Fighting hard for a sustainable future
What is the sexiest word in business, right now? Expansion? Profitable? Low-cost? True, all are exciting notions. But the one word guaranteed to get the juices flowing is ‘sustainable’.
Human activities are damaging the environment – climate change, resource depletion, carbon emissions – and if we don’t change our ways – sustain and protect the planet – things will only get worse. Hence, products that are ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ are increasingly what sell.
But for businesses to be truly sustainable, it goes beyond that. Powder coatings have strong environmental credentials – no VOCs, low waste, and surprisingly low energy consumption when compared to other industrial coating systems – but we want every part of our business to be sustainable. “It’s more important we produce the right products from the chain point of view,” says Jaap van den Akker, HSE and Sustainability Manager. “That means looking at our raw materials, our energy resources, our waste, how the product is used, and how it ends its life. Not only from a ‘save the planet’ perspective but also for straightforward business reasons: natural resources will get increasingly scarce and thus increasingly expensive.”
AkzoNobel, as a Corporation, has ambitious targets, including: reduction of our carbon footprint by 20-25% by 2020 (based on 2009 levels); eco-efficiency assessments on investments; and a position in the top three of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the Chemicals sector.
How are we going about it? First, we’re putting our own house in order. “Waste reduction is the biggest area we can control,” says Akker. “Every one kilogram of powder-related waste that we reduce means one kilogram less in raw materials which, in turn, means we lower our carbon footprint.” We’re not only recycling unused stock but introducing new technologies to our production lines. These collect the ultrafine waste powder produced during milling, to re-process to the correct particle size. Potentially, this means we can rescue around 2% of powder product – that is being lost each year.
Any waste that can’t be reduced or re-used, we look for an outlet other than landfill. “In Felling, UK, for example, we send it to a composting company,” explains Van den Akker. “Other countries have set up partnerships with cement manufacturers.” In most cases this is done on a “costs neutral” basis; no handling charges to take it away, no price charged for the product.
Our second step to increased sustainability is to go back to the beginning, to our suppliers. “We made an assessment of our carbon footprint and discovered 90% was produced by our raw materials, only 10% in our manufacturing processes,” says Van den Akker. “It becomes critical that we work with suppliers to have them reduce their footprint. In the longer term, we’d like them to move from petrochemicals-based resins to bio-based, which are renewable. In the shorter-term, we’re looking for suppliers that have low CO2 processes”.
Our third step is to help customers improve their processes; for example, more efficient curing ovens or thinner film coatings. Our goal is to produce what we call eco-premium products – that means products that are proven to be more sustainable than competing ones. “The majority of our R&D effort is now focused on developing energy-efficient curing methods,” says Van den Akker. “by reducing bake cycles and/or bake temperatures.”
The key point, however, is that these steps must not be done in isolation. “To do something substantial about sustainability we have to look at the situation ‘before’ and ‘after’ our manufacturing process,” says Van den Akker. “We want to work together with our customers and suppliers towards a common goal.”
At Interpon we’re well established as the local powder coatings market leader with more than 25 years of product development here in Australia to suit our environment.Learn more