A Sharper Focus on Sustainability
WACKER’s role as a global chemical company comes with responsibility. That’s why sustainability is a key objective of WACKER’s corporate strategy.
We want to gear our activities more closely toward developing solutions that meet the challenges of climate change and that serve long-term environmental-protection goals – all over the world. Contrary to common public perception, many of the battles in the climate and environmental crisis are being fought in China. Two sustainability experts from our Chinese subsidiary, Juan Wang and Vicky Zhang, told us what sustainability means to them personally and to WACKER China, and how they are approaching the challenge.
“I’m honestly very concerned about the environment, because it impacts all of us.”
Juan Wang directs the Construction Polymers lab at the WACKER Technical Center in Shanghai and is the product coordinator for Construction Polymers at WACKER’s site in Nanjing, where she is responsible for quality control as regards the dispersible polymer powders produced there. In 2018, she also took on responsibility for sustainability work within WACKER POLYMERS at WACKER China.
“We’re concerned about sustainability at WACKER, not only because it’s important for the environment and society, but also because our business has no future without it.”
The Important Role of Sustainability
“WACKER’s job is to help improve quality of life throughout the world. I’m utterly convinced that, as a chemical company, we have a role to play in global progress and in sustainable development. That’s why it’s important to harmonize our ecological, business and social goals. Sustainability is a pressing – if not the most pressing – issue of my generation. Besides affecting our future and our children’s futures, it also impacts WACKER’s future as a company.”
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important – not just for WACKER, but for the Chinese government as well. “In China, we used to think that sustainable business practices were a long way off, but we’re realizing more and more that the issue applies to us too. Sustainability is a global issue that really affects everyone. It’s not just a job for governments – every one of us has to do our part.”
Ecological and Economic Aspects Will Need to Go Hand in Hand
This is why WACKER places so much importance on encouraging a low-CO2, environmentally compatible economy that uses resources efficiently. The goal is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 through sustainable products. The focus of WACKER’s SustainaBalance® program is to allow its customers throughout the world to offer more sustainable solutions for the end market, minimize their own carbon footprint, create efficient and safe workflows, use resources responsibly, prevent waste and work with all of their partners in society toward a more sustainable supply chain.
If we are to secure livable conditions for the current and future generations, then now is the time to strive for environmentally sustainable work practices. As Wang explains, the government in China is well aware of this too.
“Everyone needs to make sure they are living and working sustainably. We might not see major progress in the next year or two, but if we stay the course, positive change will come. We’re in it for the long haul. But we’re absolutely moving in the right direction and this is how it’s developing all over China. Even our competitors – and not just those outside China – have come to recognize how important this issue is and are trying to make their operations more sustainable. WACKER started to do that years ago, and that’s a good thing.”
Raising Awareness for Sustainability
The company is working toward sustainability in a variety of ways each and every day. The local WACKER management team strategically promotes and supports those efforts. The reason this is important is that the cornerstone of sustainability lies in making individuals more sensitive to the issue.
“I have to confess, I didn’t know much about sustainability even just a few years ago. But thanks to my work and my new position, I’ve been able to catch up quite a bit and become more knowledgeable on the subject. What I do here at WACKER raised my awareness of the issue, and that’s been growing continuously ever since. I think that’s how it is for a lot of people. Sustainability is making itself felt in the company more and more – even in small ways. In the past, for example, no one really ever thought about reducing our use of paper cups or paper towels or about how important it is to dispose of them correctly.”
That has since changed. The transformation is in full swing, with sustainability goals firmly anchored in business plans. Encouraging an environmentally conscious mindset is part of the change, and at WACKER China that encouragement comes from management, which pays very close attention to sustainability and promotes it through regular activities.
In addition to continuous internal improvements, another goal is to model and communicate the issue of sustainability outside of the company. As Wang explains, bolstering the company’s image is not the reason for doing this – the goal instead is to raise awareness for the issue beyond the plant gates and to advocate sustainability by talking directly with customers, government agencies and other stakeholders.
“Our customers are paying a great deal of attention to sustainability too – in products and applications alike. On the one hand, many of our customers are already eager to make their own businesses sustainable. At the same time, however, we’re also trying to make them more sensitive to sustainability issues. The exciting part is that it sometimes flows in the opposite direction too. Some of our customers are really accomplishing a lot on the market. And sometimes they see areas where we could make improvements and ask us to optimize our products accordingly. We’re grateful when our customers draw our attention to that. We also have the WACKER Sustainable Solutions program, which helps us make our products more environmentally and socially responsible.”
“It’s important for WACKER to do more than just pursue sustainable practices – we also need to talk about what we’re doing in terms of sustainability so that we can reach others and maybe even inspire them to follow our example.”
– Juan Wang
Sorting Waste at WACKER China
Sorting waste is another area where major progress has been made. Vicky Zhang works with the waste-sorting program at WACKER China. She shows us how, inside every WACKER building, there are now signs to show people how to separate their garbage correctly. The goal is to make sorting waste a more integral part of day-to-day life, and the special-purpose signs are intended to make that as straightforward and easy to understand as possible.
“We used to just have one container for everything. But now we’ve got this helpful system of signs. Plus, the company also gave us special training on how to classify waste. And we have an app provided by the government here in Shanghai that helps us make sure we’re disposing of our garbage appropriately.”
Waste management has a long tradition in the People’s Republic of China, which recycled a great deal of its waste in the past. China served as a particularly good role model even as far back as the 1970s, when the country was able to channel nearly all of its household waste into the circular economy for recycling. And avoiding, reusing and eliminating waste remains highly relevant to this day. The People’s Republic is the world’s largest producer and importer of waste, and, as a result, this branch of the economy has become much more important over the past few decades.
“Sorting waste never used to be that big of a deal, to be honest. But I’ve been working in the field for a fairly long time now and I’ve learned how important it really is. When I learn and apply things here, I take them back home with me and put them into practice there, too.”
– Vicky Zhang
The New System at WACKER Helps
“Separating your garbage is the norm here, even outside of WACKER. And now everyone does that. The government in Shanghai has introduced this waste-classification system and it really does help. I think that’s great. That’s why we make a conscious effort here at WACKER to do our part when it comes to sorting waste.”
There are now three kinds of bins at WACKER China. Offices have two for recyclables like paper and plastic. And then there’s another bin in places like the kitchen, which is for residual or household waste.
Health and the Environment
Zhang explains why it’s so important to sort waste. “When you burn certain materials it causes air pollution. And of course we want to avoid that. The air in Shanghai isn’t exactly the best right now, you know. But we’re working on making it better. It maybe doesn’t amount to much if just one person does it, but if we all pull together, it will gradually keep getting better. It’s a process, and, like my colleague Juan Wang said, part of that is about raising awareness.”
Waste sorting has changed on a personal level too, as Zhang then explains. “The environment is very important to us – even on a completely subjective level. It’s an issue that you can link directly to our health and well-being. That makes environmental protection extremely relevant in a general sense. But another aspect is the beauty of the environment, which can have a positive impact on our psyche. Personally, I think seeing the green in nature makes you happy. And that’s worth protecting! So I really appreciate how WACKER China is placing more and more emphasis on sustainability and environmental protection.”