Materials supplier Trinseo L.L.C. has been celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2020 and marking what it terms an "ambitious, measurable and achievable longer-term sustainability journey" as part of its progress.
The former Dow unit Styron is publicly traded and produces ABS, polycarbonate, polystyrene and other plastic and rubber blends and is based in Berwyn, Pa.
Walter van det Hof, global industry affairs and sustainability leader for Trinseo, spoke with Sustainable Plastics about the company's work in sustainability.
Q: You joined Trinseo in 2017. Was corporate sustainability on the agenda at Trinseo at that point?
Van det Hof: When I joined Trinseo, the business had just released its 2018 Sustainability CSR Report which profiled how our products were helping customers improve their own sustainability in areas such as vehicle lightweighting, green tire technologies, media device design flexibility, LED horticulture lighting and more.
We believe that the future, both for plastics and for our business, depends upon achieving a circular economy in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the most potential value from them while in use, and recovering and regenerating materials at the end of each service life. We're making enormous progress in this direction through initiatives such as Styrenics Circular Solutions and Operation Clean Sweep.
Our work does not end there, though. Trinseo is committed to rethinking sustainability, considering different business models and pushing to truly close the loop on circularity. This does not just mean aiding the collection and recycling process for plastics but also looking at the sustainability of raw materials, the production process and even logistics.
Q: Embedding sustainability in a corporate culture: Is that a top-down or bottom-up process? What are the challenges?
Van det Hof: In truth, sustainability for Trinseo sits somewhere in the middle. Sustainability is an area of business we take very seriously—indeed, it occupies a primary place on our board and like other businesses in the plastics value chain, sustainability encompasses system-level changes driven by policy and operational directives. For that reason you could say that we have a top-down culture, but in reality, Trinseo's goal is to influence policy through behavior, which could be considered more of a bottom-up approach.
When we discussed our Sustainability Goal setting for the years ahead, it was important that we were not merely "ticking a box," but that we were moving towards a unified effort to drive real progress in sustainability both throughout the Trinseo business and throughout the value chain. We wanted our goals to motivate everyone throughout the company to continuously do better, go further, and challenge ourselves to create a more sustainable future.
This means we must commit to sustainability in every action we take, from large-scale strategies delivered top-down to bottom-up influences, such as being cognizant of electricity use or using recyclable coffee cups. This essentially brings both management techniques together, converging somewhere in the middle, with operations leading efficiency, EHS delivering on environmental targets, sustainability reporting across the organization and the long term objectives of sustainability influencing financial decisions for the better.
Q: Does Trinseo have a sustainability roadmap or specific goals? Are there any particular priorities?
Van det Hof: Trinseo has very recently published our 2020 Sustainability Report, which follows the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines for public sustainability reporting. This was launched together with our 2030 Sustainability Goals, which we have set together as an organization, to drive more sustainable processes over the next 10 years.
Fifteen goals were identified within five categories:
- Climate Change: Creating strategies to help address energy, greenhouse gas, and climate change as a critical societal and environmental challenge.
- Sustainable Product Portfolio: Focusing our business and innovation to incorporate sustainability into our product offerings to customers.
- Supplier Responsibility: Extending our commitments to our suppliers, vendors, and value chain partners.
- Responsible Operations: Reducing the environmental footprint of our operations globally.
- Sustainable Workforce: Meeting societal expectations to live out our values of safety, respect for people, and employee engagement.
This is the roadmap we will be following across our organization throughout the next decade, and we will review our progress and achievements each year.
Q: Specifically regarding plastics, what measures have been implemented by Trinseo, or are planned?
Van det Hof: Throughout the past few years, Trinseo has established several partnerships to advance the quality and use of recycled polystyrene. We are taking these achievements further by building our own chemical recycling plant for polystyrene in Europe.
Our aim is to process up to 50 tons of post-consumer polystyrene feedstock each day. This is in addition to our promise to deliver 30 percent recycled content to customers for polystyrene packaging in Europe by 2025. Within our API footwear business, we recently received Global Recycled Standard accreditation for three of our thermoplastic polyurethane polymers, included in our Apilon range. To be certified, a material must contain at least 20 percent pre-consumer or post-consumer recycled content. In addition, we have also made significant progress in the development and use of bio-based and biodegradable raw materials, more sustainable energy use and production methods, slashing our overall use of greenhouse gases.
Q: Can you explain how you see a sustainable future for plastics?
Van det Hof: It is important that plastics do have a future. Plastics are all around us and we come into contact with them several times on a daily basis. They are helping to provide fuel efficiency in our vehicles; they are used to manufacture life-saving equipment in the medical industry; to protect and preserve goods while reducing weight in transportation for packaging; to manufacture lightweight and affordable electronics which have revolutionized the way we live and work.
Plastic is a highly versatile, lightweight and efficient material for so many applications and nobody has yet discovered a more effective alternative, nor will they probably ever do so. But we do have a plastic waste problem and it is important that the value chain works together to solve this problem, and create a more circular future for plastics which enables us to continue to gain extraordinary value from these materials in a more sustainable manner.
Trinseo is passionate that a sustainable future is one where we close the loop on recycling, and create a completely circular economy for all plastics and rubber, where resources remain constantly in use, delivering value throughout the chain. Cooperation is key. True sustainability is a global challenge, and a unified approach from all stakeholders is essential if we are to all reach our unified goal.
With the support of, and ongoing collaboration within the value chain, this is a future that is in sight. We have a responsibility as a company to contribute to making the world a better place, by solving significant problems with our technologies and promoting a culture that is true to our core values.