AkzoNobel sets course for zero carbon emissions and 100% renewable energy by 2050

By André Veneman, Corporate Director Sustainability

Zero carbon emissions and 100% renewable energy: a risk or an opportunity? Renewable energy in the form of solar, wind, or bio power is becoming increasingly affordable. That creates an opportunity for us to transform our business in ways that will have positive impacts on society, the environment and the economy.

We started our journey towards a sustainable business in 2003 at a time when the discussion around carbon emissions and the impact on climate change generated plenty of controversial opinions:

  1. When environmentalists first began to claim that climate change would have serious impacts on society and therefore also business, skeptics said that proof was lacking and high costs would make change too risky.
    We learned that climate change will indeed impact our business, and so we focused on finding business opportunities in this change.
  2. When environmentalists began to recommend that businesses like ours quantify and report climate change contributions across value chains and take action to reduce these contributions, skeptics said that these disclosures could make us vulnerable to criticism and put us at a competitive disadvantage.
    We learned that analyzing emissions across the entire value chain is the best way to reduce emissions, as well as cut costs and drive operational excellence. Our specialists have worked together with environmentalists and NGOs in developing and implementing appropriate assessment methodologies.
  3. When environmentalists suggested that reviewing the raw materials and energy we buy would reveal opportunities to increase resource productivity and energy efficiency, skeptics countered that to keep up with the competition, we should focus on sourcing raw materials and energy at the lowest price.
    We learned that through unique partnership models, we can accelerate developments in renewable raw materials as well as become leaders in renewable energy solutions.
  4. When environmentalists proclaim that climate efficient solutions can result in increased revenue, skeptics suggest that customers will not be interested.
    We learned that in-depth discussions with our customers and their customers have resulted in accelerated product and service innovations that save energy and raw materials for our customers

Navigating through these evolving differences in mindset, we can conclude that focusing on carbon emissions and innovative energy solutions throughout the value chain is helping us drive innovation, find new business models, differentiate ourselves from our peers and support our risk mitigation.

We are now ready for the next step on our sustainability journey: using sustainability to drive our business transition.

The way has thus far been paved by public -private partnerships between companies and governments prepared to support the introduction of new technologies, with the objective of stimulating their innovation agendas, employment, resource efficiency and economic growth.

Private-private partnerships between industry consortia and renewable energy producers are also moving fast, resulting in power purchasing agreements in Europe, Asia and North America. Such partnerships have already enabled us to source renewable energy equivalent to that consumed by several millions of households.

Thanks to these partnerships, the cost of renewable energy is at – or even below – the cost of fossil energy from the grid.

Until recently, many energy intensive companies like us believed we would always need fossil fuel capacity to guarantee adequate energy for our operations, and could only increase our share of renewable energy to 70 or 80%. What if, we thought, the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine.

Now, we see opportunities to produce abundant renewable energy in a cost competitive way – enough energy to cover all existing operations plus excess energy that can be stored, for instance by producing hydrogen or synthetic gas.  Our industry masters the production of hydrogen for fuel cells, imagine the opportunities  to  become the batteries that provide energy for all.

In this new phase, partnerships are forging a path to abundant renewable energy. We can create a win-win-win situation for society, the environment and our own finances.

Embracing the opportunities presented by climate change has helped AkzoNobel to increase its share of renewable energy from 30% in 2012 to 40% today. And we are confident that we will achieve our 45% target in 2020 and our 100% target long before 2050.