How data drives change to reduce our carbon footprint

The importance of data in sustainability can’t be overstated. How can we realize our ambition – for 50% fewer carbon emissions in our own operations and across the value chain by 2030 – if we don’t know how much energy we’re using? 

From producing raw materials, paints and coatings, and to applying and curing our products, having the right data is key to moving us towards that goal. It’s something we’ve focused on for years.

man analyzing data on computer

The importance of data in carbon reduction

“Everything starts with data,” says Lukas Jongkind, Program Manager Carbon Footprint, global Sustainability. “Sustainability is such a complex topic. In my experience, data is what helps us to judge which projects to follow up on, which routes to take and what to focus on – or what not to focus on.”

An example he gives is transport: “A lot of our colleagues think transport is one of the largest contributors to the carbon footprint of the products we supply, but the impact is generally not that large. It only accounts for roughly 2% of the total carbon footprint of a typical product.”

In fact, he says, the processes our suppliers go through to make the materials we buy from them have a much larger impact – around 50%. Clearly, then, that’s an important area to consider – but so is what happens further down the value chain.

If we want our customers to make sustainable product choices, and if they’re focusing on reducing their own carbon footprint, then we need to supply them with relevant data in turn. It’s about collaboration from start to finish.

Sharing is caring

“The practice of sharing data throughout the value chain is one of the most important developments in sustainability,” explains Lukas. “Where previously sharing data was something companies were reluctant to do, we now see their willingness is increasing. It’s an overhyped word, but it’s a holistic process – if we make a change to a product formulation, then we have to make sure it has a lower carbon footprint from the cradle to the grave, from upstream in the value chain to downstream. That’s why sharing and aligning on data is so important.

Ideally, sharing data will become commonplace. Joining existing frameworks together so that quality information is readily accessible might take some time, but it’s a move that would make the process easier.

It’s something our customers are becoming aware of, too. Job Coenen, Senior Program Manager Sustainability, global Sustainability, says customers are increasingly asking for specific, detailed carbon footprint data about the products they buy from us.

“It’s important we are able to explain to our customers the benefits of paints and coatings with lower carbon footprints both for their own calculations and because of how this could impact their own customers,” he says. “And we also need information from them in turn. One of the challenges, for example, is to get specific data from a customer on the energy they use in curing our coatings. This is where we try to educate and collaborate, for example with monitoring equipment to collect data we can analyze and then make joint conclusions on where improvements can be made.” 


A learning experience

One step we’re taking is to teach our own employees the importance of capturing data and information that can be used to improve our energy transition and process efficiency systems, as well as how to present our own data in turn. Training is taking place with R&D, marketing and salespeople, covering subjects such as how to approach data collection in a proactive way.

“One thing we have is our sustainable product portfolio assessment (SPPA), in which we clearly identify which products and solutions either have or contribute to a lower carbon footprint,” says Job. “If our people need to know where they can find lower carbon products, that information is for the most part already accessible in our business. That helps them understand what is available and they can then guide customers in their choices to help them achieve their carbon footprint reduction goals and our own ambitious targets.”


Ultimately, data plays a key role in our sustainability strategy. Lukas says: “We have a central role. We’re trying to integrate sustainability in everything we do day to day, so that means looking at how we can make sure everyone has access to all the sustainability data they need and how we can ensure it flows through the value chain.

“Everyone can help, in either gathering data or using it. What I hope is that everyone within AkzoNobel can be an ambassador for carbon reduction, whether they work with formulating more sustainable coatings, creating marketing material to ensure customers understand why they should buy lower carbon products, or going out there and selling products that will help our customers lower their carbon footprint. 

“Our employees should know why and how we are working on carbon reduction – it’s quite a journey ahead, but I’m confident we’ll get there. And it all starts with the data behind it.” 

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