Isabelle Gubelmann-Bonneau is hard at work transforming the way Solvay creates value

As Head of Circular Economy, Isabelle Gubelmann-Bonneau doesn’t necessarily have the most easily understandable job title, but she certainly has her work cut out for her. The objective of her function is as simple to express as it is complex to realize: to help reinvent Solvay’s business and transition its activities toward the circular economy.

Beyond the buzzword, what is the circular economy exactly? Isabelle has a simple definition: “It’s an economy where waste has become a new raw material.” To get there, products need to stay in use as long as possible and materials have to integrate recyclability in their very conception. “Rather than throwing out the things we don’t want anymore, we reuse them, whether it’s clothes, cars, smartphones or medical equipment.”

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Bringing about the circular economy requires deep, structural changes that can only become a reality with the implication of the entire value chain: suppliers, customers, business partners of all sorts. Isabelle facilitates these collaborations “that are in many ways ‘circles,’” she says, between manufacturers and upstream suppliers, such as Solvay.

This means she enjoys being in contact with lots of different people, both inside and outside of the Group: “My role is to connect people that are unlikely to connect in a linear system, for example our mining experts with an automotive manufacturer, or our sales teams with a major brand owner. In that sense, my job has to do with strategy and business development.”

Without chemistry, there is no circular economy.

Isabelle Gubelmann-Bonneau, Head of Circular Economy, Solvay

Chemistry, a solution for the planet

Why does she do it? Quite simply, “to keep the one planet that we have alive,” she replies. At the age of 59 and having been with Solvay for 35 years, Isabelle remains passionate about discovering new things and working in a truly international environment. “My job is never boring. I’m always learning, and now I’m also transmitting.”

She is also convinced that a chemical specialty company such as Solvay is key in making these changes possible. “Without chemistry, there is no circular economy,” she sums up, citing examples of technically and commercially viable solutions, such as turning cereal waste into vanillin, extracting precious metals from used electric car batteries or turning recycled plastic bottles into high performance polymers.

Ultimately, Isabelle’s conviction and commitment are at the heart of what she does. “I decided to embark upon this journey toward a new economy to act effectively for the planet and make chemistry a solution.”