Sustainable Innovation The foundation for long-term growth
At Clariant, sustainable innovation is not just a corporate priority, it’s a way to engage with the dynamics of a changing world. Clariant’s Head of Scouting in New Business Development, Verena Niebuhr, can certainly attest to that.
Challenges do not shut down Verena Niebuhr, they wake her up. As Clariant’s Head of Scouting in New Business Development, Verena takes special pride in working closely with highly skilled experts from Clariant’s research and development (R&D) and Business Unit (BU) teams to conceptualize and develop new business with innovative and sustainable products that address global challenges while also meeting customers’ specifications. According to Verena, »chemistry is everything – the majority of products in our constructed as well as natural environments are based on chemicals. It is impossible to imagine a world without chemistry. I therefore believe that the chemical industry will play a major role in addressing the challenges facing our society and planet to sustain our world for future generations – with Clariant leading the charge.« As both a cornerstone and touchstone of Clariant’s strategy and success, sustainable innovation drives Clariant toward promising market opportunities that support not only customers, but also society and the environment – making it a significant priority for Clariant.
The reason why
How innovation and sustainability can work together
There are many ways chemicals can reduce products’ environmental impacts while saving resources. In one of Clariant’s New Business projects, for example, a new nano silver conductive ink plays an important role in the miniaturization of electronics – ultimately reducing materials and energy consumption while creating a variety of new applications. reports.clariant.com/v05
Ecological, social, and economic global megatrends, including those challenges resulting from population growth, urbanization, the spread of typically Western consumption behaviors among a rapidly growing middle class in emerging countries, are expected to cause drastic changes that pose a variety of challenges to mankind, e.g. leading to huge strains on the environment from increased waste, to the challenges of supplying enough (clean) energy. These challenges will and need to propel innovation across industries, and the chemical industry will play a crucial role in addressing the challenges.
Clariant recognizes this, and so does Verena. »We are currently consuming the resources of almost two planets, which clearly exceeds the Earth’s capacity to regenerate. The demand for chemicals will continue to grow and not only can we make current production processes and products more efficient and sustainable, chemicals can also save energy and resources.« Creating new solutions for these demands and challenges means prioritizing sustainability in the design, production, and intended use of a product. This is also emphasized by the fact that sustainability and the innovation it requires are key pillars in Clariant’s strategy. This in turn has made Clariant rigorous in its R&D decisions, raising red flags and stopping non-sustainable innovation projects if they are not aligned or can be further developed in line with the company’s sustainability ambitions.
»We are currently consuming the resources of almost two planets, which clearly exceeds the Earth’s capacity to regenerate.«
Verena NiebuhrHead of Scouting New Business Development
Verena plays an important role managing and inspiring sustainable innovation at Clariant. She approaches her work with passion and pride, sometimes even engaging with visitors at the Clariant Innovation Center to discuss the many applications of Clariant’s diverse product portfolio.
Sustainable innovation emerges from a place
Built around a culture of creativity, collaboration, efficiency, and sustainability, Clariant dedicates itself to both finding new product innovations and promoting innovation daily. The Clariant Innovation Center (CIC) helps Clariant’s employees achieve this. The CIC is the flagship among the research and development centers at Clariant’s production site in Frankfurt-Höchst, Germany. Equipped with research and application laboratories for several BUs and the most up-to-date analytics, the CIC is also where the Intellectual Property Management and New Business Development departments are located.
At the CIC, no two days are ever the same – especially for Verena. »I am always looking forward to meeting with my colleagues and team in the morning and typically spend some time to align on the most important news and urgent tasks to prepare for the day. The environment and atmosphere in our open space office in the CIC supports this daily assembly well, and fortunately, there is no such thing as a normal day for New Business Development – I highly appreciate the diversity of both our staff and the work we do.« The CIC is a vital player in Clariant’s global R&D network, which includes more than 50 Technical Centers in Europe, North and Latin America, India, and China, with a total of about 1 100 employees.
Diverse minds forge ideas
For Verena, »a major part of my day is filled with conceptual and content work as well as external and internal networking – for example, to drive forward the search for new ideas, scouting fields, and scouting projects. Our work involves a great deal of external networking, which is crucial to fill the pipeline with ideas that provide great value potential for our customers and for Clariant.« The CIC’s »Open Lab,« where Clariant can work on innovation projects together with customers and other development partners, exemplifies this. Innovation workshops bring together Clariant’s customers with various experts from Clariant to jointly identify and develop new ideas that ultimately provide solutions to unmet needs. In addition, Clariant participates in more than 125 scientific collaborations with universities, research institutes, and external partners, while simultaneously monitoring any and all industry trends and developments – including pioneering projects at start-up companies.
Internal collaboration for delivering on sustainable innovation
CHF million invested in research and development for innovation in 2016.
patents held by Clariant at the end of 2016.
scientific collaborations with universities, research institutes, and external partners.
Internal collaboration also propels Clariant’s sustainability and innovation, particularly through Clariant’s »Sustainability Trend Meetings.« During these sustainability forums, global experts from Clariant’s sustainability strategy, marketing, and business development teams discuss sustainability challenges that can be addressed using Clariant’s expertise in chemistry and material science. By having experts from around the globe and across the Business Units in the meeting, the sustainability challenges are scrutinized from different business and geographic perspectives. These meetings often lead to new ideas for project or product development and business scouting, which then are pushed forward by BUs, regional teams, Group Technology and Innovation or New Business Development. Progress on the uptake of sustainability opportunities are reported to the Sustainability Council. This Council holds a meeting twice a year at the executive level to determine sustainability strategies for the company.
In subsequent Sustainability Trend Meetings, previous findings, new challenges, and industry trends are once again presented, analyzed, and discussed, continuing Clariant’s collaborative and ongoing dialog around sustainable innovation opportunities. The backbone of Clariant’s competitive edge is to deliver sustainable innovation and performance, and this is exactly what Verena finds so exciting in her work: »This spirit of change regarding sustainability can clearly be felt throughout Clariant – especially during Trend Meetings – and it already manifests in tangible initiatives, projects, and new products. I am particularly proud that Clariant has also managed to spread this enthusiasm to customers, and that we are not only recognized as a sustainability pioneer, but that we also have several ongoing sustainable innovation projects jointly with customers that are showing continuing success.«
Sustainable innovation practices and solutions are required for taking on industry trends and responding to societal challenges, which is why they have become a foundational pillar underlining Clariant’s performance. However, sustainable innovation practices and solutions continue to evolve with Clariant’s business and sustainability strategies. Verena knows this well, highlighting that sustainable and innovative solutions at Clariant ultimately revolve around creating value: »Clariant’s approaches to sustainable innovation have changed drastically from a theoretical concept to actual products that impact us in our everyday working life. To deliver added value to Clariant’s customers, innovation requires an overlap of desirability (for example, an unmet customer need), feasibility (for example, technical attainability), and viability (for example, economic competitiveness). At Clariant, it is understood that even when providing a more sustainable alternative to an existing solution this may not always be sufficient. The particular performance benefits are crucial and need to meet customer expectations to have realistic implementation chances.«
Many current and future challenges will require interdisciplinary approaches and holistic solutions, and sustainability is thus a catalyst for innovation. Chemistry and other sciences will play a major role in addressing societal challenges, and industry players that rise to the top will be those that think both inside and outside of the box in developing solutions. Clariant clearly has great potential to be one of these game changers, and already Clariant’s innovators – like Verena – are using efficiency, creativity, collaboration, and sustainability to develop solutions in response to global challenges while continuing to leverage Clariant’s existing capabilities.