As the old African proverb famously asserts: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Chemical giant BASF has taken this to heart, as evidenced by its collaborative approach to sustainability innovation.
We spoke with Peter Gräve, director of Communications and Advocacy at BASF Española, to learn more about the many ways the global company is engaging and collaborating to fulfill its commitment to “create chemistry for a sustainable future.”
Peter, can you please tell us more about BASF’s new claim, “We create chemistry for a sustainable future”?
By introducing the new claim in our logo, we want to underline how BASF innovates with customers and partners in order to contribute to a sustainable future. The new claim derived from our “We create chemistry” strategy, which was announced in 2011. Since we launched this strategy, we have focused even more on offering our customers functionalized products and solutions based on a clever combination of chemical compounds. Furthermore, the new claim refers not only to the science that is in our products but also to the chemistry between people, which is at the core of BASF and its brand. Our goal is to bring together people and ideas in a process of co-creation; together we develop solutions to global challenges.
Food is one of your areas of focus where you claim that chemistry can address solutions. At Sustainable Brands ‘15 Barcelona, Andreas Kircherer - BASF SE’s Director of Sustainability Strategy - told us about sustainable solutions in the food industry; and your Creator Space program included food challenges as one key pillar. Which do you think are the main challenges in the food industry and how can chemistry and BASF help to address those challenges?****
The challenge of feeding a growing world population through a sustainable supply of food is one of the most critical challenges of the upcoming decades. Increasing productivity from existing agricultural land represents a significant opportunity because current technologies are used in areas where yields are still below average. Historically, increases have come from higher yields because of improved varieties, better farming practices and applying new technologies such as agrochemicals and more recently agricultural biotechnology. The chemical industry will play a key role by developing new products to protect crops from diseases and improving the efficiency with which plants receive vital nutrients.
Another issue is the large amounts of food losses and food waste occurring across the whole food chain. In fact, 42 percent of food waste generated within the European food chains stems from household consumption, 39 percent is generated during the processing phase, 14 percent comes from food & beverage industry and 5 percent is generate in the distribution phase. We need to find ways to minimise this or use it for other purposes.
The food industry is a major user of packaging, which protects products from damage, deterioration and contamination. The chemical industry has a role to play in developing sustainable packaging, which is biodegradable or recyclable. These might include flexible thin films, which can withstand the chill chain, handling and storage. On the other hand, there are many potential uses for food waste, including producing high-value biochemicals, compost and energy.
Another challenge is developing improved food sources and fortifying foodstuffs to combat malnutrition and to target immune health. Even a diet that contains more energy than required can be deficient in micronutrients. To achieve this requires technology breakthroughs such as a better understanding of formulation science for controlled release of macro- and micronutrients and removing unhealthy content in food; producing sugar replacements and natural, low-calorie sweeteners to improve nutrition and combat obesity; developing and understanding fortified and functional food with specific health benefits, including minor nutrients.
At SB ‘15 Barcelona, BASF was part of Sustainable Sunday - an event addressed to the citizenship that wants to promote sustainability in a fun and familiar way – with its “Kids’ Lab: Water loves chemistry.” What was the main message that BASF shared with the children and their families in Kids’ Lab?
We used to have an advertisement that asked: “Do you know kids’ most popular reaction to chemistry? It’s “Wow!.” And it is so true. One simple word with great scientific experience behind it. We’ve heard it many times, in more than 30 countries, at BASF Kids’ Lab. For one day, children become scientists. They experiment in a playful manner and learn why and how the world’s marvels work. We hope that one day these kids will wow us in return. In Tarragona, we have been running our Kids Lab for a long time, but we never had in Barcelona. Thus, we decided to use it in the Sustainable Sunday event, in order to show both parents and children that science can be seen as a foundation of wonder, and thus chemistry can create a sustainable future.
Recently, BASF Creator Space came to Barcelona, after Shangai, Bombay, New York and Sao Paulo. What were the main objectives of this co-creation global program, and which were achieved here in Barcelona?
BASF set up a globally travelling Creator Space in order to gather experts, makers, initiatives and products. We wanted to discover solutions together and explore the role of chemistry in addressing local challenges all over the world. Within this frame, the Creator Space tour Barcelona became a platform for multidisciplinary exchange that brought together more than 500 specialists in different areas. Customers, suppliers, employees, scientists, creative professionals, students, representatives of the government administrations, NGOs and several citizens groups took part, working together on three specific challenges that we had formulated:
- Solutions to help citizens adopt a healthy and sustainable diet.
- Solutions to increase the efficiency of the water resources of the Spanish agricultural sector.
- Solutions to reduce food waste and to optimise waste management in Barcelona.
Creator Space tour Barcelona highlighted co-creation in many interesting new formats that allowed you to deliver solutions to the proposed challenges - the Creatathon, the Summit ... Which formats and sessions did you find most exciting and how did they help to achieve the global objectives?
Based on the co-creation spirit, we developed several formats around the topic of responsible food consumption. The “how” was as important as the “what.” A disruptive methodology combined with amazingly engaged facilitators and internal and external content owners working hands on was crucial, not only at the event but also throughout the process; co-creating is more the journey than the [destination]. The summit was a 2-day conference and workshop sessions that brought together 76 experts, representing the entire value chain, in order to discuss and develop easy-to-implement solutions from the perspective of [environmental] and social innovation. This format allowed us to address and reach important stakeholders along the value chain and relevant public in order to foster and start developing solutions for the different challenges related to responsible food consumption that we are facing.
The even more disruptive format was the Creathaton - a 24-hour hackathon-style creative marathon aimed at developing solutions for the three key challenges of responsible food consumption addressed at the Creator Space tour stop in Barcelona. 36 participants with 3 different profiles (business, artists, makers/developers) divided into 12 groups. The ideas presented during a final pitch by teams included gadgets, apps and games technology platforms, and food packaging and labelling. A multidisciplinary jury evaluated the proposals based on criteria such as innovation, technical difficulty, creativity, impact and viability and sustainability parameters (economic, social and environmental).
BASF has multiple examples of how collaboration and partnership helps to find sustainable solutions. What kind of partners do you look for? Can you tell us one particular collaboration or partnership experience that you think clearly reflects the benefits of working in this way?
Networks are of major importance for us! They bring together the competences of different players. In a highly diversified, global and international network, new ideas are generated and new impulses are given by research. Cooperation with outstanding scientists is an important source of innovation - it enables us to gain access to new technologies and new business potential. In return, we offer scientists the opportunity to cooperate in close-to-practice research projects and thereby create added value for society by developing innovative solutions. We maintain close relations with many universities and research institutes around the world and participate in nationally and internationally sponsored projects. One example of innovative cooperation is the joint operation of laboratories together with partners from academia.
Furthermore, we work closely with industry partners. We pursue open innovation: Together we bundle different competences, develop best practices and work on sustainable products and solutions. A well-known example is our collaboration with adidas - for more than 20 years, BASF experts have constantly supported adidas in further developing the performance of their running shoes through innovative materials. Using BASF’s new foam Infinergy®, adidas has now developed the Energy Boost, a thoroughly new running shoe with unique spring and cushioning properties. Another example - together with the Dutch Corbion Purac, we founded Succinity GmbH in 2012. The joint venture is to be the leading manufacturer of bio-based succinic acid. Succinity works with a self-developed, highly efficient manufacturing process. It is based on the proprietary bacterium Basfia succiniciproducens that can produce succinic acid from a variety of renewable feedstocks. In 2014, Succinity started the commercial production of bio-based succinic acid in Montmeló, Spain, with an annual capacity of 10,000 tons.