Chemical producer Corbion proves that it’s possible to get an A in ChemScore
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Chemical producer Corbion proves that it’s possible to get an A in ChemScore

Following the release of our sustainability ranking – ChemScore – which scores the largest chemical companies in the world on how well they are reducing their toxic footprint, it’s apparent that even the top performers have a long way to go to reach the maximum score of 48 points.

After scoring, we translate the numbers into a letter grade to visualize the companies’ performance. ChemScore’s top three companies receive either B (29–32 points) or B minus (25–28 points), which is obviously a far cry from the best possible grade: A plus (45–48 points).

This begs the question: Have we made the ranking system too tough? Is it impossible for chemical companies to score better?

Some of the ranked companies certainly think so. And since many of them get top grades in other sustainability rankings, these questions are arguably not unfounded.

“Have we made the ranking system too tough? Is it impossible for chemical companies to score better?”

The answer to both of them, however, is no.

Some time ago we were contacted by Corbion, a Dutch biochemicals company headquartered in Amsterdam, with production sites all over the globe. Although a very large company (985 million euro revenue in 2020), its revenue isn’t among the world’s 50 largest chemical companies, which is the selection criteria we use for inclusion in ChemScore. Corbion is therefore not included in the ranking.

But the people at Corbion provided us with their self-evaluation according to the ChemScore criteria, and our verification confirmed that the company scored 43 points, which equals an A (41–44 points). That’s 14 points (!) more than the top-scoring company in ChemScore.

“Corbion’s product portfolio doesn’t rely on any hazardous chemicals”

How is this possible?

First of all, it’s worth noting Corbion’s business model is a bit like a wholefood market, where the idea right from the start is to sell organic food.

Similarly, Corbion’s product portfolio doesn’t rely on any hazardous chemicals.

The company produces and sells lactic acid and its derivatives, and is a supplier of emulsifiers, functional enzyme blends, minerals, vitamins, and algae ingredients. It produces solutions for markets such as food, home & personal care, animal nutrition, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and bioplastics.

Since the product portfolio is non-toxic and Corbion is transparent about its global production, the company receives the maximum score, 18, in the Product Portfolio category.

Generally speaking, Corbion has implemented the Green Chemistry principles in its operations and R&D, and performs annual assessments of potential risks related to its raw materials and suppliers. This process includes a SIN List check.

When it comes to innovations, the assessment also includes a SIN List check to prevent the inclusion of problematic chemicals in any new product that is being developed.

Everything mentioned here is also stated in Corbion’s annual report, publicly available for anyone to verify.

But even a company like Corbion can improve. ChemSec would like to see the company’s safety data sheets publicly available. To improve circularity, we would like to see the use of recycled feedstock and designing out of waste from the production processes, as a start.

Innovation solutions, like a take-back scheme for depleted solvents, or products that enable their clients to become more circular, should also be on the agenda.

“Corporations with ten to a hundred times the revenue of Corbion’s have an even greater responsibility of making chemical safety and transparency a priority”

Sonja Haider, ChemSec’s Senior Business and Investors Advisor, shares her thoughts on Corbion’s evaluation:

“Corbion shows that a chemical business without hazardous substances is not an unattainable dream, but a realistic aspiration. The chemical producers ranked in ChemScore might argue that this approach cannot be upscaled to fit companies of their sizes and portfolios. To that we say that corporations with ten to a hundred times the revenue of Corbion’s have an even greater responsibility of making chemical safety and transparency a priority.”