Solvay pursues an historic partnership with the Solar Impulse Foundation

Solvay is a proud partner of the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions created by the Solar Impulse Foundation. We talked to Richard Thommeret, Solvay’s Science & Innovation Communication Director, who is in charge of the partnership, about working with the Alliance for the past three years and getting some of Solvay’s product labelled as “Efficient Solutions”.

First of all, what are “Efficient Solutions”?

The Solar Impulse Alliance wants to identify solutions everywhere around the world and in every field of activity that help to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as Clean Energy, Sustainable Cities or Responsible Consumption and Production, while being profitable business-wise. Solutions that meet the required criteria and are labelled as an Efficient Solution become part of the Alliance’s portfolio. The ultimate objective is to bridge the gap between ecology and economy.

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And how was the World Alliance created?

At the end of the Solar Impulse adventure in 2016, Bertrand Piccard, the Swiss pilot behind the whole project, created the Solar Impulse Foundation. In turn, the Foundation hosts the Alliance, which functions pretty much like an NGO. They work hand in hand with partners who seek to develop solutions that will make life better on our planet, in short. The Alliance acts as a spokesperson to promote these solutions with local authorities, municipalities, governments, etc.

From Solvay’s perspective, what was the reason to sign a partnership with the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions?

Well, first and foremost because such as partnership was completely consistent with Solvay’s 12 years of investment in the Solar Impulse project. We were Solar Impulse’s first technological partner from the very beginning, back in 2004, so it made perfect sense for us to continue working with the Solar Impulse Alliance on the Efficient Solutions project. Furthermore, there is a strategic alignment between Solvay and the Alliance, as we aim to develop sustainable solutions, with a strong focus on sustainable mobility and resource efficiency. Finally, partnering with the Alliance puts us in contact with an ecosystem of open innovation gathering start-ups and partners of all sorts, which is particularly interesting for Solvay Ventures, our capital venture branch. For all those reasons, collaborating together makes perfect sense, and it’s why Solvay signed a four-year partnership with the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions and why we’re one of their strategic partners, along with companies like Schlumberger, Air Liquide, Michelin, Procter & Gamble, etc. There are over 1,800 members in the Alliance so far, all companies that want to be at the forefront of innovative solutions to change the world. It’s a global partnership to push things forward.

And what is your role in this partnership?

My job is to be in charge of the partnership with the Alliance at Solvay, and I’m also a member of the Alliance’s strategic committee, which is its governing body. I’m the one who suggested that the solutions be labelled, not just identified, in order to increase the positive impact of the Alliance.

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AgRHO® S-Boost™ was recently the first of Solvay’s solutions to receive the Efficient Solution label…

Yes. It was recognized for its capacity to optimize the absorption of nutrients by the seed, use less pesticides and better manage water resources in agriculture, so that we can hope to feed the growing global population with higher crop yields but without further depleting water resources. And a second Solvay solution has actually just been labelled: SOLVAir®, our solution for treating exhaust gases from factories incineration plants and ships hence contributing to cleaner cities.

Working with the World Alliance for Efficient Solution is completely aligned with Solvay’s values for creating sustainable business. It’s concrete, not just a green stance.

Richard Thommeret, Science & Innovation Communication Director, Solvay

What does Solvay get out of having its solutions recognized by the Solar Impulse Alliance?

For Solvay, it’s a new and original way of promoting our solutions through channels we don’t usually use, targeting political decision-makers, the municipalities of the world’s largest cities, the European Commission, etc. The Alliance is now widely recognized and receives requests from cities and regions that are looking for sustainable solutions to meet their challenges in terms of mobility, smart cities, public lighting, etc. So to figure among the solutions recommended by the Alliance is a great thing for us. Also, these are often quite technical products, not always easy to explain, so having the label gives them a much stronger impact in terms of communication.

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Can you tell us a little about the labelling process. How does a product become an ‘Efficient Solution’?

The Alliance has a network of 300 independent experts who assess solutions according to the specified criteria: chiefly technological feasibility, environmental and socio-economic benefits and economic profitability. It’s an extremely thorough scrutiny process. To my knowledge, this is the only label that has such credibility for clean and profitable solutions. So far, about 130 solutions have been labelled.

And there are other Solvay solutions in the works to receive the World Alliance label as well, correct?

Yes, some of our products might get the label soon, such as the Solef® PVDF thermoplastic. I constantly work with our business units to submit relevant solutions to the Alliance. They have to be strategic solutions for the GBU, but also have clearly understandable benefits. We’re hoping to reach 10 to 20 labelled solutions in the near future.

This is not just about big multinational companies getting their products labelled, it’s about collaborating to change the world, correct?

Absolutely. Among the 130 solutions labelled so far, many come from start-ups. We like the idea of being associated with small companies, sometimes even individual inventors who come up with creative solutions. Solving the world’s challenges isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation; we’re going to need a multitude of innovative solutions of all sorts, local and global, large and small. Everyone must be able to participate, and big companies like Solvay don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. Also, being a part of the Alliance demonstrates our commitment. When we’re asked to explain our implication, we can easily show how working with the Alliance is completely aligned with our values for creating sustainable business. It’s concrete, not just a green stance. And of course, internally, getting labelled is a great booster for teams: they feel recognized and rewarded for their work; it’s a source of motivation and pride for everyone.