Sustainability runs through the very heart of the way INEOS operates around the world. But how does the company approach this much talked about subject? To find out, Tom Crotty met Jim Dawson, a nonexecutive director of INEOS, the chairman of INEOS Technologies, Oxide and Bio and someone with vast experience of the petrochemicals industry.
Tom: Many companies have invested in sustainability departments but INEOS hasn’t. Doesn’t INEOS view sustainability as important enough to warrant its own department?
Jim: Quite the contrary. Sustainability is important to INEOS. It is a feature of all of our activities. We are not the sort of company that has a big central office that says ‘Sustainability’. We expect every business and everybody in it to follow that approach as part of its day-to-day business.
I can remember when – because I am old – some 40 years ago the price of oil was $2 (about $10 in today’s terms) and energy was cheap.
Today, and for the past couple of years, it has been about $110 globally and therefore there is a big pressure to improve energy consumption and also to produce products that save energy, so a good example of this is where we improve the operation and efficiency of our plants. We invest in better heat exchangers. We improve our reliability and reduce flaring. We improve our furnaces to be more efficient. As a result our energy consumption drops quite a bit. And the products we produce also provide significant benefit to society. Products such as expanded polystyrene for example. We have a special version called EPS Silver that is used to insulate buildings. It is a special form of EPS that can improve energy efficiency by 20% compared with the standard product. That’s just one example of producing products that are good for sustainable development. On average, across chemical products, for every kilogram of carbon emitted in their production, two kilograms of carbon are saved in their use.
Tom: INEOS often talks about the importance of being a good neighbour. Why is that so important to the sustainability of the business?
Jim: It is important in many ways. We have to maintain trust and have a good relationship with our neighbouring communities. One reason, of course, is that we employ quite a lot of people, at our sites, who live in the neighbouring communities. It is very important to be transparent about what is going on our sites. A good example is on safety and environment. Both are very import to us. If we get that right, our communities know we are doing the right thing. We take Safety Health and Environmental performance very seriously at the highest level. We have 15 businesses and we have board meetings every month or two.
At the start of every meeting we have a session on personal safety, on process safety and environmental impact. And I am pleased to say that last year our personal safety records was one of the best ever in INEOS history and the environmental impact record was one of the best in INEOS history, so I think we are doing good things for the community and ourselves by working on that. We also have community meetings at many sites so that people are totally aware what’s going on in their neighbouring plant.
Tom: Another important aspect of sustainability is attracting and retaining the right people. How is INEOS investing in training and developing the best workforce?
Jim: Ours is a technically demanding business and there is plenty of competition so we need to make sure we attract and retain the right people, and that is at all levels in the organisation. It may be apprenticeships where we are trying to improve operations on our plants and provide opportunities for further progression. Or it may be graduate programmes where we are trying to get other training for those people so that they can diversify their career, get opportunities in different businesses and progress through the company. Because of that, we do a lot of work with various institutions, with schools, with technical colleges and universities to try to identify and attract those best people, that will one day be the leaders of our businesses.
Tom: Jim, we have talked a lot about the culture of the business. And the culture within INEOS seems to encourage the development of an entrepreneurial spirit. Why is that?
Jim: INEOS has its own style. It is focused. It focuses on profit. It focuses on safety and it wants an entrepreneurial, “can-do” style. And we need that because the chemical industry is complex and competitive.
Chemicals are used in transport, in medicine, in communications, in buildings, in a whole raft of important markets and we need an entrepreneurial spirit to make the best of those. And there are some good examples. Liquid food packaging is important to all of us. We can make the central barriers 35% thinner by using a different catalyst in the polyethylene that forms them. We also do simple things like using a different form of high density polyethylene to reduce the weight of bottle tops. It is a trivial thing but when you think of the billions of bottles that are produced and the contents consumed, then small amounts of change like that make a big difference. Another example of entrepreneurial thinking is in our bio-fuels. We have developed a process to convert organic waste into bio-ethanol, and that organic waste can be municipal solid waste. It is then gasified into syngas, which is carbon monoxide and hydrogen. That then reacts with micro-organisms and they convert it into ethanol. We have constructed an eight million gallon, commercial scale plant in Florida. It is mechanically complete. It is the first plant in the world. It is new technology so we are going through a quite time consuming mechanism of starting the plant up. Dealing with solids at the front end or liquids in the middle takes time to optimise. When completed we will be producing bio-ethanol on a commercial scale that goes into the nation’s fuel supply. And that’s certainly an example of sustainable development.
Tom: Why is it so important that companies like ours create and develop products that make a difference?
Jim: Quite simply, it is the nature of the chemicals business.
It’s important that we produce new products for what the world requires.
And sometimes those products may be common ones. For example, chlorine is a commodity that has been around for many, many decades and yet the chlorine we produce in the UK purifies 98% of the country’s water supply. Now that is a statistic to be proud of. We have also developed a bio-chlor membrane process to remove mercury and improve the efficiency of making this chlorine by some 30%.
Another example is synthetic motor oils. Car engines are getting more and more complex and they are getting more and more efficient and therefore they need high quality motor oils to operate them. We produce synthetic oils and this goes into top-end lubricants.
But it doesn’t stop there. We also use similar things in compressor boxes and in gear boxes and a good example is a special form of lubricant that we have developed for wind turbines. You can imagine if you have set up a wind turbine - it is on a tall structure and the gear box is high in the sky – you won’t want to be climbing up and down that structure every week to lubricate it. That’s why we have developed products that have a good sheer strength, last a long time, are good lubricants, reduce friction, and are ideal to extend the service life of the wave of wind turbines we see around the world.
We are also a producer of acrylonitrile, which is the precursor to carbon fibre. Carbon fibre is light and strong. If you use them in aircraft you can reduce fuel consumption by about 30%. Of course, you are moving a lighter structure around the sky so it is not just carbon fibre in golf clubs. In transport you can make a big difference. We do feel at INEOS that we make products that make a real difference.