During a recent pre-K event in Austria, Sustainable Plastics caught up with Lucrèce Foufopoulos, Executive Vice President – Polyolefins, Circular Economy and CTO at Borealis for a quick interview. She brought us up to date on how Borealis is navigating its sustainability journey.
Since the last K, there have been quite a few organisational changes at Borealis. How did that happen so quickly? And has it affected your sustainability commitments in any way?
To start with the last part of the question: if anything, the effect has been a positive one, but let me put this into a bit more context. Indeed, we've been through quite a number of changes. However, Borealis today is still an independent company, with two shareholders. OMV is our majority shareholder and Borealis is fully consolidated in OMV's figures. In terms of governance, we have an executive board with five members and a supervisory board with representation from our shareholders OMV and Mubadala.
Another, not unimportant factor is the investment capability we have today. As Borealis alone, our investment capacity would be far less than with the backing of a very successful company like OMV. Furthermore, the complementary capabilities of OMV and Borealis, and our shared commitment to circularity are a source of strength.
Both your shareholders are oil and gas companies, with one located in the Middle East, an area still very much the oil centre of the world. To have this very strong commitment both to change and to sustainability is perhaps a bit unexpected?
Definitely, the Middle East is still an oil centre for the world. Nevertheless, they recognised early the need to evolve towards a more sustainable future. A particular example is Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, a pioneer in sustainability and more sustainable urban living. This commitment to sustainability is a cause we share. If you fail to provide a complementary sustainable offering and just adhere to a merely fossil-derived offering, you are jeopardising your licence to operate.
We just floated 10 percent of Borouge on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange through an initial public offering. As ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) has gained significant importance on capital markets in recent years, it is expected from Borouge and Borealis alike to further advance and accelerate an environmentally responsible and compelling investment story.
Borealis has announced the introduction of the Borealis Strategy 2030, which CEO Thomas Gangl called 'our roadmap to making life more sustainable for future generations'. The ambitions are quite steep. Can you explain in a little bit more detail how the company will achieve these?
We have developed quite detailed plans and road maps on how to get there. And these are constantly being validated - there's a whole mechanism around this. And last year, we decided to roll out a new operating model for polyolefins. Obviously, for every company it is complex to handle existing operations while growing a sustainable business. The latter comes with significantly more complexity – complexity in the number of feedstocks we need to handle, the number of technologies, the number of assets and the number of products, subject to new certifications and regulatory requirements.
We decided last year to futureproof our operating model, which involved, among others, setting up a dedicated transformation office with a dedicated circular economy solutions organisation and project management office.
We also aspire to drive more empowerment and more accountability in the organisation. In the past, we were more functionally organised. Today, we're more decentralised - with more empowerment and speed in decision making, freeing up more time for the transformation.
It all boils down to becoming more fit for purpose, to becoming futureproof.
Secondly, we are converting our strategy into really actionable road maps that can bring the strategy down to the floor.
That takes a lot of trust in your people?
That's true, and trust is an important point in the culture, and in our organisation and it's something that's been discussed. You can over-micromanage people, which will freeze an organisation - or you make sure that you attract the right people in the right positions and trust them, so that you can empower them while not jeopardising having solid governance in place.
Carbon accounting is a complicated process – are you working with someone to manage the process?
We are hiring more people as we speak. We have a new head of sustainability, and he and his team are supported by third-party consultants, who advise and provide guidance on the European taxonomy and all that that involves. So yes, we're working together with other companies.
How far along are you?
We have set firm targets around scope 1 and 2 emissions; Scope three is more difficult as they are the result of activities not owned or controlled by the reporting organisation. As part of the OMV group, we are committed to climate neutrality by 2050 across Scope 1, 2 and 3.
Which Scope has the most impact?
Scope 3 has the most impact by far. Not just for our group; for most companies, Scope 3 represents 65% to 95% of the broader carbon impact.
By 2025, Borealis is aiming to produce 600 kilotons of circular products and solutions; by 2030, 1.8 million tons. How? And by 'circular', do you mean products produced through chemical recycling? Will you be investing further in acquisitions? Are you developing new technology?
We want to become circular in plastic and in carbon. We do this by keeping products circulating at their highest value, at their highest quality and utility for multiple lifetimes.
Through our integrated circular cascade approach, we deploy a cascade of technologies that will maximise plastic value and efficiency while minimising their impact on the planet.
Our circular cascade model combines complementary design approaches and technologies to make plastic and carbon circularity a reality; designing for eco-efficiency, reuse, designing for recycling, mechanical recycling and chemical recycling.
We will also shape a better, CO2-neutral way by gradually shifting from fossil-based feedstocks to our so-called ABC alternatives: Atmospheric carbon, Biomass-based renewable feedstock and Circular tech from mixed waste streams. For us, circular also means keeping the carbon in circulation... so, renewables based on cooking oil? Yes, that is part of keeping this carbon in circulation. Plastic waste recycling? Carbon capture? That is also keeping the carbon in circulation.
We will reach our targets via three routes: build (in-house), borrow (partnerships) and buy (acquisitions). Being part of the OMV Group will strengthen our position and investment capacity. Today, Borealis' strategy is driven by the expansion and transformation of our current portfolio of chemicals and polyolefins, and powered by people. We will expand geographically, make higher value specialties - and make them circular.
The last time we spoke was almost exactly a year ago, in an online interview about Renasci. You mentioned then there were plans to build additional recycling facilities based on the Smart Chain Processing (SMP) concept patented by that company. How is that coming along?
We're still very committed to our collaboration with Renasci, which is anchored around the proprietary SMP concept, which sits at the heart of the Borealis circular cascade model. We're really making great progress in making the first plant in Ostend, Belgium fully operational this year and are exploring the integration into other expansion projects at different locations.