This year marks the tenth anniversary of Trinseo. During that time, the company has firmly embarked on what it describes as an ‘ambitious, measurable, and achievable longer-term sustainability journey. Sustainable Plastics talked to Walter van het Hof, Global Industry Affairs and Sustainability Leader at Trinseo, about what that means
You joined Trinseo in 2017. Was corporate sustainability on the agenda at Trinseo at that point?
Sustainability has been embedded into Trinseo’s core values since our inception, and over the past 10 years, we’ve made re-markable progress furthering our commitments to protecting society, the environment, our employees, and our communities. When I joined Trinseo, the business had just released its 2018 Sustainability CSR Report which profiled how our products were helping customers improve their own sustain-ability in areas such as vehicle lightweighting, green tire technologies, media device design flexibility, LED horticulture lighting and more. Today, Trinseo is continuing to lead the industry in these areas but we have gone even further in our sustainability journey. At Trinseo, we believe that the future, both for plastics and for our business, depends upon achieving a circular economy in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the most potential value from them while in use, and recovering and regenerating materials at the end of each service life. We’re making enormous progress in this direction through initiatives such as Styrenics Circular Solutions, and Operation Clean Sweep. Our work does not end there though: Trinseo is committed to rethinking sustainability; considering different business models, and pushing to truly close the loop on circularity. This does not just mean aiding the collection and recycling process for plastics but also looking at the sustainability of raw materials, the production process and even logistics.
Embedding sustainability in a corporate culture: is that a top-down or bottom-up process? What are the challenges?
In truth, sustainability for Trinseo sits somewhere in the middle. Sustainability is an area of business we take very seriously – indeed, it occupies a primary place on our board and like other businesses in the plastics value chain, sustainability encompasses system-level changes driven by policy and operational directives. For that reason you could say that we have a top-down culture, but in reality, Trinseo’s goal is to influence policy through behaviour, which could be considered more of a bottom-up approach. When we discussed our Sustainability Goal setting for the years ahead, it was important that we were not merely ‘ticking a box,‘ but that we were moving towards a unified effort to drive real progress in sustainability both throughout the Trinseo business and throughout the value chain. We wanted our goals to motivate everyone throughout the company to continuously do better; go further, and challenge ourselves to create a more sustainable future. At Trinseo, we believe that the future, both for plastics and for our business, depends upon achieving a circular economy in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the most potential value from them while in use, and recovering and regenerating materials at the end of each service life.
This means we must commit to sustainability in every action we take; from large-scale strategies delivered top-down to bottom-up influences, such as being cognizant of electricity use or using recyclable coffee cups. This essentially brings both management techniques together, converging somewhere in the middle, with operations leading efficiency, EHS delivering on environmental targets, sustainability reporting across the organisation and the long term objectives of sustainability influencing financial decisions for the better.
Does Trinseo have a sustainability roadmap or specific goals? Are there any particular priorities?
Trinseo has very recently published our 2020 Sustainability Report, which follows the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines for public sustainability reporting. This was launched together with our 2030 Sustainability Goals, which we have set together as an organisation, to drive more sustainable processes over the next ten years. Using key insights from stakeholder engagement, our materiality assessment, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and peer company sample goals by topic area, our Sustainability Council developed strategic, ambitious, and achievable goals for a more sustainable and responsible business.
Fifteen goals were identified within five categories:
• Climate Change: Creating strategies to help address energy, greenhouse gas (GHG), and climate change as a critical societal and environmental challenge
• Sustainable Product Portfolio: Focusing our business and innovation to incorporate sustainability into our product offerings to customers
• Supplier Responsibility: Extending our commitments to our suppliers, vendors, and value chain partners
• Responsible Operations: Reducing the environmental footprint of our operations globally
• Sustainable Workforce: Meeting societal expectations to live out our values of safety, respect for people, and employee engagement
This is the roadmap we will be following across our organisation throughout the next decade, and we will review our progress and achievements each year.
What do you think has been the most meaningful achievement to date?
Throughout my time at Trinseo, the business has made such positive advances in sustainability that it is difficult to pinpoint just one. I have outlined a few achievements of which the team and I are very proud, below:
• Our progress with Styrenics Circular Solutions to convert polystyrene waste into recycled styrene monomer, used to manufacture new products with the same quality as virgin polystyrene. Trinseo remains on track to produce rPS at a mass market level by 2025.
• Continuing to advance the capabilities of S-SBR rubber in high performance tires to reduce rolling resistance and improve vehicle fuel efficiency
• Building a customizable port-folio of bio-based TPE polymers and compounds as an alternative to fossil-based materials to meet market demand and consumer need for sustainable products
• Achieving the following sustainability objectives since 2011: 15% reduction in electricity usage; 34% reduction in water consumption; 37% reduction in GHG usage; 40% reduction in nitrogen oxide; 29% reduction in total chemical emissions; Creating a platform for sustainability at Board level, and embedding a culture of sustain-ability across the organisation • Achieved an injury rate of 0.11, which places Trinseo in the upper echelons of the chemical industry for safety. In addition, Trinseo has recorded no process safety incidents for five years running.
Specifically regarding plastics: what measures have been implemented by Trinseo, or are planned?
Throughout the past few years, Trinseo has established several partnerships to advance the quality and use of recycled polystyrene. We are taking these achievements further by building our own chemical recycling plant for polystyrene in Europe. Our aim is to process up to 50 tons of post-consumer polystyrene feedstock each day. This is in addition to our promise to deliver 30% recycled content to customers for polystyrene packaging in Europe by 2025. Within our API footwear business, we recently received Global Recycled Standard (GRS) accreditation for three of our thermoplastic polyurethane polymers (TPUs), included in our Apilon range. To be certified, a material must contain at least 20% pre-consumer or post-consumer recycled content. In addition, we have also made significant progress in the development and use of bio-based and biodegradable raw materials, more sustain-able energy use and production methods, slashing our overall use of greenhouse gases. We have a responsibility as a company to contribute to making the world a better place, by solving significant problems with our technologies and promoting a culture that is true to our core values. This is our focus for the next few years and I am looking forward to announcing more sustainability milestones in the months and years to come.
Can you explain how you see a sustainable future for plastics?
It is important that plastics do have a future. Plastics are all around us and we come into contact with them several times on a daily basis. They are helping to provide fuel efficiency in our vehicles; they are used to manufacture life-saving equipment in the medical industry; to protect and preserve goods while reducing weight in transportation for packaging; to manufacture lightweight and affordable electronics which have revolutionized the way we live and work. Plastic is a highly versatile, lightweight and efficient material for so many applications and nobody has yet discovered a more effective alternative, nor will they probably ever do so. But we do have a plastic waste problem and it is important that the value chain works together to solve this problem, and create a more circular future for plastics which enables us to continue to gain extraordinary value from these materials, in a more sustainable manner. Trinseo is passionate that a sustainable future is one where we close the loop on recycling, and create a completely circular economy for all plastics and rubber, where resources remain constantly in use, delivering value throughout the chain. Co-operation is key. True sustainability is a global challenge, and a unified approach from all stakeholders is essential if we are to all reach our unified goal. The success of joint initiatives such as SCS shows the way for-ward; a circular economy can be reached when stakeholders work together with a common goal and vision, sharing knowledge and resources. We each have a small sustainability 'foot-print'; uniting the entire value chain is what allows us to really scale up our impact. With the support of, and ongoing collaboration within the value chain, this is a future that is in sight. We have a responsibility as a company to contribute to making the world a better place, by solving significant problems with our technologies and promoting a culture that is true to our core values.