The answer, of course, is: all of us! We will need all available resources. Nobody alone can win the fight against poverty, inequality, and climate change.
The foundation for this joint effort was laid in 2015. With the broad participation of companies and civil society, the 193 countries of the United Nations adopted the Agenda 2030. At its heart are 17 common, global sustainability goals that the world community was able to agree on for the first time.
Here at Covestro we have asked ourselves what we can do. How can we contribute as a manufacturer of high-tech materials used in many areas of life? What can our 16,200 employees at 30 international locations do? How can we include our partners and customers? Our strategy provides the answer: we want to make a comprehensive global contribution towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. To that we are ready to leave our comfort zone and combine innovation and growth to achieve sustainable development.
Baratunde Thurston meets people who are pursuing this strategy with us. Whether ecological, economic or social in nature, whether aiming at achieving one or several goals, all activities have one thing in common: they are lighthouse projects that inspire us and spread optimism.
He calls himself an “activist” and is the author of the bestseller “How To Be Black”. Baratunde Thurston has been involved in sustainable development for a long time. He is engaged in a wide range of social projects extending from technology and experiential learning all the way to culture and journalism. Many people are familiar with his work for Fast Company, TED, the MIT Media Lab or the satirical magazine The Onion.
At first glance they might look like conventional greenhouses. But the five solar dryers made of polycarbonate which stand by the side of the road just outside the town of Krishnagiri are sophisticated specialized facilities for drying fruit and vegetables. Solar cells supply the ventilators with cheap, ecofriendly power. The polycarbonate allows the sun’s rays to pass through but filters out UV light. This allows the fruit to retain most of its nutrients and its natural color. It also makes it last longer. “In two or three days you have a high-quality product that can be packed right here on site,” explains Dr. Renganathan.
That is the simplest way of summing up the “solar dryer” concept. Farmers only used to be able to sell whatever happened to be in demand on the market. Most of their harvest did not find a buyer and would go to waste. Products become more durable when they are dried. Drying also achieves a value increase of up to 3,000 percent. This makes farmers more independent and that in turn profits their families and the village communities. When the farmers are better off, they employ more field workers and jobs are created in the solar dryers as well. We have provided material for more than 1,200 small solar dryers in India alone as well as 200 solar dryers of greenhouse size and more than 80 solar powered refrigerators. Each of these is a lighthouse project belonging to our “Inclusive Business” initiative, which aims to assist low-income regions. Working with our partners on location – such as customers, governments and NGOs – we develop affordable technologies and products with whose help we can combat poverty, hunger and inequality.
“Why don’t you enjoy what you have? Why do you waste your money on farming?” Dr. Renganathan does not always find it easy to explain his second job as an organic farmer to his grown-up children. As his primary profession, the gynecologist runs a clinic with 100 beds in southern India. Together with his wife, who is also a doctor, the 61-year-old has built up a considerable business. But he does not think much of resting in his comfort zone. Instead he wants to show the farmers of his home region new, ecofriendly ways of doing business. This he does on his organic farm and as a co-owner of the company MCI Agro Industries. To be precise, he has two second jobs. The second of the second is the solar dryers, in which fruits, vegetables and moringa leaves are dried. One day, Dr. Renganathan believes, he will be able to convince his children of the benefits of his other work.
The polycarbonate used in the solar dryers is recyclable. After the recycling process, polycarbonate sheets are returned to the production process in the form of granulate. Of course, we also thought about the orange cushions used in our interviews. As a “mobile comfort zone” they end up at the headquarter of Covestro and serve as seats during cosy work breaks and events. After being used for as long as possible, they will be recycled in a controlled manner.
Solar dryers contribute to achieving the following SDGs:
Normally, Dr. Pallavi Deshmukh works at our laboratory in Mumbai. Late in 2018, she ventured onto the stage of STEM4Girls. Touring through six Indian cities, she spoke to 3,000 enthusiastic girls about the sciences. Dr. Deshmukh was delighted to inspire the girls. But as a scientist, her expectations remain realistic: “If just one percent of the girls can realize their dreams, then I will have achieved a lot,” says the 38-year-old.
Diversity and equality are a matter of course at all of our facilities. As an employer, we bring different people together with exciting ideas. But we also engage ourselves for equality beyond the limits of our company.
Since 2014 we have been working on the STEM4Girls program together with the Organization “Greenlight for Girls”.
Our mission is to get girls excited about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In India, this collaboration began with 100 girls in Delhi in 2016. This year, as part of STEM4Girls, our Indian colleagues talked to 3,000 enthusiastic girls in six cities about science themes.
Dr. Pallavi Deshmukh is not only a scientist at our lab in Mumbai. She is a co-worker, manager and colleague to others. She is also a wife and mother to two daughters. It is not always easy to reconcile all these roles, but that did not deter her from taking on another one – a role which would take her outside the comfort zone of her laboratory. It would make her a role model for 3,000 girls who have become interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through STEM4Girls. Science remains the domain of men, and not only in India. The traditional comfort zone for girls and women are still the household and the family. Equality is not only one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it is a personal mission of Dr. Deshmukh. That is why the 38-year-old tries to convey self-confidence to the girls and encourage them that everything is possible if they believe in themselves.
Achieving the UN sustainability goals #4 (Education for All) and #5 (Gender Equality). Inspiring girls for MINT professions. Reducing fears of contact and advocating equal opportunities. The motivation behind our commitment is manifold. Together with international and local partners (e.g. Greenlight for Girls or the German Federal Government), we hold a large number of events each year. From “Girls Day” at our plant in Uerdingen (April 2018) to STEM4Girls events in Sao Paolo (May 2018) and Mexico City (November 2018) to the series of events in India portrayed in our interview. In the spirit of Dr. Pallavi Deshmukh, we are firmly convinced that the girls deserve as much inspiration and support as possible.
Our collaboration with STEM4Girls helps to achieve several SDGs:
“Burning carbon to produce energy is pretty much the dumbest thing we can do,” says John Elkington in our interview. Nevertheless, this does not mean that he demonizes carbon in general. Because carbon is more than coal-fired power plants that emit CO₂ into the atmosphere. He argues that carbon should be understood for what it is: a raw material provided by nature and hence, an element of our life. It is something to deal with sensibly, in a value-adding and efficient way. We need to achieve as much output with as little use of carbon as possible. We need to look at all elements of the value chain – from the resources used to the recycling of raw materials at the end of a product life cycle – in order to obtain the highest possible yield from each carbon molecule. In terms of product quality, profitability and, of course, environmental sustainability. This is precisely what lies behind the “Carbon Productivity” concept, which we have developed together with our partners.
CO₂ (carbon dioxide) is a problem for the atmosphere. But what if we were able to bind this climate-damaging gas? If we could even use it as a raw material for innovative materials? What sounds like a futuristic vision is already on the market. Our researchers have developed a process that converts carbon dioxide into a valuable raw material. In addition, it replaces some of the fossil feedstock that is otherwise required for the production of plastics. CO₂-based foams can be used in mattresses, upholstered furniture, or in the form of elastomers, gaskets, or tubes. And our R&D pipeline signals more to come.
These product innovations contribute to strengthening a circular economy with greater resource efficiency. Our goal is to reuse or recycle materials throughout the value chain to minimize waste and emissions, without sacrificing quality. Converting carbon dioxide waste into useful materials means creating more value with fewer resources. And it also means manufacturing new materials no longer drains our carbon budget. “The use of carbon dioxide as a new raw material is a promising approach for making production in the chemical and plastics industries more sustainable,” said our CEO Markus Steilemann in Chemical Weekly.
The innovative process is significant simply because it opens up a completely new perspective on problem solving. We need such new approaches. “Business as Usual” is not enough if we are striving for sustainable development. John Elkington agrees: “We need growth, but a different kind of growth.” The UN Sustainable Development Goals can be seen as an obligation. We rather see the opportunities and potentials for growth that the goals bear within them. No matter whether it concerns climate change, urbanization, or increasing mobility, we can contribute to sustainable progress in all fields of the UN goals. Each contribution represents an opportunity for growth for our business. At best, it is a win-win situation.
What sounds quite simple, is actually really hard work. It keeps pushing us to the limits of our comfort zone and beyond. To a place where we learn, where we get better, and where there is something new to discover. We shift borders and want to continue doing so in the future. This is why we have brought our R&D project portfolio in line with the UNSDGs: “By 2025, 80 percent of our R&D project spending will be targeted in areas that contribute to achieving these goals, either undertaken in partnership or endorsed by recognized institutions. “
Even as early as in 1988 when his book, The Green Consumer Guide, was published, John Elkington was able to shine a light on himself and his life’s work: the connection between environmental protection, consumption, and the economy. Thirty years later he is now working on his 20th book. Again, it covers everything – the economy, the environment, our future. John Elkington is an environmental activist, but not the kind that chains himself to trees. “A Greenpeace boss once called me an activist in the boardroom,” he tells us with a smile. Since the global success of his green guide for conscientious consumers, he has advised companies all over the world. John Elkington has been our consultant for years. As the founder and “Chief Pollinator” of consultancy firm Volans he was also involved in the development of the “Carbon Productivity” concept.
The now seventy-year-old is constantly seeking out new challenges. He is currently working on topics such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. Can these fields help save our planet? John Elkington is happy to leave his comfort zone to answer these kinds of questions.
Comfort zones are metaphors for psychological safety, but also describe amenities such as security, healthcare, or equality. Unfortunately, these and similar aspects of comfort zones are not taken for granted globally. The UN Sustainable Development Goals want to change this. Thus, it is a matter of the global expansion of economic and social comfort zones.
However, the growth required for this must not be at the expense of our environment. Future generations should not be burdened either. Economic, ecological, and social goals are equally important. That is why all UN Sustainability Development Goals are interconnected. It is the only way to conserve our most valuable comfort zone: our planet.
The initiative “Carbon Productivity” contributes to various SDGs, such as:
Governments, insurers, hotels, shipping lines and the fishing industry – all of these are potential customers for Coral Vita, a firm founded by Gator Halpern for the restoration of degraded coral reefs. Naturally, the chief concern of the 27-year old Californian who has made his home in the Bahamas is the role of coral reefs as valuable eco-systems and natural wonders. As the growth and survival of corals are critically threatened by global warming and increasing acidification of the oceans, Gator Halpern is convinced that we need much more than local environmental activities to remedy the situation. What is needed is a completely new industry segment that is dedicated to conserving reefs for future generations. A for-profit approach that relies on resource-efficient growth and annual investments of billions in the restoration of coral reefs. The startup enterprise Coral Vita has stepped up to the plate to improve the comfort zone of corals.
This year, the 27-year old was awarded the “Young Champions of the Earth Prize” for his innovative, land-based coral farming concept. In a joint initiative with the United Nations, we established this prize for environmental engagement with the aim of assisting young people in their efforts to assure a better future for humanity. Our mission, is to make the world a brighter place. The symbolic value of the prize is not the only aspect of it that Gator Halpern can look forward to. In addition to its monetary value, we also provide assistance to him and the other prizewinners in the form of a mentoring program. In this program, the winners can draw on the experience and expertise of our 16,200 employees. It is clear that we also benefit from the ideas submitted for the prize. The numerous entries, the inspirational ideas, and the dialog with the under-30s never cease to excite and fascinate us.
Gator Halpern is convinced that the enormous investments in coral reefs will pay significant dividends. They protect coastal regions and settlements against the destructive forces of tornadoes, tsunamis and tidal surge. Reefs are breeding grounds for many marine species and, as such, are an important mainstay of the fishing industry and the provision of food for millions of people. They are often described as the “rainforests of the seas” and attract scuba-diving tourists with money to spend. Estimates indicate that the livelihoods of around half a billion people are directly or indirectly dependent on coral reefs. The customer-potential for an international network of land-based coral farms is therefore enormous. Gator Halpern wants to make good use of the momentum of winning the “Young Champions of the Earth Prize” and the support from institutions and companies that comes with it.
Gator Halpern is fascinated by the ocean even as a child. He spends a lot of time at the beach or in the waves. His parents support his interest in environmental topics and encourage him to pursue his passions. At the college he helps establish a fish farming project in Peruvian Amazonia, a project which also involves the study of socioeconomic effects on the local population. He studies environmental management at Yale and is a longtime member of the WWF program for the protection of oceans and coasts. After his studies, Gator moves to the Bahamas, where he and Sam Teicher establish the first land-based coral farm in the world. With Coral Vita he combines his passion for the ocean with sustainable entrepreneurship. In 2018 he wins the Young Champion of the Year Award.
By the way, the name Gator has nothing to do with alligators. When he was born, his parents asked their young sons, Moose and Griffin, what the baby’s name should be. The two boys first pointed at a toy race car and then at a bottle of Gatorade. “I’m just glad they didn’t name me ‘Race Car’!” Gator exclaims today.
Alongside Gator Halpern, who we introduced to you in our interview, six further young men and women were awarded the prize in 2018.
Arpit Dhupar, a 25-year old mechanical engineer from India, was awarded the prize for his technology that filters out 90% of the fine particulate matter produced by diesel generators without any reduction of their mechanical efficiency. Instead of being disposed of as a waste product, the carbon particles extracted by the filters are utilized for the production of pigment-based inks for the printing industry. Fine particulate matter for a good cause.
The Palestinian-Kuwaiti businesswoman Heba Al-Farra (30) won the award for her social engagement. She founded the initiative “Women in Energy and Environment”. This project provides support to women in the engineering and environmental sectors in the Middle East and North Africa. At the same time, it is a mutually-supportive community of like-minded women.
Hugh Weldon (25) is an Irish mechanical engineer and a co-founder of Evocco. He was awarded the prize for a smartphone app that enables users to scan checkout receipts and determine the environmental impact of what they buy.
The Chinese diver and business owner Miao Wang (30) received the prize for “Better Blue”. She wants to set up a global network of divers and diving centers. Participants can offer scientific education programs in the network and make their own, personal contribution to marine conservation.
The 24-year old Miranda Wang from the USA, the co-founder and CEO of BioCollection, was chosen as a winner for her chemical recycling technology that makes new products and materials recyclable for the first time.
The Egyptian artist and painter Shady Rabab received the prize for the “Garbage Conservatoire Band”. His engagement brings together children who work as waste pickers in Luxor. The 26-year old shows them how to make musical instruments from garbage. His plans see the band eventually making appearances with their self-constructed instruments. With this, the musicians set an example for better waste management in Egypt and elsewhere.
Every idea and every entry submitted to “Young Champions of the Earth” or awarded a prize makes a contribution to one or more sustainability goals. Gator Halpern’s work, for instance, has positive effects at several levels: