In this Q&A, Liam Down talks with Rebecca Lucore, Head of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility at Covestro LLC, about the challenges and opportunities ahead in the decade of action
Q: We now embark on what is described as the decade of action. Can you share how Covestro is taking ambitious action now, to help meet the 2030 and 2050 Goals?
A: The new decade presents an opportunity to continue the sustainability work we began on day one as Covestro. In fact, sustainability sits at the core of our purpose “To make this world a brighter place” and is embedded in everything we do. That means sustainability drives every aspect of our innovation – business, R&D and social.
For example, our materials contribute to sustainable development by making vehicles lighter, which saves fuel, and increasing the energy efficiency of buildings – both of which ultimately reduce carbon emissions. Our materials are also used to enhance the durability of wind blades in wind energy production.
In addition, we have set ourselves ambitious non-financial targets to drive sustainable development. One of those targets is to align our R&D portfolio with the UN Sustainable Development goals, which, again, guides our innovation.
Q: In a 2017 interview, one of your colleagues shared new ambitious targets around halving CO2 emissions per metric ton of product relative to a 2005 baseline, by 2025. How are you progressing against this target?
A: To date, we have already achieved a 40% reduction, which is substantially ahead of schedule. However, we haven’t become complacent in our progress. We’re actively exploring new, innovative ways to reduce our CO2 emissions and energy consumption, as we continue to push toward our goal.
Q: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in working to meet this target?
A: We have already achieved significant specific CO2- and energy savings globally, mainly through our energy efficiency program STRUCTese®, which we established more than 10 years ago. Enabling the high transparency of energy consumption is one of the challenges of making production processes more efficient. Based on the structured and detailed analysis of the STRUCTese® approach, it is possible for Covestro to identify impactful efficiency improvements, which ultimately leads to a reduction of CO2 emissions.
Q: Why is it important for you, and Covestro, to be involved in this year’s Responsible Business Summit New York?
A: It’s important to me – and Covestro – to participate in Responsible Business Summit New York for two reasons. First, to learn from and be inspired by other companies who are on their sustainability journey. And, secondly, to share some of the initiatives we’ve developed, both globally and here in the US, that are helping us reach our sustainability targets and integrate the UN SDGs within the company, in the communities where we operate and in society, at large. In doing so, we’re harnessing people and their purpose to help us achieve our goals:
For example, in the US, we’re helping meet the company’s global goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2025 and energy consumption by 50% by 2030 by collaborating with one of the country’s leading environmental NGO’s, the Environmental Defense Fund and its EDF Climate Corps Fellows, a program that matches graduate students from top universities with organizations seeking to advance climate solutions. The first project involved replacing an antiquated energy data tracking/reporting system at our US production sites with a new, cloud-based system that has markedly improved efficiencies of time, cost and employee productivity. Over the last three years, we’ve undertaken five projects with international fellows in two countries – three in the US and two in China.
Our annual Intern Sustainability Challenge enlists college/university students to tackle real-world issues like rediverting product waste, improving energy efficiency, and reducing plastic and food waste. One team discovered that waste foam, an end-product of our manufacturing, has value in the circular economy. Covestro went on to hire these interns who spearheaded a new revenue-producing recycling operation that has diverted between 8,000 and 10,000 pounds of foam from landfills monthly.
The recycling of mattresses made from flexible polyurethane is a particular focus for Covestro and central to our long-term research partnership with the Mattress Recycling Council California, LLC. Our aim is to advance the circular economy by fostering innovation around mattress recycling and end-of-life processes to expand current applications that make use of recycled polyurethane foam.
Our Start-up Challenge, a global initiative that encourages entrepreneurial thinking among all our employees, provides the top-winning team with up to 1 million euros in start-up capital and one year off from their current day jobs to realize their idea and test marketability. Our latest winners are working on new plastic materials that can contribute to faster charging times for electric vehicle batteries, advancing the sustainable development of the electromobility sector.
In terms of R&D and the environment, our scientists are innovating new ways to use – and reuse carbon. Several years ago, they successfully developed a plastics manufacturing process that allows us to replace crude oil – the raw material that creates CO2 – with CO2 itself. With this new process, we’re harnessing waste CO2 and integrating it back into the production chain to make a new kind of flexible polyurethane foam for mattresses and furniture. The process increases the productivity of carbon and shows it is an asset that can drive growth and innovation.
In addition, our scientists are looking at plant-based materials, known as biomass, as another raw material that can replace fossil fuels in the manufacturing process.
Our collaborations with third-party organizations are also helping to drive sustainable practices in our industry and in local communities, such as Pittsburgh, our US headquarters. One such collaboration is CEOs for Sustainability. Together with Sustainable Pittsburgh and WindStax, Covestro is a co-founder of this peer group of senior executives who support and guide sustainability best practices for businesses throughout Southwest Pennsylvania. CEOs actively working to increase the number of businesses that practice, measure and publicly report their sustainable business performance. The growing initiative represents a diverse group of companies, ranging from trucking, renewables, hospitality and chemicals, among others.
Covestro has also helped our industry organization, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), develop a set of sustainability principles, around which member companies have made a unified commitment to advance safe and innovative chemical products that accelerate sustainability, while doing more to manage their footprint. In 2019, the ACC announced three new goals for its plastics division including a commitment by US plastics producers to recycle or recover all plastic packaging used in the United States by 2040.
Marine debris is another important issue for plastic manufacturers. Covestro is part of Operation Clean Sweep, a marine debris stewardship program administered by the ACC and other plastic associations around the world. We have taken a global pledge to keep plastic resin pellets from entering the waterways through proper containment, reclamation and/or disposal.
One of our signature social responsibility initiatives is THINC30, a community-wide event we created in 2017 to help drive the 17 UN SDGs locally in Pittsburgh. At THINC30, stakeholders come together – leaders from the business, academic, government, philanthropic and nonprofit communities, as well as engaged citizens – to learn about the goals, embrace them and begin to act on them.
THINC30 takes different forms – annual summits, mid-year meetings and periodic think tanks. All are designed to use the UN SDGs to advance the region’s growth and prosperity in a responsible, sustainable way. And to bring everyone’s voice to the table, including and especially those whose voices are not always heard.
The Covestro Center for Community Engagement is another one of our centerpiece social programs. The center trains Covestro employees and those of companies throughout the Pittsburgh region in skills-based volunteerism (SBV). SBV involves teams of employees applying their expertise and competencies to solve specific challenges facing nonprofits and municipalities, whether in IT, management, finance or marketing. It also includes longer-term board service commitments. With SBV, employees help nonprofits and municipalities – whose work aligns with the UN SDGs – to scale up and become sustainable.
Rebecca is speaking at our upcoming Responsible Business Summit New York alongside senior practitioners from the likes of; BlackRock, VF Corp, UN Environment, ABN AMRO, Unilever, General Mills, Newmont, Kellogg’s, KKR and HP to name a few. The summit is USA's premier event focused on providing frank and honest discussions on how business can take action now, to deliver against the 2030/2050 goals. Click here for more information