Insights by Jens Joschek, Head of Innovation Excellence at Covestro
Innovation inspired by Sustainability
Covestro aims to allocate 80 percent of the project expenditures for Research and Development (R&D) in areas that support the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is one of the five sustainability goals that Covestro aims to achieve by 2025. In this interview, Jens Joschek, Head of Innovation Excellence at Covestro, talks about what this goal means for the company and its future product portfolio.
Sustainability is a key topic for Covestro at all levels – and has been for several years. What is special about it and how does it affect the area of innovation?
Jens Joschek: With our complete focus on the circular economy, Covestro has once again clearly underlined what the company has been pursuing for many years with our strong focus on resource efficiency. In addition, especially in the area of innovation, we see many opportunities in the market that are linked to sustainability – and this is precisely where we want to be a positive driver. In order to make this visible and measurable, we have launched the innovation KPI, i.e. a target indicator, which, according to the motto "Sustainability begins in the laboratory", is at the forefront of the product life cycle: in Research and Development (R&D). Our goal is for 80 percent of the project costs for R&D to be used in areas that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the long term, we are making our entire product portfolio even more sustainable with this.
How is this KPI realized? How can you measure sustainability?
Jens Joschek: In order to make sustainability in innovation measurable, we have developed our own assessment process. Each project is assessed with the help of an expert interview. There are 22 topics on the basis of which the contribution to the individual SDGs is reviewed. The impact of the entire life cycle is analyzed – for example, with regard to water, resource utilization, circularity, but also with regard to social issues, such as fighting poverty. Each project is then classified according to how much it contributes to the SDGs. Only the projects with the highest rating in the assessment process are considered for the KPI. In 2020, 51 percent of R&D project expenditures already went to areas that significantly promote the SDGs.
What happens after measuring?
Jens Joschek: Of course, the KPI only reflects the situation as it is – measuring alone does not result in a change. Our research pipeline is already very well positioned along important criteria. The additional sustainability perspective should result in a new prioritization. In the short term, our goal is to identify the products with which we still have a rather small contribution to the SDGs, and in the medium to long term, the aim is for our portfolio to be made up of more and more sustainable projects. After measuring, therefore, we analyze, learn and identify the areas in which Covestro can develop targeted products and solutions. In this way, we may also be able to investigate unconventional and novel approaches at an early stage. In addition to research, marketing and sales, the portfolio strategists and sustainability colleagues are also involved.
What happens to the projects that are not in the highest category of your analysis?
Jens Joschek: We take a particularly close look at these projects and examine whether we can change certain aspects in such a way that they become more sustainable. Through the analysis, we can see well at which point in the product life cycle the contribution to the SDGs is still too low and can start in a targeted manner. In this way, we are improving the projects step by step and thus making these products and solutions more sustainable in the long term. In addition, we are always working to raise awareness of the SDGs and their potential for us among all the Covestro colleagues. After all, they fill the R&D project pipeline – preferably directly with ideas for sustainable solutions.
Are there any concrete examples that show how Covestro supports the SDGs?
Jens Joschek: Absolutely! Covestro has, for example, developed material solutions for the expansion of renewable energies and we can enable sustainable construction with our innovations. Particularly worth mentioning, of course, is our innovative CO₂ technology, with which we replace up to 20 percent of the fossil raw materials normally used with CO₂. In addition, there are many projects in which the focus is on closing the cycle – for example, the material flow of waste, recycling technologies or the use of alternative raw materials. And our so-called water campaign is also a good example. The aim was to open up new, sustainable areas of application together with all employees. We asked internally: How can we make our products even more relevant to the water-oriented SDGs? More than 60 ideas were put together, of which more than a third are now being further processed in the businesses.
How much is this focus on sustainability worthwhile from your point of view?
Jens Joschek: The goal of Covestro is to grow sustainably while becoming fully circular. In the end, we want to use our products to provide solutions for global challenges. The UN SDGs offer an ideal orientation here. They initially describe global needs for people and the planet, such as health, equal treatment, climate neutrality or waste reduction. This allows us to see for ourselves in which areas Covestro can offer the right solutions with its technologies and products to satisfy these needs. And this is precisely where Covestro, with its expertise, has a huge opportunity: to generate sustainable and profitable growth while at the same time making the world a brighter place.