Walking the talk: climate targets mean nothing if not backed by actions
True to its commitments, Solvay keeps growing its climate ambitions
As the world comes together again for COP26 in Glasgow to try and more efficiently tackle the climate crisis, six years have passed since the Paris Agreement to limit global warming. Committed to play its part in building a more sustainable future for our planet, Solvay has been busy consistently raising the bar for its climate ambitions over these six years. Many different initiatives have been undertaken to achieve this, from switching to renewables to phasing out coal-based energy to joining forces with customers and suppliers. In a recent announcement, Solvay has increased its objectives by committing to reaching carbon neutrality before 2050.
This commitment is part of Solvay’s renewed sustainability ambition, Solvay One Planet. Inspired by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it focuses on three key areas: climate, resources and better life.
Doubling down on CO2 reductions
In terms of climate ambitions, Solvay adopted a target in 2015 to reduce the CO2 intensity of our industrial operations, focusing on emissions caused at our plants for producing chemicals (so-called “scope 1”) as well as those due to the energy we purchase and consume (“scope 2”). “Early 2018, we had already reached nearly 80% of our target,” explains Philippe Chauveau, the Head of Solvay’s Climate Strategy. “It was time to upgrade to a new goal. In line with the challenges our planet is facing, the decrease in emissions has to be in absolute value.”
So we switched our targets, committing to CO2 reductions in actual kilotons. In 2018, the target was set at -1 million tons of CO2 by 2025, a 1% yearly reduction of emissions. Just two years later, that number was doubled to 2% (or -26% by 2030). Late 2021, as part of our increased climate ambitions, the target was raised again, to -30% by 2030. “The idea was to raise the bar again and finally align our emissions reductions over the next ten years with the Paris Agreement’s long-term objective: limiting the increase of global temperatures to well below 2°C,” says Philippe.
Renewables are in, coal is out
But commitments, targets and objectives are nothing if they aren’t backed by actions.
Over the past few years, we have been implementing a series of programs to increase the share of renewables in the energy we consume. Through on-site solar and wind power generation and by investing in green electricity, biomass and biogas projects and other clean technologies, we have more than doubled our reductions in yearly CO2 emissions between 2018 and 2020 (from -100.000 to -250.000 tons). “There is no one single solution,” explains Philippe. “Reducing our energy-related emissions can only be done by implementing numerous projects on many sites with varying local conditions and resources.”
Solvay’s goal of phasing out the use of coal in energy production (wherever suitable renewable alternatives exist) is another big step in this process. “Consider the revolution this involves: Solvay founded its activity on soda ash production nearly 160 ago: a very energy-intensive process still largely coal-based today,” continues Philippe. “This change also demonstrates our commitment to deeply transforming the way we function.”
In addition to sourcing cleaner energy, this transformation also implies using less of it in the first place. Energy efficiency is a long-standing effort at Solvay, on top of the group’s Solwatt® program. Additionally, efforts continue in order to develop process innovations such as finding new circular economy loops, scaling up green hydrogen, electrifying processes, etc.
Furthermore, besides energy-related emissions, we have been engaged for more than a decade in the drastic reduction of our process emissions (gases generated by the chemical processes necessary to produce our materials).
The idea is to raise the bar and align our emissions reductions over the next ten years with the Paris Agreement’s long-term objective.
Scope 3: the big picture
The other breakthrough triggered by our climate ambitions is the integration in our targets of scope 3 emissions, those generated all along the value chain. They include emissions caused by raw material extraction, suppliers and transport upstream of Solvay, and transformation, consumer use and end of life downstream.
This represents roughly twice as much CO2 as scope 1 and scope 2, so the potential for reductions is huge. Achieving them implies collaborating with our business partners, for example by convincing suppliers to reduce their emissions or co-developing innovative products, in line with our Purpose of bonding with customers and reinventing progress.
Recognizing this potential, Solvay committed in October 2020 to set a 2030 target for its reductions in scope 3 emissions by joining the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). “This encourages us to work even more closely with customers and suppliers to reduce emissions, and also to accelerate on eco-conception, circularity and the use of bio-based materials,” says Philippe. “Setting a science-based target for scope 3 emissions is a major change for us, and we are thrilled to join this group of climate-ambitious companies.”
Before this, Solvay has been monitoring the sustainability of its products for over a decade. This was the reason behind the creation of our Sustainable Portfolio Management tool (SPM), which tells us that today more than 20% of our sales have strong sustainable climate credentials, paving the way for continued growth.
To continue accelerating the development of climate-smart solutions with our customers, our battery platform and brand-new hydrogen platform have been set up to develop new zero emissions solutions, particularly for mobility and transport. And let’s not forget the significant emissions avoided thanks to our lightweighting solutions (such as advanced materials for automotive and aerospace) or energy efficient solutions for the housing sector (such as triple glazing).
No incentives like financial incentives
Lastly, many other tools exist to help Solvay reach its climate goals. For example, the Group’s internal carbon price, set at the above-market rate of €50 per ton of CO2 and recently increased to €100, guides every investment decision worldwide, while emissions-related incentives for senior leadership serve to show just how serious we are about our ambitions: the bonuses of top managers are directly impacted by our actual performance in CO2 reductions. Simply put, we want to grow while keeping our planet’s climate sustainable.