“The number one challenge for the coating industry today is decarbonisation”

15 January 2024

PPCJ spoke to Nicklas Augustsson, newly appointed Chief Sustainability Officer at Beckers Group, about the company’s Sustainability Index and the most pressing ‘green’ challenges and opportunities in the coatings industry today

Q. To start with, can you explain what prompted Beckers to create its own Sustainability Index and what it aims to achieve?

A. Beckers Sustainability Index (BSI) measures the sustainability of our products in a holistic and objective way, using a “balanced scorecard” approach. Originally created to quantify and put a value on sustainability, it has become a guiding tool for R&D and a way to measure our progress in terms of sales of sustainable products. As such, the BSI has been instrumental in realising our sustainability ambitions and further developing our product portfolio.

Q. What makes it different to other industry standards?

A. We created the BSI because the existing standards either lacked ambition or were not holistic enough in what they measured. The BSI is unique in that it goes beyond just looking at raw materials and chemicals, which is only part of the story. Tailor-made for the coatings industry, the BSI incorporates existing international standards and rating schemes to measure sustainability from both a material and functional perspective.

The BSI is the first of its kind to measure the value coatings add to surfaces during their use along the value chain. This functional perspective provides a clearer understanding of the overall true value a specific product provides to the end-user and society. Finally, the material perspective includes circular economy, renewable raw material content, toxicity aspects, as well as a comprehensive Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) giving the carbon footprint of the products.

Q. Which sustainability goals and targets is Beckers most focused on at the moment?

A. Sustainability is a topic that demands a comprehensive approach. At Beckers we have set 23 ambitious sustainability goals for people, products and operations. An inclusive culture and a diverse workforce are key to our ambitions, while health and safety remains our top priority across all metrics. In our operations, we have detailed goals and targets to reduce environmental impact in terms of waste, energy, water, etc.

However, our greatest impact is related to our products, and this is where the BSI is an essential tool. Our 2030 goals are that at least 50% of our revenue comes from products in the highest class of the BSI matrix (‘Achiever’), zero products fall into the lowest class (‘Concern’), and 100% of all new R&D products are Achiever-rated. Currently, more than 95% of Beckers’ total Carbon Footprint (cradle to gate) is embedded in our raw materials, and we are working on ways to reduce this. But while carbon footprint is a standard element in the BSI, it is crucial for us that we don’t get ‘carbon tunnel vision’, and instead maintain a holistic approach that considers the broader impact of a product.

Q. What would you say are the biggest challenges in the coatings industry in terms of sustainability?

A. The number one challenge for the coating industry today is decarbonisation, or what I prefer to call ‘defossilisation’. If you look at the wider value chain, approximately half of the CO2e emissions come from our purchased raw materials and suppliers, and half from our customers’ application processes. Less than 5% comes from the actual manufacturing of the coatings in Beckers’ operations.

Defossilisation requires deep collaboration throughout the value chain. As a paint producer, we must work closely with our suppliers to find new raw materials that have a lower carbon footprint and are fossil free, such as resins produced from plastic waste or renewable/bio-based raw materials. We also need to work closely with our customers to innovate the way coatings are applied to the substrate. A great example here is the electron beam/ultraviolet (UV/EB) curing solution that we have developed at Beckers over the past two decades and which we made available to the market in 2023. This technology will help customers make significant CO2 reductions, along with associated energy and carbon tax savings.


Focus on Sustainability: The power of collaboration – Uniting for sustainable success

Q. Do you find customers are more focused on the sustainability credentials of a coating or on its performance? If they had to choose, which are customers prioritising?

A. In our industry and the segments we are in, quality and performance are always critical. As a paint producer, any new coating we develop must meet the stringent performance requirements of our customers and end users, as well as their sustainability targets. Ultimately, we are seeking ways where these two very important parameters can work together: sustainable coatings that demonstrate high performance. The BSI factors this in by measuring both the material and the functional sustainability. The latter includes coating performance such as durability, anti-graffiti properties, mechanical properties and chemical resistance, among other benefits during the use phase.

Q. Beckers sells its products all around the world. Do you notice a difference in sustainability requirements or its importance in different geographic regions?

A. Yes, regulations and customer expectations differ by region. Generally, Europe is ahead of the game due to a very stringent regulatory framework, and we can expect more to come. We also see developments in China. Other regions are showing some interest, while again others still have a long way to go. The situation is likely to change with new upcoming EU regulations, but still the understanding of and interest in sustainability varies greatly. One of the strengths of BSI is that it helps us maintain one single standard all around the world. It is also a great tool to use in discussions with customers on how to put a value on sustainable coatings. And importantly, BSI Concern products will be phased out in all countries – regardless of local market conditions.

Q. How do you cope with adhering to different environmental regulations imposed around the world?

A. We have a Global Chemical Regulatory Group whose focus is to closely follow existing and upcoming chemical regulations in the countries where we operate. They evaluate and communicate changes and updates to all Beckers entities. They also update and maintain our regulatory platform – Intelligent Authoring (IA) system – to ensure all legal aspects related to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), labels etc. are fulfilled for all Beckers sites and products. The regulatory aspects are also included in the BSI where we aim to have toxic-free and persistent substance-free coatings. We make this evaluation based on hazard identification in section 2 of the MSDS and in addition we evaluate the presence of any banned or restricted substances classified as REACH Authorized or Candidate substances. This data is then integrated as part of the BSI.

Q. Finally, what is your ambition for the Beckers Sustainability Index in the next 10 years?

A. First and foremost, BSI is a tool to accelerate the development and deployment of more sustainable coatings. By providing a comprehensive assessment of sustainability performance, it guides the formulation and development of more sustainable products that create more value for end users and society.

Our ambition is to set a new sustainability standard. We hope to see the BSI widely adopted, not only for Beckers products, but also eventually by third-party players to allow the evaluation of other coating products. We believe that the BSI can help create a standard that will drive sustainability in the industry beyond our own activities. Serving as a benchmark and guide for continuous improvement, the BSI has the potential to enable the entire industry to take significant steps toward a more sustainable future.


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