, there is increased focus on using by-products as raw materials, something Ashland has been doing for decades in our cellulosics business. All cotton linters used as raw materials in the manufacture of our cellulosics are now certified recycled content. Looking at what traditionally would be waste as a feedstock will help the chemical industry to find new ways to reduce the amount of hazardous waste generated.

For renewable and biobased chemicals, it will become increasingly important for the chemical industry to practice mindful consumption so as not to have a negative impact on food supply for the world’s growing population or a negative impact by contributing to deforestation.

COVID-19 scenario and impact on the sustainability segment.

While COVID has had a profound impact on the way we do business, the chemical industry, as essential workers, has continued to operate our manufacturing locations throughout the pandemic to supply critical materials.  The pandemic will not negatively impact sustainability in the chemical industry. It certainly hasn’t done so for Ashland. If anything, it highlights how interconnected we are across the globe and collective needs to address sustainability issues and make progress.

Additionally, I believe that the pandemic has shown us that remote work is possible and that many companies will not fully return to normal office structure full time even once the pandemic is behind us, which in turn will reduce the carbon footprint of employees by eliminating daily commutes.

Company’s sustainability strategy and action plans in the coming years.

Ashland focuses our efforts in 3 key areas: sourcing, operations and solutions. In sourcing we are currently pursuing Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Supply Chain certification, Forest Stewardship Council Chain of Custody Certification (FSC) and are establishing a program for responsible guar sourcing.  Additionally, we are engaging with suppliers to assess their performance on Environment, Social and Governance issues.

In operations, Ashland is currently in the process of setting ambitious 2025 and 2030 goals, which will include Science Based Targets for greenhouse gas emissions, as well as reduction goals for water consumption and hazardous waste generation.  As part of our plan for achieving Science Based Targets, we will be focusing on both energy reduction and renewable energy.

In solutions, we have a plethora of products designed specifically with sustainability in mind to help our customers achieve their sustainability goals and bring more sustainable products to consumers.

Sustainability guides for personal care, performance adhesives units. 

The business specific sustainability guides were developed to help our customers quickly and easily identify sustainable products they can use in their applications. For Ashland’s Personal Care business, the focus is on natural, nature-derived, nature identical, biodegradable, and COSMOS validated products.

There is also an increasing focus on vegan products and Ashland has a wide variety of products that meet vegan standards. For the adhesives business, the focus differs depending on industry and end use of the product however recyclability, biodegradability and circular economy are all driving factors for Ashland’s sustainable solutions in adhesives.

Adopting sustainability as part of the innovation strategy.

For sustainability to be an effective part of innovation strategy it must be integrated into the process and part of the business plan, not a separate or add on process. Ashland has integrated sustainability into critical checkpoints in our innovation process to drive sustainable innovations.   

Measuring the sustainability quotient of suppliers as per ESG performance. 

Ashland engages with a third-party supplier platform to perform validated supplier self-assessments on Environment, Social, and Governance issues.  And we are setting goals for the future which includes supply chain risk assessment and expanded third party audits for confirmation of supply chain performance.

Steps for implementing a sustainable approach in the chemical industry.

Every part of the chemical industry has it’s nuances, so companies need to evaluate those topics that are most material to their business, capture the data in those areas, and focus on setting ambitious but attainable targets to address the most material impacts of their business. 

Challenges while implementing a sustainability strategy.

The challenges faced by chemical manufacturer’s are the same as the challenges faced by many companies. That is how to strike the right balance between purpose and profit. Both are necessary for a successful business and neither can succeed in the long term without the other.

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