Insights from one of our most forward-thinking clients on how they are finding opportunities in the big sustainability challenges.
We spoke to Henning Bloech, Global Director, Sustainable Solutions at Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials (MCAM), about sustainable plastics, the circular economy and systems change through partnerships.
What does being more ‘sustainable’ mean at MCAM?
Sustainability at MCAM is called KAITEKI, which is defined as “the sustainable wellbeing of people, society and planet Earth,” an original concept of the Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corporation Group. Ultimately this also reflects the triple bottom line: doing right by people and society; the planet and environment; as well as being commercially viable.
In terms of the value chain, MCAM sits right in the middle. We have suppliers who produce raw materials; we then make our products with those materials, and then supply downstream to manufacturers who make parts for sectors including automotive, aerospace and medical devices. This gives us a fantastic opportunity to look at our own impacts around waste and carbon emissions, but also to influence both up and down the value chain, working with suppliers and customers to work towards zero waste and carbon neutrality.
From a social perspective, we want to make sure we are acting responsibly in the markets we operate in: being a positive force in those communities, whilst also making sure our products and operations are safe for employees, customers and other stakeholders.
What sustainability initiatives are you engaging with?
We are a large chemical company producing plastics and polymers, so our first priority is reducing our own waste down towards zero, making sure everything we make can be recycled and exploring strategies to help our customers recycle as well: effectively closing that loop. By using 100% renewable electricity across all our sites; something we have publicly committed to achieving by 2023; and by optimizing our production processes, we are quickly moving towards our goal of carbon neutrality for Scopes 1 and 2 by 2023.
We will also look to influence downstream and upstream: driving wider systems change to help our industry move towards eliminating waste and reducing carbon emissions. A big focus for us is the circular economy, and how we keep materials in use longer and create circular systems for waste along the value chain.
What specific targets or commitments have you made?
We have outlined a very ambitious and comprehensive set of targets that ladder up to us being climate neutral for Scopes 1 and 2 by 2023 and being climate positive for Scopes 1,2 and relevant Scope 3 categories by 2030.
Some of the main points are:
- Renewable energy procurement to reach 100% by 2023
- Energy efficiency measures in our global operations that achieve a minimum 15% reduction by 2025 compared to a 2015 baseline
- Commit to ZERO plastic waste to landfill, as well as overall waste and water usage reduction by at least 20% each by 2025, compared to a 2015 baseline
- Compensate by investing in certified, high-quality carbon offsets when emissions are unavoidable
You can read about our full set of targets here.
What are some of the specific challenges the plastics industry faces in the quest to become more sustainable?
The big one is looking at the whole supply chain: how our products are carbon based materials, made with oil - or sometimes bio-materials - so we have a big job to transition to a carbon neutral supply chain. For example, we are looking to develop materials and business models built on circular economy principles, where waste can be eliminated, minimized, reused or recycled.
Another big challenge for us is the ‘use phase’ of these materials. Our materials can be ‘passed down’ the value chain two or three times. For example, a plastic material that ends up as a part, which ends up in an engine, which ends up in a car. It is very difficult to identify the end of life of our products and bring them back into a circular system. This is an enormous challenge for the whole plastics industry to tackle, along with many other industries and of course consumers too.
What innovations in your sector excite you most and give you most hope?
We are using highly advanced polymers to make parts that make things lighter, last longer and use less energy. Some of these materials will be essential to reducing carbon impacts across industries: for example, by making vehicles more efficient, or perhaps improving battery life. And when we work together to make these materials part of a circular system, we know we can make a real difference by partnering with our customers on these kinds of innovations.
There are also some major advances in transparency and reporting: making sure every stage of a production and usage journey is documented, tracked and reported, including the return of the used materials or material waste into the supply chain. And it’s exciting to see how we can use technologies like improved software solutions and blockchain technology to make sure a material is exactly what is claimed, and that it can have its environmental impacts tracked all the way through the value chain.
Circularity is the other area which brings us a lot of hope. The idea has been around for a while, but now we’re starting to see really strong commercial arguments for circularity. Some of the innovations in mechanical and chemical recycling mean we can recycle materials and get the same quality of product back at the end, ready for re-use, and we can do this again and again. We’re really excited about these prospects.
Are you finding commercial growth opportunities in sustainability? What do these look like?
One of our pillars is to be commercially sustainable and profitable in order to fund all the innovations we’re talking about. But it’s increasingly the case that achieving sustainability - becoming net zero - is going to determine your right to operate. So in this way environmental sustainability is the only path that enables long-term profitability and growth.
What role do you think communications and marketing has to play in sustainability?
We still need to get product and market fit right. We have to deliver sustainable products that customers actually want. And then we need to communicate this in the right way and help educate customers about how these products are changing and how they will work with their businesses. There is clearly a key role for communications to play here.
However, we do need to avoid a greenwashing scenario, so it’s always vital to ensure transparency and honesty, by asking: ‘is this true, is this the whole story, are my claims verifiable?’ So communicating with a wide range of stakeholders is really important and helps us to drive the wider systems change we need to see across our industries.
When selecting partners to work with - such as agencies and tech suppliers - how important is sustainability to your choices?
When we look for partners, sustainability plays a big part in who we choose, and partnerships are key to hitting our sustainability goals. We need to partner with so many organisations across industries and sectors to make this happen. For example, we’re not embedded in the waste business, so in order to develop truly circular economy systems we’ll need to partner with these sorts of businesses to make this vision a reality. This means partnerships across our industry and our customers industries will be increasingly vital to our success.
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