Climate neutrality: The big picture
It feels good to be part of a highly capable team playing an active role in working toward this significant target. We have the advantage of being able to aim for very visible and well-defined achievements with our clear climate strategy. For example, we have recently reached another milestone at our Antwerp site. With the official opening of a plant that breaks down harmful nitrous oxide, we are cutting another 150,000 metric tons of CO2 from our carbon footprint. This amounts to around 5 percent of our entire emissions – with just one plant!
It also feels good to be in my role because we are doing the right thing in view of the consequences of climate change, which are plain to see all around us. Droughts, record temperatures, floods – all these things may have taken a back seat to the coronavirus to a certain extent but that doesn’t mean they have gone away.
You mention in your climate strategy that protecting the climate is a business case. Can you explain that in a little more detail?
It's quite simple. When we install the latest climate protection technologies in our plants, we are upgrading them, just as you would be as a consumer in your personal life if you were to replace an oil-fired heating system in your house with a ground-source heat pump or the like, for instance. Then there is the fact that many of our plants participate in European emissions trading. This means that when we cut our emissions, we can purchase surplus emission certificates.
Our climate strategy also makes us a more sustainable partner to our customers, which gives us an edge on the competition as well.
Other companies are being more ambitious than LANXESS and aiming to achieve climate-neutrality sooner. Why 2040 and not 2030?
It helps to look at this in detail.
How much does a company produce in terms of emissions, and how much energy does it consume? And how easily can it reduce its emissions? It makes a big difference whether you're talking about a company in the service sector, such as a bank or an insurance company, or a global chemical company like LANXESS, with production sites on six continents.
Just as important is to ask how exactly is carbon neutrality to be achieved? Are emissions merely going to be "neutralized" through carbon offsetting? Or is the company really going to change its processes and invest in environmentally friendly technology? "Neutral" does not always mean the same thing.
LANXESS has put forward a clear schedule for becoming climate-neutral by 2040, with specific projects based on available technologies. There are some technologies that we can already make use of now, but others still need to be developed, approved and implemented. All of this takes time.
You often talk about the support that LANXESS needs from government to hit its target. Are you trying to find loopholes?
First of all, we have good and constructive lines of communication with local authorities and political representatives at our locations, and that applies at federal and state level as well. But we also try and get across in a clear and matter-of-fact way exactly what kind of framework we need in order to achieve climate-neutrality.
Take approval processes, for example. If we are to implement innovative climate technologies rapidly in practice, we need simplified and streamlined approval processes and the right financial and tax structures.
Consider climate-neutral energy supplies. We need renewable energy in sufficient quantities and at competitive prices. Chemical value chains are highly cost-sensitive, and so minor changes are sometimes all it takes to make it impossible to break even in the production of a particular substance. This can set in motion a kind of domino effect that renders entire value chains unprofitable.
Emissions produced in the value chain – known as Scope 3 emissions – are not part of your Climate Neutral 2040 initiative so far. Why not?
We actually have yet to define a specific target for these emissions, but this is something that we are working very hard to do.
The first question is what are the biggest single contributors to emissions in chemical value chains?
As far as LANXESS is concerned, there are emissions lying dormant in the form of carbon trapped in raw materials in particular. Generating them often takes a lot of energy, and this power use needs to be made climate-neutral in the future.
Another big factor is that carbon sequestered in products is released again during disposal through processes such as incineration or decomposition. So it is crucial here that we stop disposing of products and recycle them instead. Moreover, we need to do that better than we do now, because conventional mechanical recycling usually tends to involve a loss of quality as things stand. What we need is "chemical recycling" – in other words, breaking products down into their chemical constituents: raw materials!
It will be some time before chemical recycling processes are established and approved. However, we are working hard with partners from the worlds of business, academia and politics on laying the technical and financial groundwork for them.
One final question. When you think about the many young people who are demonstrating their commitment to protecting the climate, what is your message to them?
They should be incredibly proud of themselves and their generation – they have achieved a lot and prompted a great many people to change their views. They are also taking responsibility for protecting the climate to an extent that the generations before them failed to do.
At the same time, I would like to extend an invitation. Let's talk – and why not apply for a job with us and work specifically on climate protection projects at our company? There are few industries that have quite such an exciting role to play in the transformation of our value chain systems as the chemical industry does.