John Lou­d­er­milk

COO, Birla Car­bon

Chemical Industry Digest - - Ceo’s Round Table -

Chem­i­cal In­dus­try Digest (CID): Sus­tain­abil­ity means many things to many peo­ple. It could be re­source ef­fi­ciency, avoid­ing or min­i­miz­ing bad ef­fects on the en­vi­ron­ment of any ma­te­rial or prod­uct or emis­sions from man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses. Some link it with CSR ac­tiv­i­ties too. Can we get some clar­ity on this along with what the bench­marks are if any for sus­tain­able man­u­fac­tur­ing in the chem­i­cal in­dus­try?

John Lou­d­er­milk (JL): Sus­tain­abil­ity is not lim­ited to the health and safety of work­ers, nor can it be only about en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship. While these ar­eas are crit- ical, I be­lieve sus­tain­abil­ity is much more. It is about look­ing holis­ti­cally at the busi­ness and cre­at­ing a model to en­sure that we are truly build­ing for the fu­ture. This re­quires a long view of is­sues and what the needs of so­ci­ety may be in gen­er­a­tions. There­fore, while a sus­tain­abil­ity ini­tia­tive may be in play to­day, its real re­sults will be mea­sured long in the fu­ture.

CID: Many ma­te­ri­als/prod­ucts that are be­ing used now are not sat­is­fy­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity cri­te­ria. What should com­pa­nies do to green ex­ist­ing prod­ucts or re­place them to­tally with more benign and envi-

ron­men­tally friendly ma­te­ri­als/prod­ucts? Should com­pa­nies re­visit their ex­ist­ing prod­uct port­fo­lios and even their man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses to re­ori­ent them to­wards sus­tain­abil­ity re­quire­ments? What do you prac­tice?

JL: Birla Car­bon fo­cusses on mar­ket trends and works closely with cus­tomers to un­der­stand where they need help de­liv­er­ing value. From this, we uti­lize our ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge to help solve their prob­lems. The ar­eas you men­tion are among the key ob­jec­tives for our cus­tomers and we see our­selves as well po­si­tioned to help them de­liver.

Our prod­uct de­vel­op­ment sci­en­tists are fo­cused clearly on im­prov­ing en­ergy ef­fi­ciency whether that be help­ing to lightweight rub­ber prod­ucts or re­duce the rolling re­sis­tance that re­quires en­ergy to move ve­hi­cles. This is an area where car­bon black can make a real dif­fer­ence.

Our teams have got­ten bet­ter at lever­ag­ing their knowl­edge by col­lab­o­rat­ing be­yond our or­ga­ni­za­tion. This mul­ti­plies the ef­fec­tive­ness of our more than 50 sci­en­tists in two global R&D cen­ters to com­mer­cial­ize bet­ter prod­ucts faster.

CID: When it comes to the de­vel­op­ment of en­tirely new prod­ucts/ ma­te­ri­als, do you em­ploy prin­ci­ples of sus­tain­abil­ity ab ini­tio? Are such prin­ci­ples & prac­tices em­ployed in your R&D? Do you feel the global pub­lic pres­sures to­wards cleaner en­vi­ron­ment & sus­tain­abil­ity would give an im­pe­tus to R&D?

JL: At Birla Car­bon, we have mapped the United Na­tions’ Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGs) to our busi­ness. Our ap­proach to prod­uct re­spon­si­bil­ity is di­vided into two key fo­cus ar­eas: safety and stew­ard­ship. By safety, we en­sure that our prod­uct is made safe for cus­tomers’ spe­cific use. At the same time, our prod­uct stew­ard­ship ap­proach en­sures that our peo­ple un­der­stand how our car­bon black is made and their role in its man­u­fac­tur­ing process. Not only do we help our cus­tomers but we also act re­spon­si­bly across our value chain.

We en­sure that our prod­uct meets and ex­ceeds all reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ments. We also re­main abreast of any reg­u­la­tory or mar­ket de­vel­op­ments, en­abling us to sup­port our cus­tomers in meet­ing their own reg­u­la­tory obli­ga­tions. We thor­oughly test our so­lu­tions to en­sure that it is aligned to health, safety and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­quire­ments while main­tain­ing its high-qual­ity.

We con­tinue to build a prod­uct stew­ard­ship cul­ture in our op­er­a­tions by cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment in which our peo­ple feel able to seek ad­vice and sup­port. We en­cour­age em­ploy­ees to stop, think, ask and dis­cuss what they’re do­ing be­fore and dur­ing process de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion changes.

CID: End of the pipe treat­ment means not good chem­istry; min­i­miz­ing dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect of en­vi­ron­ment is an­other ap­proach; Re­cy­cling & reuse is be­ing adopted in some cases and cra­dle to cra­dle/cir­cu­lar econ­omy are be­ing touted. What would be the most prac­ti­cal ap­proach – in the short term and what is re­quired to be done in the long term?

JL: The fo­cus on sus­tain­abil­ity and the en­vi­ron­ment will ne­ces­si­tate all in­dus­tries to look closely at top­ics like re­cy­cling and cre­ate eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties as new tech­nolo­gies evolve. We fo­cus on long term R&D so­lu­tions at the same time part­ner­ing with the cus­tomer and sup­plier to in­crease the life cy­cle of their prod­uct which is key to­wards cre­at­ing sus­tain­able value. In the end, it is a com­bi­na­tion of all of these ap­proaches you men­tion (de­signed in min­i­mal im­pact, re­cy­cle/re-

use, etc.) that will be re­quired to de­liver the fu­ture we en­vi­sion.

CID: An­other ma­jor prob­lem is that of cli­mate change, global warm­ing due to emis­sions of green­house gases. This can be mit­i­gated by man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses shift­ing to low car­bon or no car­bon load on en­vi­ron­ment. Are R&D ef­forts mov­ing in this di­rec­tion? Can a shift to re­new­able feed­stocks from petro feed­stocks help? In your man­u­fac­tur­ing are you try­ing to re­duce the car­bon load of your pro­cesses?

JL: Our ap­proach to re­duc­ing our emis­sions is guided by our Sus­tain­able Op­er­a­tional Ex­cel­lence, which leads us to con­tin­u­ally search for the best pos­si­ble pro­cesses and tech­nolo­gies. We con­tinue to work on tech­nol­ogy im­prove­ments such as state-of-the-art fil­ter ma­te­ri­als, which en­sure max­i­mum con­tain­ment and re­cov­ery of our prod­uct. In ad­di­tion, we proac­tively eval­u­ate in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies through­out our process that can re­duce air emis­sions and ac­cess how they can be im­ple­mented across our op­er­a­tions.

As re­spon­si­ble stew­ards, our ap­proach and tar­gets are fre­quently re­viewed and chal­lenged, to en­sure we con­tinue to drive im­prove­ment in evolv­ing en­vi­ron­ments. A key con­cern for us and our stake­hold­ers is air qual­ity, en­ergy use and car­bon con­ver­sion ef­fi­ciency. We lead the way in our in­dus­try in terms of pol­lu­tion con­trol tech­nol­ogy and aim to be as ef­fi­cient as pos­si­ble in our car­bon mass bal­ance ef­forts; the more pro­fi­cient we are, the more ef­fec­tively we cap­ture and uti­lize the car­bon in our feed­stock.

A key en­vi­ron­men­tal area for us is wa­ter as we op­er­ate in some ar­eas where it is not abun­dantly avail­able. We are in the process of im­prov­ing our wa­ter man­age­ment, in­clud­ing how we ac­cess, mea­sure and en­sure ef­fi­cient use of this re­source. Al­most all our plants have “zero wa­ter dis­charge” out­side our premises.

We have been in­vest­ing into Flue Gas De­sul­phuri­sa­tion tech­nol­ogy to re­duce sul­phur emis­sion from our op­er­a­tions. Such for­ward-look­ing in­vest­ments do have a def­i­nite cost im­pact, both in terms of cap­i­tal in­vest­ment and op­er­at­ing costs, lead­ing to re­duced com­pet­i­tive­ness; how­ever, our cus­tomers will value the long term sus­tain­able ben­e­fits of these pro­grams. We also si­mul­ta­ne­ously fo­cus upon plant wise en­ergy con­ser­va­tion and mon­e­ti­za­tion, cost-sav­ing projects, uti­liz­ing al­ter­nate feed­stock and de­velop- ing pro­cesses for bet­ter yield, con­serv­ing en­ergy, min­i­miz­ing waste and sim­i­lar ef­forts that ren­der us more ef­fi­cient.

CID: Can you give some ex­am­ples/ achieve­ments of your com­pany’s ef­forts on the sus­tain­abil­ity front?

JL: We have made sus­tain­abil­ity a foun­da­tional as­pect of our busi­ness as rep­re­sented by our vi­sion, “to be the most re­spected, sus­tain­able, and dy­namic” in our in­dus­try. Our per­spec­tive on sus­tain­abil­ity is holis­tic cov­er­ing ar­eas nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with the term such as en­vi­ron­ment, safety, and health along with those, peo­ple might not con­nect to sus­tain­abil­ity such as peo­ple de­vel­op­ment and fi­nan­cial per­for­mance. We view sus­tain­abil­ity as a way to en­sure our long term fu­ture as a com­pany, as well as, the fu­ture of the planet.

Our Sus­tain­able Op­er­a­tional Ex­cel­lence strat­egy in­flu­ences ev­ery de­ci­sion we make. The ap­proach drives us to share and adopt best prac­tices across the busi­ness to con­tin­u­ously im­prove and pro­mote con­sis­tency. It is a real dif­fer­en­tia­tor for Birla Car­bon.

For­mal ex­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tion on our sus­tain­abil­ity jour­ney be­gan in 2013, with our first Sus­tain­abil­ity Re­port. Since then, Birla Car­bon has surged past many of its sus­tain­abil­ity mile­stones, of which health, safety and en­vi­ron­ment (HS&E) have been key el­e­ments. These ac­com­plish­ments have not been lim­ited to one re­gion, but rather across all the re­gions where we op­er­ate.

We are proud to be seen by many cus­tomers as lead­ers in this arena through par­tic­i­pa­tion in their own sus­tain­abil­ity ef­forts. It is also re­ward­ing to be rec­og­nized by lead­ing sus­tain­abil­ity rat­ing agency, EcoVadis, as a Gold Level prac­ti­tioner in the top 1% of all com­pa­nies re­viewed, for con­sec­u­tive years.

A key en­vi­ron­men­tal area for us is wa­ter as we op­er­ate in some ar­eas where it is not abun­dantly avail­able. We are in the process of im­prov­ing our wa­ter man­age­ment, in­clud­ing how we ac­cess, mea­sure and en­sure ef­fi­cient use of this re­source. Al­most all our plants have “zero wa­ter dis­charge” out­side our premises.

John Lou­d­er­milk (Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence - Chem Engg, Univ of Ten­nessee) is Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer (COO), Birla Car­bon, based at the Com­pany head­quar­ters in Ma­ri­etta, Ge­or­gia, USA along with an of­fice in Han­nover, Ger­many. In his role, Lou­d­er­milk pro­vides...

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