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Sustainability Goes Mainstream in the Chemical Industry

The ICIS Genomatica 2014 survey

The ICIS/Genomatica survey

A recently conducted ICIS/Genomatica survey among respondents in the chemical industry has revealed some interesting statistics. There is a strong movement among distributors and chemical producers to increase their engagement in sustainability-related issues, and to make greater use of renewable resources. These changes are being brought about by end customers seeking more sustainable products and other downstream users making demands on chemical companies. Renewable-based production initiatives are also attributed to things like strategic flexibility, safer operations and the performance-enhancing advantages inherent in this new way of producing chemical products. Sustainability is now an integral component of the chemical industry. In fact, statistics point to just 9% of respondents having no plans for sustainable initiatives in the next 5 years. And overall, just 13% of companies have a minor interest in sustainable initiatives.

Business Priorities When It Comes to Sustainability

The ICIS/Genomatica survey revealed other important statistics from chemical industry companies. 31% said that they do promote and market sustainable products, 18% are active on sustainability issues, 18% are engaging with sustainability-conscious customers, 11% of chemical companies believe that sustainability is not a top priority, 10% feel that they have an ability to respond to questions about issues related to sustainability, and 9% wish to raise their public profile on sustainability issues. In terms of chemical product offerings on sustainability issues, 31% plan to offer more sustainable versions, 14% will do so within one year, 27% will do so within two years, 13% will not offer sustainable versions of chemical products, and 16% have no plans as yet. In terms of rationale for renewable-based production, customer demand is the overwhelming factor with a 68% importance rate. Safer operations also come in at 68%.

Sustainability-Related Trends Emerging in the Chemical Industry

36% of chemical producers surveyed said that their customers have taken an interest in sustainably-produced chemical products within the last year. 10% of those respondents say that customer interest is now significantly higher. Overall, 62% of respondents in the survey said that customers have shown an interest in sustainably-produced chemical products. These trends are part of a much larger trend that was first uncovered in the 2009 surveys, and then again in 2012 surveys. Key areas where green chemical products are being requested include engineering plastics, personal care and plastics packaging. Customers are also looking for polymers that use renewable feedstocks and specialty chemicals. The move to green chemical production methods is largely borne out of improved processes by way of reduced energy usage as a number one priority. However, some of the main issues in bio-based chemical production are reliability of the supply of feedstock (58% of respondents), the predictability of the cost of feedstock (37%) and the consistency of feedstock quality (32%).

Big Chemical Companies Lead Sustainable Production Efforts

960 participants were surveyed, a significant uptick from the 700 that were surveyed in 2012. Sustainability is also gaining traction with smaller companies, as evidenced by a larger proportion of distributors of smaller companies. In the survey, 22% of respondents were in North America, 24% in Europe, 17% in south-east Asia and 10% across the Middle East. 62% of companies had turnovers less than $550 million and 17% of companies surveyed had turnovers in excess of $5 billion. The most widely recognised sustainability conscious companies include the top 3 – Dow Chemical, DuPont and BASF. Other leading companies include Exxon Mobile, Genomatica, Shell and Bayer.

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