Interview: Sustainability at Eastman

My apologies for posting this interview so late…I really have to cut back on interviews lately because of my weekly column (not to mention several features stories) at ICIS Chemical Business.

Eastman launched its first sustainability review in June this year and the company is actually aiming for 2/3 of its revenue (at a minimum) from new product launches to have sustainability attributes within the next 3-5 years.

Sustainability, as everybody is well aware by now, has different meanings and criteria for each company. For Eastman, the company defines it as ‘the ability in creating value to all three aspect of the triple bottom line: environmental responsibility and stewardship, social responsibility, company’s economic growth.

If you want to summarize, it’s all about Planet, People, Profit.

Talking to Anne Kilgore, Eastman’s director of Sustainability, she explains how sustainability is becoming a major growth driver for the company. Sales of their specialty copolyester plastic Tritan has been doing very well this year with the product being marketed as free of bisphenol-A (BPA).

“Our specialty plastics were an early adoption area for us from the sustainability movement because our downstream customers knew it, needed it and valued it,” said Kilgore. “This area has a very active program like the Tritan launch. There’s a lot of organic growth in this business sector.”

Eastman continues to develop applications for Tritan as well as several additional Tritan branch of chemistry.

Demand for their non-phthalate plasticizers for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) applications has also been increasing. Kilgore said Eastman plan to increase its non-phthalate plasticizers portfolio through organic acquisitions starting with the recent buyout of Genovique Specialties.

“We see non-phthalate plasticizers as a big market need for our customers,” said Kilgore. “We still supply ortho-phthalates but we have customers who are making choices away from this market and we want to be proactive in supplying them with alternatives.”

Other products with sustainability attributes in the portfolio include renewable-based cellulose esters, hydrogenated rosin esters, and its cellulosic polymers made from wood pulp.

Kilgore said they are also focusing on implementing energy-efficient process technologies such as the company’s PET process production, which now uses 47% less energy, and Eastman’s biocatalytic process for novel ester production. The process uses enzymes and said to eliminate strong acids and high temperature that are usually required in producing esters.

Between 1998 and 2008, Eastman said it was able to reduced greenhouse gas emissions from their businesses by 25%, energy use down by 35% and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions by 34%. The company’s environmental goals are to further improve energy efficiency by 2.5% and reduce GHG emissions by 2% year-over-year, and for the next 10 years, reduce energy use by 25%, GHG emissions by 20%, reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 20% and sulfur dioxide emissions by 40%, and to have all new product family launches accompanied with life cycle analysis (LCA) reports within the next few years.

Kilgore said a lot of their customers are already asking for LCA information as well as for carbon footprint reduction data. Customers are said to be looking for end-of-life solutions whether in plastics, chemicals or other end products. Tradeoffs, however, is not an option when it comes to performance and costs, she noted.

Eastman said they are also looking at the area of renewable resources, where the company already has a significant activities and products in its portfolio especially in cellulose-based technologies.

An interesting remark from this interview is Kilgore talking about Eastman’s partnerships with the design community, and its importance in being ahead of the sustainability trend.

“The design community is kind of like an early warning signals for us,” said Kilgore. “They know what the future will be. Our partnership with designers across the industry has been very successful for us. Our Innovation Lab hold a lot of design insights which helped us understand what the world needs in terms of how the chemical industry can help in solving problems.”

Kilgore added that these partnerships helped them know where to specifically invest in products and process technologies to make them more sustainable.

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