Ajay Durrani is Managing Director of Covestro (India) Private Limited (formerly known as Bayer MaterialScience Pvt. Ltd). In this role, he is responsible for leading the development and expansion of Covestro’s business across the Indian sub continent.
Durrani has over 21 years of experience in the chemical industry with a focus on achieving continuous and improved business performance. Prior to Bayer, Durrani did assignments with IFF New Delhi (formerly Bush Boake Allen) as Area Sales Manager for the flavor, fragrance and aroma chemicals business.
Chemical Industry Digest (CID): How would you define sustainability with specific reference to the chemical and allied industries? What is it? What does it constitute? Why is there a mix-up of Sustainability and CSR issues?
Ajay Durrani (AD): On day to day basis, we very often use the term ‘sustainability’ but it is not clearly understood. Sustainability can be referred to as a way of living which fulfils today’s need without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainability is an on-going process and very dynamic in nature. It is not only linked to environmental outcome but also linked to economic, environmental and social behaviour.
Traditionally, we refer to CSR as any entity’s responsibility to act ethically and consider their impacts on the community at large, and do not necessarily encompass sustainability. On the other hand, sustainability is about preserving resources and operating in a way that is conducive to and it should be deeply anchored in every organization’s strategy and should also reflect in all its activities.
Covestro is constantly developing innovations to push boundaries of what is possible, how to benefit the society and reduce our impact on environment. Sustainable materials that help to conserve resources and reduce energy consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 are a focus at Covestro.
We have developed CO2 based polyurethane foam and would soon start its commercial production as well. Our new polyurethane-based materials are also contributing to sustainability in automotive engineering, for instance in the form of lightweight components that help cars to consume less fuel. Our endeavour is to support the lightweighting mission by replacing metals PC composite which are equally –if not more- strong than metals but 50% lighter in weight.
Similarly, in the wind energy sector, our talented materials have helped to aid development of longer wind turbine blades which can withstand high pressure and are weather-resistant, which helps in increasing the performance of the turbine.
We also believe that eco-sensitivity is one of the most important goals that India should focus in order to establish its image as a strong nation that is built upon the values of sustainable growth. Covestro’s “Housing for All” is a mission that also embeds energy efficiency as part of its core offerings to ensure a brighter future for the society.
CID: What relevant benchmarks should be used to assess a company whether its activities and operations meet the definition of Sustainability? How aware are companies in India on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, Environmental Index and how important are these indices?
AD: Sustainability is at the heart of Covestro’s thinking and acting. We want to improve people’s lives and move society forward; we want to help safeguard the Earth and conserve its resources; and at the same time we want to create financial value.
Our concerns can be boiled down to “People, Planet, and Profit”. All of our decisions and activities must consider these three criteria and have a positive effect on at least two of them. Therefore, we have set ambitious targets for 2025. We have committed to cut our green house gases emissions by 50% until 2020, and to also reduce energy consumption. To attain these targets, we are aligning every facet of the company on sustainability.
Covestro India supports government policies that aim at prioritizing sustainability.
CID: Having understood the overall philosophy of sustainability, how should a company go about ensuring that its operations from the supply chain to manufacturing processes to the end product are within the Sustainability ambit?
AD: In today’s era, the survival of many companies depends very much on how the company strives to improve quality whilst reducing the costs. Over a period of time, sustainability has become a crucial part of manufacturing strategies. Today, there is increase in legislation, diminishing resources and demanding consumers thus, making sustainability grow as an opportunity for forward thinking firms.
Following the concerns regarding climate change, pollution and non-renewable resources, organisations are persuading stakeholders to respond in a calibrated manner that will help control supply chain. With this, efforts to make supply chain environment friendly has now become a top priority due to increasing threats arising out of global warming and climate change.
At Covestro, we consider the safety and compatibility of our products to have top priority. We therefore inspect and monitor all Covestro products in applications known to us with regard to potential health, safety, environment and quality (HSEQ) risks.
Our product stewardship activities cover the entire value chain – from product development and production through to product use and final disposal. Since 1994, we have aligned ourselves to the voluntary Responsible Care™ initiative of the chemical industry, and Covestro 1 signed the revised Global Charter of that initiative in 2006.
To improve sustainability practices within the supply chain we follow a 4-step process which includes Supplier Awareness, Supplier Nomination Supplier Sustainability Performance Evaluation and lastly, Supplier Development where all assessment and audit results are thoroughly analyzed and documented.
If deficiencies are found, we develop corrective actions together with the respective suppliers to ensure that they observe social, ethical and environmental standards in future. During marketing, we constantly assess risks to assure highest quality of our products as well as safeguarding people and the environment.
CID: If a product or process does not meet the sustainability criteria, would you suggest to replace it or revisit the processes & products to make them a little sustainable or greener, shall we say?
AD: The industrial manufacturing segment is associated with a plethora of global challenges involving economic, social and environmental concerns. Recent reports imply that an organisation’s engagement in green values, adoption of a proactive approach to climate change and emphasis on sustainability are all driven by the need for a long-term competitive advantage.
For big entities, it does pose as a huge challenge essentially because you need to take an existing business model and add new parameters to it.
We feel there is a clear need for a global sustainable mandate and a global integrated approach to corporate sustainability which is clearly understood and consistently applied by organisations – both big and small.
Covestro has begun its journey of replacement of products and processes with more sustainable materials many years ago. E.g., research was invested in the development of the catalyst for conversion of part polyol into carbon dioxide base and energy consumption in production being reduced by 50%! We at Covestro India advocate the use of sustainable technologies for recycling or recovery with a careful assessment of its effects on human health and sanitation.
CID: Many techniques are being spoken of, starting from the end- of-the pipe treatment to intrinsically clean processes and products, green chemistry and so on, all of which addresses the problem only incrementally. Then there is Cradle to Grave and the most revolutionary, Cradle to Cradle. Would you advocate all these methods concurrently address the problem or a drastic overhaul and shift to Cradle to Cradle?
AD: In an industry like where Covestro is operating – with stiff competition and strict regulations — the Cradle to Cradle method is too risky to attempt. The more pragmatic approach is what Covestro has already embarked upon. This process of learning and implementation in an incremental way has immense benefits in sustaining the business and is well understood by the market, as our intentions are clearly communicated.
CID: We spoke to the proponent of Cradle to Cradle (Prof Michael Braungart) who said that green chemistry and such other techniques only mean trying to make the products and processes less bad, but not necessarily good and benign. What are your views on this?
AD: Prof Michael advocates that humans can make a positive instead of a negative environmental impact by redesigning industrial production and therefore that dissipation is not waste. In fact, as long back as in 2000, our parent company Bayer qualified as an ‘active’ company in the ‘Top 50 Study’ on environmental performance. Having adopted the incremental approach, we tend to agree with the Professor in his statement, as the cost of disruption is immense.
However, we have taken extreme measures to showcase the power of the sustainability. A few years ago, we launched the Eco Commercial Building Program which helped us to achieve the highest rated LEED building in India in 2011. More recently, we invested in the Solar Impulse project with man and material to help the plane fly round the world without a drop of fossil fuel.
CID: What steps should the chemical industry take to combat climate change, reduce the carbon load in its operations and output?
AD: Sustainable thinking and acting is imperative to preserve our planet and improve the quality and safety of the lives of millions and it might seem surprising to find that a lot of chemical manufacturing companies are striving to prevent climate change.
We all are aware that the chemical industry doesn’t really have a good reputation when it comes to environment. Yet, the industry plays a vital role in developing technological solutions that will help in saving from the climate catastrophe and at the same time help in global development.
Individual chemical companies play a pivotal role in advancing applications to support sustainability. This can be achieved through innovative design, creation, processing, use, and disposal of substances thus meeting the current environmental, economic, and societal needs without the need to compromise the progress and success of future generations.
We are placing a great emphasis on developing a carbon productivity strategy and methodology as one of our Sustainability targets and are advocating this concept in the marketplace. In fact, we are innovative in developing this new metric – carbon productivity – the ability to measure how efficient every ton of carbon is employed.
CID: Experts affirm that sustainability issues drive innovation. Are companies innovating with sustainability as a benchmark? Could you give one or two major examples/achievements in your company’s sustainability efforts?
AD: In an increasingly competitive landscape, today companies have realised that being sustainable is more than just a gesture towards the environment. Going sustainable not only builds on the revenue but also help in attracting consumers who care about an organisation’s environmental footprint. You will observe a lot of leading corporate embracing the concept of sustainability and looking at how the available resources can drive new innovation and inspire fresh business models.
At Covestro, we are currently working on two projects in collaboration to substitute CO2 by up to 25% of petroleum in the elastomer precursor that is normally entirely petroleum-based.
Second, we are also producing polyols for flexible polyurethane foam based on CO2 and the reactant propylene oxide. These new foams are initially intended for use in mattresses and upholstered furniture. We have set up a new production plant for this technology in Germany recently.
We have also developed a new process to produce aniline. Aniline is a precursor for rigid polyurethane foam, a highly efficient insulating material used in buildings and refrigeration systems. The process currently under development uses renewable raw materials and produces aniline with a much better CO2 footprint than that manufactured with standard technology.
Covestro is already using renewable raw materials in a number of different products. A hardener for coatings that the company developed is one example: up to 70 percent of its carbon content is derived from plants. And CO2 is also increasingly being used an alternative raw material. Used in place of petroleum, CO2 accounts for up to 20 percent of the raw materials used in a precursor for flexible polyurethane foam that Covestro began producing in 2016. The company is also researching and developing many more products based on CO2.