Covestro’s chief sustainability officer, Richard Northcote, said the business was “very fortunate to have a board that has a desire to push the sustainability agenda.
“This is also closely tied to the future development of our company. Our business model is oriented on the constant development of sustainability solutions, for that is precisely what the markets are looking for.”
Covestro had wanted to reduce specific carbon dioxide emissions from its operations by 40% compared with 2005 levels by 2020, but said it had already reduced those emissions by 38.4%, Northcote said.
“We’re positioning ourselves in a sustainable world,” Northcote said. “We need to evolve if we want to take our rightful place in sustainable development. We’ve moved forward considerably.”
Being independent from Bayer – from which it separated last year – had allowed it to have more of an effect, he added: “We’re no longer part of a conglomerate that was driven by health care and crop science.”
The firm will take a big sustainability step in June when it opens a pilot plant making polyols from carbon dioxide at its site in Dormagen, in Germany. This precursor will be used primarily in flexible foam applications such as upholstery and mattresses.
Using carbon dioxide in this way conserves oil and expands the base of raw materials used in the chemical and plastics industries. Using less oil also means fewer processing steps to produce an elastomer, which reduces overall CO2 emissions and energy consumption, officials added.
Northcote said that the financial term return on capital employed should be interpreted as return on carbon employed. “We have a great opportunity to look at the life cycle of a product and see how much carbon was saved,” he added.
The major drop in the price of global oil has hit sustainability programmes by making virgin resins less expensive when compared to recycled materials. But Northcote said that price drop had not impacted Covestro’s sustainability work.
“We expected to see some impact from low oil in polyurethane insulation foam, where energy savings is important, but we really haven’t,” he said.
“The [sustainability] discussion is still on. It’s no longer about the cost of energy, it’s about preventing damage to the environment.
“We need to work up and down the chain and work with others. The amount of investment is on the rise in sustainable products,” he said.