The 2019 World Chemistry Leadership Meeting (WCLM) was a special and rare opportunity to bring together leaders of industry to IUPAC’s 50th General Assembly during its 100th anniversary and the 150th anniversary of the periodic table. This meeting enabled leaders of chemical industry to provide their view of the future of the chemical industry in the context of challenges facing society and the UN sustainable development goals. IUPAC was founded in part because of the strong interest by the chemical industry of 100 years ago in having a common language of chemistry to facilitate trade between countries. That effort to develop this important language has largely succeeded and today IUPAC, while continuing that original mission in the cyber connected world, is a societal educator and provides an important forum for open discussions of the role of chemistry in society.
Our panelists included the following CEO’s: Martin Brudermüller (BASF SE), Andrey Grigoryevich Guryev (PhosAgro), Ilham Kadri (Solvay), and Thierry Le Hénaff (Arkema). Solvay, it should be noted, was one of the founding companies of IUPAC so it was appropriate to hear from them and other chemical companies on the occasion of IUPAC’s centenary.
The meeting was introduced by Christopher Ober and Frances Separovic who asked our panelists to discuss the chemical industry in the context of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs were adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an historic United Nations summit and were the subject of a prior WCLM held in Busan, South Korea in 2015. A report of that meeting is described in a previous article published in Chemistry International . At this prior meeting leading academics including a Nobel prize winner discussed the UNSDGs and Young Observers in attendance drafted project proposals aimed at sustainable chemistry. In Paris, the 2019 WCLM gave the GA and conference attendees a chance to hear from industry on this topic.
Separovic briefly summarized the 17 Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for the audience and the panelists.The SDGs represent a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Briefly, these goals are:
1. End Poverty; 2. Zero Hunger; 3. Good Health & Well-Being; 4. Quality Education; 5. Gender Equality; 6. Clean Water & Sanitation; 7. Affordable & Clean Energy; 8. Decent Work & Economic Growth; 9. Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure; 10. Reduced Inequalities; 11. Sustainable Cities & Communities; 12. Responsible Consumption & Production; 13. Climate Action; 14. Life Below Water; 15. Life on Land; 16. Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions; 17. Partnerships for the Goals.
The SDGs are a call to action to promote prosperity while at the same time protecting the planet. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection.
A successful sustainable development agenda will require partnerships between governments, the private sector and the chemistry community, and diverse partnerships will be essential at all levels (global, regional, national and local) to bring about better solutions. Given the importance of both the fundamental and the applied aspects of IUPAC to finding such solutions it was invaluable to have this dialog.
During the panel discussion these corporate leaders made the point that the chemical industry subscribes to and supports the SDGs and considers it a roadmap that provides clear structure and priorities. They noted that stable goals by governments are essential for long term planning and action. And they pointed out that today the chemical industry aligns its projects and activities with the SDGs as key providers of sustainable solutions to society, e.g., growing food more efficiently, improved renewable energy, or reducing poverty.
Our panelists described a global industry, that like IUPAC, believes in the value of education—educating the consumer, educating users of chemical products such as farmers, and educating people about the value of chemistry to providing future solutions. For example, industry trains farmers in new agriculture technology that both raises incomes and helps to feed developing countries.
Industry is addressing climate change by reducing CO2 emissions, making lighter vehicles to reduce fuel use and providing better energy storage materials. Executives told the audience assembled at this plenary event that decisions must be good for people, the planet, yet still provide a profit.
Diversity is also an important element of the SDGs and industry is working hard on this aspect. There was extensive discussion on this topic leading up to the presentation of the IUPAC Distinguished Women in Chemistry awards for 2019. Inclusion and Diversity are extremely important. Emphasis should be according to the panelists on an inclusive culture (support, advocacy, ensuring everyone is part of a team). Companies with diverse leadership teams have a statistical and sustained improvement in financial performance.
In a closing talk Brudermüller (BASF) gave an impressive presentation that summarized these points and also discussed ways for industry to engage with the public on sustainability through the alliance for ending plastic waste. It will take industry working with consumers to solve this problem and consumers will have to support sustainable solutions and change some of their habits while industry rethinks some of its approaches.
The chemical industry finds that setting tough targets on sustainability requires innovation and in that way attracts the best talent to its community. Brudermüller concluded that innovation needs diversity and openness.
It is clear that both industry and IUPAC want the United National Sustainability Goals to succeed. IUPAC supports the UN SDGs and is working to convey to the public the importance of chemistry in providing societal solutions. There are numerous opportunities for IUPAC to work with industry and it is our hope that WCLM held during this year of the IUPAC centenary will lead to greater and long term interactions working towards these common goals of serving society.
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