Choice or necessity?

Why we need to act now for our collective future

Why are CEOs of large companies like Unilever and Dow Chemicals focussing on sustainable development? Unilever’s Paul Polman is seen as a global sustainability champion and as an ambassador for sustainable entrepreneurship. He is chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and is a member of the UN Global Compact. Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris, was extremely critical when the US decided to cancel the Paris climate agreement: “Leaders don’t leave tables, leaders stay.” For Liveris sustainability is the business model. What Polman and Liveris both seem to realise is that the coming years will ask a lot of commitment and action. The future of the companies they represent seems intricately connected with the transitions that are happening. For Liveris, the end of fossil resources is a realistic scenario. The future of the chemical industry very much depends on the ability to reduce the dependence on fossil resources. Moving away from fossil, together with a reduction of CO2 emissions to help mitigate climate change, determines the agenda for the chemical industry.  One way of doing this is through industrial symbiosis. Industrial symbiosis calls for the exchange of byproducts or waste. The idea being that one companies waste is another companies raw material. What all these efforts require is connectivity.  Given the sheer amount of products that need to be exchanged, this connectivity, will for the most be achieved through pipeline systems.

For the pipeline industry, this is good news. The core question is, however, if the industry realises the magnitude of what is going to hit them? Not just the chemical transition, but also the changes in the energy sector and the logistics industry, all require a new approach to the concept of pipeline ownership. No longer will one company own a pipeline for transporting one product. The transition requires a shared operation and multiple products shipped through one pipeline.

The coming years will see a lot of collaboration between industry, government and research partners to develop new knowledge for tackling this issue. For those that think that we still have a choice in this matter, my message will seem disappointing. The point where we could still choose has long since passed. The risks of not doing anything by far outweigh the risks of doing something.

Companies like Unilever and Dow Chemical have taken the lead for a purpose. They know they have no choice, this course has become a necessity for survival. The decision to step away from fossil resources came not through political pressure or even social pressure. It came through the simple fact that if they want to have a market in 20 to 30 years time to sell their products to, they must act now. Companies need to set course to take on the challenges that determine the future. They can do that for the sake of their businesses future. They must do that in the interests of humanity. It is about our collective future and survival.

That is why we no longer have the luxury of choosing but need to act now through sheer necessity.

This blog was originally written by Han Admiraal in Dutch as a column for publication in the BIG-Magazine, the magazine of the Netherlands-Flemish Pipeline Industry Guild and rewritten for publication on this website.