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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
How Sustainability at Eastman Has Evolved to Tackle Global Challenges

Here, Cathy Combs, Eastman’s Director of Sustainability, details the materials giant’s ongoing journey to embedding sustainability into its core strategy — to enhance quality of life in a material way.

Eastman is a company of problem-solvers. Our people are tackling problems that face the world in order to enhance quality of life in a material way. That’s why we exist — and we’ve arrived at a point where sustainability is how we fulfill our purpose.

Over the past decade, sustainability at Eastman has evolved from compliance to an integral element of our corporate growth strategy. Propelled by what I call “listening from the outside in,” this evolution has helped transform how our company meets needs and tackles global crises.

Becoming the “how” for our “why”

Sustainability at Eastman originally meant environmental compliance. Over time, we added society and economics to the environment, creating our triple bottom line. As I joined the team, sustainability was emerging as a driving factor in particular markets; and our team saw the growing opportunity for our businesses to sell sustainable products. As we researched and planned for market shifts, our collective understanding of sustainability evolved.

As sustainability at Eastman continues to evolve, it’s not only about marketing sustainable products but about managing sustainable businesses. Sustainability is a mindset embedded in how we operate across all business units and in each of our roles. It’s driven by innovation and focused on people.

Decoding effective methods of driving consumer behavior change

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This evolution of our approach is a microcosm of shifts happening outside our walls. Consumers around the world have come to not only desire sustainability, but to expect it. The connection between people and the environment has become clearer and more personal, and even more so as a result of the pandemic.

Listening from the outside in

In the corporate world, we can easily get turned around and only think from the inside out. But a sea change begins with the people outside our walls — as consumers see what’s going on, react to it and adjust their expectations of companies. The market is based on what they want — safe products and healthy communities, transparency and purpose-driven action.

We created a cross-functional group across Eastman several years ago to do the research — to map the landscape of consumers, our value chain, and similar companies. Through an iterative process of research, planning and engaging our senior leadership in dialogue, we laid a foundation that has enabled us to think strategically about our impact. We asked ourselves, how are we going to embody our purpose to enhance quality of life in a material way when there are so many pressing needs?

The framework to deliver on our purpose

As we face the pandemic, societal unrest and a struggling global economy, we are also facing three long-term and potentially devastating challenges: climate change, a global plastic waste crisis and population growth. We believe addressing those challenges is the key to enhancing quality of life for all people.

To do so, we’ve developed a strategic platform and goals that will guide us in prioritizing three critical impact initiatives: mitigating climate change, mainstreaming circularity and caring for society. We think of this as innovating for what we call “a better circle.” This platform gives us a framework to deliver on the promise of our purpose statement, now and for generations to come.

Our vision for a better circle is detailed in our 2020 Sustainability Report. Here are the highlights:

Mitigating climate change

We are prepared to do our part to support the United Statesrenewed commitment to the Paris Agreement. In alignment with that, we have committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. To achieve this, we have set an intermediate target of reducing our absolute greenhouse gas Scope 1 and 2 emissions by one-third by 2030. We will also continue to provide products that enable energy savings and greenhouse gas reduction down our value chains and at the consumer level.

Mainstreaming circularity

For a circular economy to become mainstream, the world needs technologies, policies and infrastructure to support it. We’ve committed to recycle more than 500 million pounds of plastic waste annually by 2030 via our molecular recycling technologies, with a milestone of 250 million pounds annually by 2025. We’re also working to catalyze recycling system improvements in two primary ways: 1) expanding our capabilities to recycle more complex products, and 2) participating in initiatives and collaborations that will drive increased collection.

We recently announced an exciting advancement toward both our climate and circularity goals: Eastman is building a state-of-the-art facility that will use over 100,000 metric tons of waste plastic each year as raw material. As a result, the equivalent amount of fossil feedstock will stay in the ground; and we will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 20-30 percent, compared to using those fossil feedstocks. Eastman will invest about $250 million over the next two years to get it up and running — and recycling.

Caring for society

By creating better products, supporting our communities, and building a more inclusive culture inside and outside our walls, we’re working to enhance the quality of life for all 10 billion people who will soon call our planet home. We will continue driving new product innovations that meet our world’s pressing needs in safe and transparent ways. We’ve also committed to achieving gender parity in alignment with our commitment to Paradigm for Parity®, as well as leading our industry in racial equity.

The timing is right

Listening from the outside in has never been more important than in the aftermath of the pandemic and the revolution for racial equity. With the convergence of environmental, social and economic crises in 2020, organizations along our entire value chain must now do the homework, start an ongoing dialogue with each other, and set individual and collective goals. It’s time to be bold — and boldness starts with listening.