Mon, Jun 11, 2018 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Sustainability is sound for business

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

Covestro AG chief sustainability officer Richard Northcote speaks during an interview at the company’s branch office in Taipei on Monday.

Photo: Lin Chia-nan, Taipei Times

“To say we have a war on plastics is not strictly correct,” said Richard Northcote, chief sustainability officer at German plastics maker Covestro AG, when asked how the company is dealing with the global trend of plastics reduction.

“I don’t think plastic production is reducing. I think it will increase and has to increase,” he said.

“There is no reason to fear plastics,” because the energy required and environmental damage caused by mineral exploitation would be more stunning if people continue to rely on steel, aluminum, glass and rare materials to produce products, he said.

Northcote discussed his company’s views on sustainability and plastic pollution with the Taipei Times on Monday during a visit to Taipei for European Innovation Week.

What the company tries to do is to offer products of higher value while reducing the amount of single-use plastics and plastic waste, and it believes “zero plastics” should enter landfills and the oceans, he said.

Formerly known as Bayer MaterialScience, the company was spun off from its parent company on Sept. 1, 2015. It develops light and energy-efficient materials for aircraft and automobiles as well as mattresses and insulation foam.

The first round-the-globe flight by the Swiss solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse 2 was funded by Covestro, which offered light-weight and heat-insulation materials for the plane.

The company’s growth is coupled to its sustainability campaigns, which include a pledge to align 80 percent of its research and development project spending to address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2025. The SDGs are part of the UN’s 2030 agenda, proposed in 2015, which includes 169 underlying targets.

All of the 17 SDGs are important, but “if we don’t get the 13th goal, ‘climate action, right, you can forget the other ones,” Northcote said.

Asked if he has encountered any challenges in promoting sustainability, he said it did take some convincing, but they have proved “there is a business case” behind what they do.

“The first thing we have adopted was known as the triple bottom line. So instead of just looking at profit as the driver, we look at people, planet and profit,” he said.

The company seeks to replace old technologies harmful to the environment with new ones that are better for society and the environment, he said.

Considering many nations have committed to achieve the SDGs, the sustainability agenda for the company is a “good map for growth,” he said.

Taiwan could be said to be a “beacon in Asia” for its promotion of a circular economy and alternative energy sources, especially regarding its achievements in waste disposal and recycling, which all tie in with the SDGs, he said.

China’s environmental awareness is rising as well, seeing as this year it stopped importing certain types of waste from foreign countries, while its long-term vision for the planet is positive, he said, adding the mentality of a government is essential for promoting sustainability.

“When we evolved into being Covestro, we had the chance to press the reset button” and adopt a different approach that encourages partnership and transparency, Northcote said.

Using the term transparency means the company would properly license its intellectual properties and share resources with its partners, which allows it to maximize its impact, he said.

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