I participated in an Ocean Summit panel discussion today in which people across business, government and NGOs shared how they are finding ways to reduce the plastic that ends up polluting our oceans. It’s not just about physically pulling plastic out of the water – for business, it’s also about the much larger picture across the value chain.
At AkzoNobel, we are asking ourselves how we can do better business and make a positive difference in society. We believe it starts with innovation.
How does plastic end up in the ocean?
It’s estimated that between four and 12 metric tonnes of plastic makes its way into the ocean each year. And a 2016 report predicted that by 2050, the amount of plastic in the sea will outweigh the amount of fish.
But how does this plastic end up in the ocean? Water bottles, plastic bags and drinking straws weren’t even intended for the ocean, so what can we do about it? This example reminds us at AkzoNobel to think about innovation in a more comprehensive way.
We need to look at a product and what it does for our customers in the course of its lifecycle – and where it ends up at the end of its lifecycle. And we need a mechanism for using this information to inform our business decisions.
Creating products with more value
That’s why as we decide how we will grow our business, we are taking into account whether we intend to grow products which have a neutral or even positive impact on society.
For example, we recently launched our Dulux Forest Breath range of indoor decorative paints in China. It contains anti-bacterial properties that improve indoor air quality by absorbing and destroying atmospheric particles such as formaldehyde and benzene. Forest Breath is part of an ongoing transformation within our Decorative Paints business to shift the portfolio towards more water-based and VOC-free products that match the high performance of solvents.
It demonstrates how our innovative process is designed to anticipate and respond to increasing demand for more sustainable, high quality products. And, it’s an example of how generating lasting value in society can drive our business.
Shifting to a circular economy
But to generate global economic growth in a responsible way, we need to make a shift from the linear cradle-to-grave model to a new, circular model. In a circular model, waste, energy and emissions are minimized through measures like sustainable design, reuse, remanufacturing and recycling.
It’s better for the environment. It can increase efficiency and reduce costs. And we have learned that thinking around a circular model drives innovation in a really exciting way.
It results in products like Intersleek, an antifouling coating which protects vessels from the harsh marine environment. It has also been designed to help ships use less fuel and reduce their carbon emissions. Coating the hull is now also an opportunity for operators to think about their overall energy consumption and how they can become more sustainable.
The big picture
Now we need to take this shift further by forming partnerships, like our cooperation with Black Bear. We are now using their recycled car tire carbon black for some of our product offers within the powder business. There are many such opportunities to work with suppliers, customers and other partners to drive carbon emission reduction and policy.
We know that innovations only create long term impact when they respond to market and social needs. So we need to start looking beyond this year’s financial statements. We need to ask ourselves: what will be our legacy in the next 10 or 20 or 50 years?
How can we use innovation to build our business, and to improve society? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments. Let’s put the power of innovation towards cleaning up our oceans and our planet!
Kerstin Stranimaier, Director Planet Possible AkzoNobel