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As a chemical company that has been around for nearly 150 years, BASF is good at managing risks. “Risk mitigation is in our DNA at BASF,” said Dirk Voeste, vice president of sustainability strategy at BASF.
In fact, the company’s intrinsic safety culture also carried over into the broader acceptance of sustainability at first. “Those who were very careful in the beginning about sharing some of the sustainability challenges the company has faced are now very convinced of the value of being transparent,” he explained.
The Starting Point
Three years ago, BASF began a review of its product lines. The sustainable solutions steering initiative has included both direct involvement from a “top down” perspective — driven by a sustainability board chaired by a member of the board of directors — to a “middle out” perspective, with every business unit in the company investigating its own products and matching them against strict sustainability criteria.
Getting sustainability built into BASF’s core businesses didn’t happen overnight. It took buy-in from top management. Voeste is the secretary of the corporate sustainability board, which includes 12 company presidents. The corporate sustainability board took a step-by-step approach. It made an initial proposal to the board of executive directors to introduce the product portfolio sustainability review, and then went to the business units to get buy-in from the business unit managers and strategize how to make the needed changes happen.
Armed with business unit specifics and challenges, the committee then returned to the board and presented their findings. With approval for deep dives into core businesses, the committee then created its “sustainable solutions approach” — a plan that would enable them to move forward with an analysis of every product line within the company.
Sustainability plays a key role at BASF. In 2011, in an update of its strategey, the company defined a company purpose: “We create chemistry for a sustainable future.” The sustainable solution steering committee is an important element in the implementation of this strategy.
“One of the first significant steps was moving sustainability from EH&S [environmental health & safety] to the strategic planning department,” Voeste explained.