media release

First European HSE/CSR Conference

Akzo Nobel staged its first European HSE/CSR Conference last week, when health, safety and the environment, along with Corporate Social Responsibility, were high on the agenda.

Since coming to office last year, CEO Hans Wijers has made clear his determination to put the Akzo Nobel brand more firmly on the international map. He has moved quickly to establish a step-by step strategy aimed at establishing a strong balance sheet, upgrading the business portfolio and improving the company’s standing as a responsible and decent organization.

During his address to the 120 participants at the recent Antwerp event, Wijers (pictured) said he had no doubts the company could be both sustainable and profitable. One area he singled out in particular was the need to work on winning more respect for a single and well-respected brand name.

“We have fantastic technologies, fantastic products. Fantastic examples of best practices. But we don’t communicate them to all our employees or to the outside world,” he told the delegates.

“We don’t shout from the rooftops that we are a Fortune 500 company. I think that is a mistake, because you need to tell people what your identity is and what you have achieved in areas such as CSR and HSE.”

He added that while the company stood on the cusp of a “turning point for growth”—all the ingredients were present with all three groups well positioned—there were areas management had singled out for particular attention, such as stronger corporate governance, a better and more transparent CSR and HSE performance, and a far better human resources effort.

“This is an area where we really can improve because it really is about performance management and people,” he added. “We also need to improve our internal communications, which needs to become more sophisticated. We want an “open” not a “whispering” culture. And we are not achieving the synergies to get the best value out of people.”

Coherent company
Human resource management was a top priority in building a single and coherent company and in creating a “talent factory”, Wijers continued, pointing out that several surveys in the past had indicated that Akzo Nobel had to improve its performance in that area. He added that there would be no “compromise” in the pursuit of a better HR performance.

The first day of the two-day conference included presentations and workshops on key elements of the business case for strong HSE performance and sustainable practices, including embedding HSE practice at all levels of an organization; how eco-efficiency tools can contribute to sustainable business; how root cause analysis can benefit safety performance; embedding CSR in leadership practice and, lastly, on the importance of sustainable development in today’s business world.

One of the key speakers, Paul Tebo—who is described in the industry as the “hero of zero” because of his dedication to the elimination of health, safety and environmental risks during his time at U.S. chemicals company DuPont—spoke about the need to proactively “engage” stakeholders such as NGOs on issues such as sustainable growth, energy consumption, pollution and waste reduction.

He cited his former company as a good example of how a company can improve its image from one of “smokestack polluter” to leading advocate of sustainable growth by fully embracing HSE and sustainability as fundamental elements of any business plan.

Day two included presentations on the implications of the REACH chemicals program, product stewardship and energy efficiency, and the importance of internal and external communications for CSR, as well as various workshops on key HSE and CSR issues in Akzo Nobel.

(Released: December 6, 2004)