“Coatings should be an enabler for not turning products into waste”
Dear Mr Veneman, to what extent has the paint and coatings industry embraced the circular economy?
André Veneman: The role of the coatings industry in the circular economy is hugely underestimated. People tend to think that coatings companies have a very small carbon footprint. This may be true for our own operations, but the emissions associated with the raw materials bought in by the coatings industry – pigments, resins and solvents – are substantial. Likewise, the applications provided to consumers also generate very substantial emissions, e.g. from solvents and curing temperatures. The cradle-to-grave carbon footprint of the coatings industry is in many cases bigger than that of the more traditional chemicals industry. So, the huge contribution that the coatings industry can make to carbon-reduction targets should not be underestimated.
Several years ago, the more traditional chemicals industry understood its role in the energy transition. The industry passed through an S-curve: beginning with small, renewable-energy start-ups, moving to scale-up with major companies implementing renewable energy on a large scale, to driving a full-scale renewable energy transition. The coatings industry will have to pass through a similar S-curve, not in terms of energy efficiency but rather in terms of resource productivity and circular use of materials.
André Veneman, Corporate Director Sustainability at Akzo Nobel wants the coatings industry to become more sustainable.
Where do you see further potential for the circular economy to be implemented in the paints and coatings industry?
When we source raw materials, we will have to join forces with our suppliers to sharply increase the share of bio-based materials and recycled content and we will have to learn to make better use of such materials. More importantly, we should offer our customers technologies and solutions that enable them to reduce emissions and material use, for instance with lower curing temperatures, low or zero solvents, and fewer layers.
But above all, it’s about better performance, durability and long-term protection of the underlying substrate – wood or metal – and products that reflect heat, reduce fuel use and friction, or create insulating capacity. It‘s also about solutions being non-hazardous and thus enabling the underlying products such as furniture, transport or building materials to be reused and recycled. Coatings should be an enabler for not turning products into waste.
Where do you see the biggest challenges in this regard?
Veneman: The energy-intensive industry has already passed through the energy S-curve – and the coatings industry finds itself just at the beginning of the circular economy S-curve. The coatings industry as a whole has to start increasing its share of bio-based and renewable raw materials, too. Too often we hear that customers are not calling for this or that bio-based is more expensive, but there simply is no alternative pathway if we want to stay on track to satisfy the Paris climate agreement and the UN SDGs.
Those frameworks are imperative for the coatings industry. We have to keep experimenting with different kinds of renewable raw materials and to develop products that are free of hazardous substances and solvents, while factoring reusability and recyclability into all the industries that our products serve.This will definitely become a differentiating factor in the coatings industry. The volume of bio-based coatings is already growing in Europe: over 1 million tonnes of bio-based materials are being produced today and at a very attractive growth rate.
As a leading company in this area, we are definitely at an early stage, but we are also at the forefront in our ventures with major suppliers and universities to develop innovative products. Examples are premium-quality coatings with 25 % recycled content, our collaboration with Black Bear to generate carbon black from old tyres, and joint research with Dutch universities as part of the Chemical Building Block Consortium for developing bio-based resins from crustaceans and wood. We have gone through the trials and pilot-testing phases and are now about to will accelerate our pathway to resource productivity and circular economy. The Paris climate agreement and circular economy are very relevant to our industry and will force our suppliers to move away from fossil-based products. This will become a major differentiator for our industry – now is the right time to accelerate the transition.
If you are interested in the basics of sustainable coatings, you should visit the pre-conference tutorial on environmentally benign coatings one day before this years European Coatings Show Conference.
Also later this year in October 2019 European Coatings will host its second conference on bio-based coatings. The program will be published shortly on this website.