“A company that acts sustainably will also be regarded as more successful in the long term.”
Dr. Matreux, how do you explain within the company that sustainable production is worthwhile for WACKER?
Quite simply, sustainable management has always been in WACKER’s interest. Of course, we want to save energy and raw materials. For example, in 2005, we started reclaiming heat from the chloromethane synthesis. Now that saves us €3 million per year in energy costs. It’s a clear example of how commercial acumen is an important part of a sustainability policy.
So sustainability isn’t just about energy saving?
No, not at all. Besides ecological and social factors, sustainability also involves economic aspects. For us, that means we can only perform sustainable management if we concentrate on the right markets. We must be able to link global megatrends to the issue of sustainability.
Where, for example?
As regards the megatrend of urbanization, we can help to conserve resources so as to maintain the quality of life in our cities. On a global scale, we can see a very strong sustainability trend in the construction industry. There are a large number of eco-labels that are in strong demand, for example, for public buildings. Any self-respecting construction company in this sector employs sustainable building practices. We won’t manage the energy revolution without the chemical industry, either. We are committed to all of tomorrow’s energy-generation and energy-saving technologies, from the solar cell to the new turbo rechargeable battery.
WACKER commits itself to specific energy-saving targets. What does that mean exactly?
Besides initiatives such as electric vehicles in factory transport, we are concentrating on key levers, such as even more efficient production. We want to be saving 1.5 percent energy per year in Germany until 2022. That is very ambitious. But we know exactly where to start. At the same time, we are working on three further concrete environmental targets. In the next ten years, we want to achieve specific reductions in greenhouse gases, dust emissions and volatile organic compounds.
Doesn’t product development already have to be sustainable in that case?
Of course it does, and we have to scrutinize innovations for their sustainability. We are examining the impact of our new products on the environment and society, throughout the entire product lifecycle. In this way, we can analyze precisely how sustainable our innovation portfolio is.
Can’t the market regulate that by itself?
In my view, we can’t depend on that. For example, we have a list of about 300 substances in product development that are no longer used at WACKER. They not only include forbidden chemicals, but also substances that are the subject of heated public debate. We deliberately shun these substances out of a sense of responsibility to our employees and customers.
And is that sufficient to be sustainable?
No. Being sustainable also means that we must take indirect responsibility beyond the confines of our company. It includes all the stages in the supply chain. Starting from purchasing, through production and use, to the question of what remains of our products at the end of their useful life. For example, whether they can be recycled or whether they must be landfilled. The question of indirect responsibility has become ever more important in recent years.
How do you want to better integrate your suppliers into ecology issues and social responsibility?
These factors play an important role in assessing suppliers. We are in dialogue with our suppliers about this.
And then what? How can you persuade a supplier to change things?
If we feel there’s room for improvement, then we work together with the supplier on his standards. In practical terms, that means that in the USA, for example, we will be visiting all external waste-disposal companies in 2013. Our environmental experts are there on the spot and can immediately raise any points where we feel that things could be done better. We’ve already been doing that for a long time in Germany. We don’t simply wash our hands of the matter, in the knowledge that the legal responsibility lies with our contractual partners.
Do the same standards apply to WACKER worldwide?
We don’t just adopt all the industrial environmental standards prescribed under German law without examining them ourselves. Here, too, we also have to consider economic aspects and local requirements. After all, we must also remain competitive in a particular region as well as globally. In principle, we have the same standard all over the world as regards all the essential points.
You guarantee these standards?
Our customers are welcome to inspect our production sites in other parts of the world, whether in India, Brazil or anywhere else. We don’t have a problem with that.
Are the investors interested in such standards?
Yes, increasingly so. Investors nowadays not only want to make a good profit, but also to have a good conscience, knowing that they are investing in companies that take responsibility for society and the environment. These questions are examined by analysts, who draw up rankings for investors. It is not just a matter of looking for the risks that a company has. It’s more a matter of the business opportunities offered by climate protection and the efficient use of energy and raw materials. And it’s also a question of how attractive a company is as an employer and business partner if it deals fairly with employees, suppliers and customers. In short, a company that acts sustainably will also be regarded as more successful in the long term.”
Do you sometimes have the feeling that, after all is said and done, your work serves as a fig leaf for everything to do with sustainability?
Fortunately not. Our management knows how important it is to design processes sustainably. At WACKER, that is a question of core values. Sustainability offers benefits and therefore cannot be delegated to others. We have an integrated understanding of sustainability. That means that we take sustainability into account even with the first development steps towards a product, and the planning of a new plant. I want to ensure that sustainability is even more highly regarded as an opportunity for the company in future. I’m glad to promote this view.
What is WACKER’s position today?
That’s a good question. We regard sustainable management as a development process, in which we have already achieved a lot, but where we still have some challenges ahead. We have conducted lifecycle analyses for the main products of WACKER POLYMERS. One milestone, certainly, is the “Corporate Carbon Footprint,” our CO2 balance for the entire Group, which we have just calculated for the second time. However, because we make so much use of our integrated production system, it is not easy to assign energy consumption or CO2 emissions to individual products.
Do you mean that not all the figures are available?
Most companies spend several years analyzing the carbon dioxide emissions along the entire supply chain before they publish their figures. We haven’t reached that stage yet. So far, we have calculated our direct greenhouse gas emissions and our indirect emissions from bought-in energy. Now we’re working on our emissions generated along the supply chain – for example, by suppliers or through waste disposal and the transportation of products.
But all the data will be known in five years?
Even in five years, we won’t have lifecycle analyses for our more than 3,000 products. That wouldn’t make economic sense. We are working through bodies such as the German construction chemicals association (Deutsche Bauchemie), the European Silicone Center CES, and other organizations in preparing lifecycle analyses and product carbon footprint data. But Im sure that, after these efforts, we will have our own lifecycle analyses for our principal product lines.
A grueling task. What makes this job so extensive for you?
I enjoy the complexity of the subject matter. It’s fantastic – the many different facets, questions and, of course, contact with so many different people. I find it most satisfying when I can set something in motion, and then see it develop its own momentum.