Nothing today is more pressing than climate change. For years INEOS' Climate and Energy Network has driven sustainability higher and higher up the INEOS agenda. But the company recognises that it needs to take on the perspective of its younger managers. To ensure it has a bright future, INEOS has formed a group of young people who passionately believe that INEOS has an important role to play in tackling climate change. Meet yCEN.
Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt argued that the future belonged to those who believed in the beauty of their dreams. Former US president Barack Obama believed it belonged to young people with an education and the imagination to create. INEOS believes it belongs to all three.
It is now giving its young people a real voice within the company to look to the future. A real chance for them to make a difference to how the business continues to operate beyond 2025.
Its yCEN group, who are all under 35, is led by Matthias Schnellmann, a 29-year-old with a PhD in chemical engineering.
Their brief is to come up with answers to some of the biggest challenges facing mankind.
And they are excited at the prospect.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution and certain trade-offs will need to be made,” said Pieter-Jan Snoeck, energy and performance coordinator at INEOS Olefins & Polymers Europe, who is also part of yCEN.
“The best way to start is by reflecting, challenging each other’s ideas and coming up with tangible solutions. The time to act is now, because INEOS has the right people to make this journey a success.”
Greet Van Eetvelde, INEOS’ global head of energy and innovation, described the formation of a young Climate and Energy Network group as an ‘incredibly important development’.
“There is no short-term solution to the grand challenges ahead,” she said. “We may be experienced, but it will be the young ones who take INEOS forward so we need to listen to them. INEOS’ future starts now because we older ones will not be around when the full impact hits.”
Matthias sees a very bright future for INEOS and, more importantly, one that he can now influence from inside the company.
“I am incredibly excited to be working with a group of motivated colleagues to address the grand challenges that we face,” he said.
That doesn’t mean the road ahead is going to be easy, he says. It isn’t.
“I am humbled by the challenge, both the scale of it and the speed at which we need to address and overcome it,” he said.
“But at the same time I am optimistic since there are examples of past challenges that humans succeeded in overcoming. The development of COVID-19 vaccines is a prime example.”
He is confident in INEOS, the company he joined in September 2019 after finishing his post-doctorate at the University of Cambridge in the UK.
“The chemical industry will be a key pillar of our transition to a climate neutral future and it’s already playing a vital part, by manufacturing the essential products for renewable technologies and zero emission vehicles,” he said.
“It is fundamental to our modern life. People often don’t realise that there is a huge link between the chemical industry and almost everything they touch, be it their iPhone, their clothes, the credit cards in their wallet or the toothpaste on their toothbrush.”
In other words, modern life would be primitive, lacking almost everything we take for granted.
INEOS, which employs 26,000 people around the world, makes products that matter.
Its plastic packaging protects and preserves food and drink.
Its PVC helps blood to be stored for longer.
Its solvents are used to make insulin and antibiotics.
Its chlorine purifies 98% of the UK’s drinking water.
Its acrylonitrile is the essential raw material for carbon fibre, which makes cars and aircraft lighter, stronger and more fuel-efficient.
“INEOS is consciously aware of the need to change,” said Matthias. “And it is not afraid of it.”
Over the past 10 years it has been working behind the scenes on successfully reducing its impact through its Climate and Energy Network (CEN), which feeds and fans debate across the group’s sites.
At the recent, three-day annual meeting, about 130 people from across the company – chairmen, CEOs, managers and climate and energy experts alike – tuned in every day to learn what their colleagues were doing to cut carbon emissions, switch to recycled and bio-based raw materials, reuse waste materials, reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and improve energy efficiency.
For those three days, the company focused on key issues such as climate and energy, the circular economy, where nothing is wasted, along with the production of safe, sustainable products that society needs.
“This isn’t just a talking shop,” said Greet. “We are taking a business-led approach to identifying opportunities for INEOS in this transition economy.”
The annual gathering also saw the launch of the new initiative, yCEN, which will be driven by the young people whose very future depends on the decisions that are made today.
Its group leader Matthias has already got a growing and a very passionate young army behind him.
“Transitioning to a net-zero economy is essential, and we need to accelerate our action,” he said. “However, our journey must be feasible technically, financially and socially.
“We can’t change the laws of physics and there are limits to how fast we can deploy renewable energy. Companies will need to invest in new technologies, which they can only do if they remain profitable.”
The EU wants to remove at least the same amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as it emits by 2050.
Matthias said it would be exciting to be at the forefront of INEOS’ part in that transition.
“I think opportunities will naturally arise where we can make substantive contributions, particularly in an organisation such as INEOS, whose success is built on challenge, seeking new opportunities and giving its people the scope and accountability to deliver,” he said.