Taking a 360° approach to sustainability: possibilities from the chemical industry
Most of what we do and everything we perceive involves chemistry. Hearing, seeing, tasting, and touching… all are made possible by intricate series of chemical reactions and interactions. Because it is so ubiquitous, chemistry plays an important role in ensuring the future of the planet.
Dr. Yvonne Zhang, Head of Sustainability Transformation at Clariant, outlines how Clariant is accelerating a transformation of its portfolio to meet society’s sustainability challenges. With strong understanding of chemistry and the resources to make chemical innovation, the chemical industry is pivotal to environmental sustainability. For World Environment Day on 5 June, we explore some examples of the ways in which Clariant, a company active in various market segments, is researching and providing a multitude of solutions for achieving these goals.
Every single component of a consumer product may affect the environment. That is why Clariant innovates to develop not only new chemical ingredients, but also to deliver the same high-performing ingredients that also deliver on sustainability. Take the newly launched VITA surfactants as an example – these lend themselves to a variety of applications from home and personal care to industrial lubricants and crop protection. The VITA range have low CO2 footprints and can in turn reduce the CO2 footprint of a consumer product in which they are included by up to 85%. Unlike common surfactants based on petroleum, VITA surfactants are made using sugar cane or corn as raw material. As the chemical formula of the plant-based VITA products matches that of existing Clariant surfactants substituting them into established production processes is easy.
Trusting in nature
In a wider sense, focusing on nature is also a great way for a company like Clariant to innovate, particularly in the personal care segment. This segment was one of the first to shift to the use and inclusion of natural and naturally-derived ingredients. Focusing on nature, especially in personal care, is a great way to innovate, as plant-based ingredients in particular, can offer strong performance in personal care, while also having generally lower lifecycle emissions than synthetic alternatives. In focusing on highly performant natural ingredients Clariant can also deliver to the increased consumer desire for natural personal care products. Understanding of chemistry, and partnerships with experts enable the company to harness the power of nature – by identifying and narrowing down specific molecules with proven scientific activity.
For instance, Clariant partners with Plant Advanced Technologies to make use of the newest technologies, in this case Plant Milking. The innovative method respects biodiversity and the environment by focusing on soilless aeroponic cultivation that “milks” the same plants several times a year. Plant cultivation and production of the active take place at the same location, enabling 100% traceability from seed to active ingredient.
Solid formats for consumer care
Consumers certainly display increased interest in changing their purchasing and consumption habits. In personal and home care, this trend is confirmed by increased market attention interest and sales of solid products and formats. Solid formats have the potential to change the game – as concentrates, most often entirely water-free, these formats require less packaging per unit use. In addition, they open the door to plastic-free packaging.
By providing personal care ingredients such as waxes and surfactants for solid formats Clariant helps to enable the creation of such formats – another way in which we can contribute to reduced impact further down the value chain. In doing so, the company further supports consumers who are searching for solutions that permit them to change their consumption habits and, thus, reduce their own impact. The beauty of being a company active across several segments, is that Clariant can make circularity one of the central elements of its sustainability strategy, going beyond the world of consumer care.
Going full circle
In considering how we can “Go full circle”, we consider the topic of packaging, for which we also provide solutions. One of the major problems with plastic packaging is that most of it is not recycled properly. Bioplastics may play an important role in changing this and reaching a circular economy. “Taking bio-based plastics mainstream can be very beneficial for the industry,” explains Manuel Mueller, Head of Market Segment Plastics, “these materials may help cut our dependency on fossil oil and gas.”
To help transition from the current ‘make, use, dispose of’ mentality, Clariant, provides a wide range of bio-based additives. Collaborating with business partners such as Floreon, to integrate new benefits to plant-based plastic solutions, Clariant supports the industry in meeting targets to increase biopolymers and recycled content in products. The range of sustainable, practically 100% renewable, non-food bio-additive solutions is labelled Vita. Biopolymers carrying this designator provide new possibilities for plastic packaging for both single-use and durable applications as they are viable, low carbon footprint alternatives to fossil-based plastics.
A circular economy can, however, only be achieved if the entire value chain is taken into consideration. Neither a single innovation nor one company on its own will ever solve the global plastics challenge. That is why Clariant launched the EcoCircle initiative which supports the transition from a one-way plastics value chain to a circular plastics economy. The aim is to identify the most sustainable and viable solutions for a circular plastics economy and provide the required specialty. Closing the loop requires teamwork across different industries. That is why EcoCircle also works towards connecting industry partners and bringing together people, ideas, and stakeholders along the entire value chain.