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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
How AkzoNobel Is Using Open Innovation to Drive Change in Transportation

The movement of people and goods is crucial to the world economy. Globally, the transportation sector is expected to continue growing, with a geographic shift of demand and manufacturing to the developing economies. But with this growth, environmental concerns are also increasing: Presently, more than 60 percent of the 87 million barrels of oil consumed daily power the world’s transportation sector, and liquid fossil fuels account for 94 percent of the energy supply to the sector.

If the transportation sector is to successfully reduce its impact and help limit climate change to an increase of less than 2°C, it cannot continue to develop under a business-as-usual scenario. According to the predictions of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s ‘Vision 2050’ report, universal access to low-carbon transport is necessary and expected by 2050. An 80 percent reduction in energy use by light-duty vehicles is also forecast, along with a 50 percent drop in energy usage within shipping/freight transportation.

These changes will create challenges and opportunities for all companies operating within the sector. If suppliers are to respond effectively to these trends, they need to focus on bigger, bolder innovations that can substantially advance sustainability and deliver better value for customers. And they need to recognize that industry-wide innovations are increasingly the result of companies working together.

The transportation sector needs these sustainable solutions, so naturally, businesses need to commit to investing the necessary funds. At global paints and coatings company AkzoNobel, we invested over €370m in research and development last year, two-thirds of which was focused on sustainability.

The fruits of AkzoNobel’s investments in R&D and open innovation can be seen in products such as Intersleek, a result of collaboration with Newcastle University. This solution enables ocean-going ships to move faster and use less fuel through the use of anti-fouling coatings. Another example is a breakthrough basecoat/clearcoat system we have developed for aeroplanes that has streamlined the application process: Requiring one coat instead of the usual two or three, it dries in two hours (rather than ten) and offers lower dirt pick-up, resulting in less need for cleaning. The potential weight reduction brought about by using less paint also means improved fuel efficiency.

At AkzoNobel, our company culture also focuses on unlocking the creativity of our people and looking for the best ideas to help us tackle future challenges — no matter whether they are our own or someone else’s.

We organize “Innovation Events” to bring our enthusiastic employee communities together for a day of brainstorming and solving challenges. These events are designed to benefit from our people’s collective brainpower and a diversity of science, technologies, nationalities, backgrounds and businesses present — inspired by the energy, enthusiasm and willingness to help each other. We also recognize those who excel in incorporating innovation in their daily jobs. Our main platform to do so is the annual AkzoNobel RD&I Innovation Excellence Award, which rewards RD&I teams who have turned creative ideas into significant business successes, displayed openness in the achievement of business goals and driven innovation throughout the company. The teams that submit entries are global and cross-functional in their composition and involve members in marketing and production as well as researchers, reflecting the fact that innovation isn’t just about research

We also reach out to individuals, companies and the academic world through our Open Space initiative to let them know that we welcome their input. Our goal is to develop a dialog with the best thinkers, scientists, engineers and inventors, to enhance our shared capability to build a better world based on principles of sustainability and social responsibility. And of course, we want to explore the mutual benefits that we can realize when we join forces.

Incremental improvements will not be enough if we are to successfully tackle the sustainability challenges facing the transportation sector. It is only by delivering radical solutions and developing big and bold innovations that we will be able to drive significant change. Companies that can provide this will ultimately stand to benefit.

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