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Thursday, 01 October 2020

Sustainability brings innovation, growth and fun

Thursday, 28 March 2013 | Posted by: Tony Mash, TMA Consulting Inc.

The bi-annual Coatings Summit Conference in Brussels brought together industry CEOs and Senior Managers from across the global Coatings industry. While business issues dominated much of the conference, speakers kept returning to the environmental and social as well as the economic pillars of Sustainability in a refreshingly frank and open manner. We were even told that Sustainability can be a real motivator amongst company employees and ..... fun!

A surfeit of CEOs and senior executives of Coatings companies worldwide convened at the Coatings Summit Conference in Brussels organised by the International Paint and Printing Ink Council (IPPIC) in association with Vincentz Network.Even though we had to wait until the penultimate speech on the second day from Marlies van Wijhe from Van Wijhe Verf to tackle Sustainability head on, none of the preceding speakers could avoid addressing the issue.

Given these uncertain economic times particularly in the Western World, the economic pillar of Sustainability featured in many people’s minds. The new President of the EU had called for ‘sustainable growth and employment’. At AkzoNobel, Ton Büchner said that Sustainability IS the business. Echoing the January 31stblog which covered the economic pillar of Sustainability, some speakers talked in restructuring terms of mergers, acquisitions and right-sizing in low growth markets. One speaker even suggested that the recession had been a good thing as it forced the Coatings Industry to learn to be profitable in the worst of a downcycle and the height of a commodity boom.

Growth and innovation: key drivers for the coatings industry

Taking another past theme from this blog, although the ‘New Normal’ correlation between economic growth and demographics was not specifically mentioned, data presented on Japan only went to show that demand for Coatings does not grow in a country where the population gets progressively older and smaller in number.

Several speakers underlined the link between sustainable growth and innovation where the key drivers for the Coatings Industry were seen as improved efficiencies of manufacture and application, use of bio-renewable materials, increased product functionality and attentive customer service.  

The majority of the technical discussions centred around cradle to customer gate issues. Some good work continues to be done to deliver improvements from base raw materials up to the customer factory gate. Interestingly, analysis of customer gate to grave was seen as ‘buzzy’, ‘fashionable’ and ‘not measureable’; something that one can leave until later, once everything within the Coatings industry’s own control has been addressed. Speakers from important downstream customers VW and AIRBUS endorsed this position, focusing their talks on cradle to their gates with no mention of gate to grave or recycle issues. They were also looking for innovation at no extra cost to them,....... naturally! 

AkzoNobel and BASF Coatings echoed another past blog and called for a consistent methodology for evaluating Sustainability globally, but there was no support for using the regulatory route to achieve this. It would take too long, they said. The challenge presented here is to find a way by which companies who have already spent much time, effort and money developing their own sustainability measurement methodologies are going to be prepared to compromise to achieve a consensus approach that all parts of the industry can accept. To quote Jan van de Meulen of CEPE, the industry needs to be pragmatic and find its own way forward, but use consistent data and methodologies.

Impact of sustainability on the moral of employees

Finally, reference was made by both Marlies van Wijhe on behalf of SMEs and Dr. Markus Kamieth of BASF at the multi-national end of the spectrum to the social pillar of Sustainability. They focused their comments on the impact of Sustainability on the morale of existing employees and the training/motivation of young people to stay and be effective in large companies. To quote Marlies, ‘’Sustainability brings innovation, better employee morale, easier to find new markets and .......... fun.’’

Now, that’s a new one and echoes a famous American management guru, Dale Carnegie, who once wrote "People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing"! When you know that your work is making a contribution to saving the world and making it decent for future generations, that is simply inspiring! 

What a great conference! Roll on Sustainability in the Coatings Industry!!

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