The Saint-Gobain Group has collectively embarked on an essential project: becoming carbon neutral by 2050. At the beginning of November 2021, a roadmap was presented. What does this announcement imply for our industrial operations?
Saint-Gobain’s commitment to carbon neutrality is one of the key pillars of our climate strategy. Beyond the benefits of the solutions we provide to our customers, we aim to reduce and even neutralize our impact in terms of CO2 emissions.
The road to carbon neutrality is a long-term project with intermediate stages. 2030 is one of them. By that date, the Saint-Gobain group commits to having reduced its direct and indirect CO2 emissions to 9 million tons: a 33% reduction compared to 2017.
Achieving this medium- and long-term commitment means acting today while taking the right options for tomorrow.
On the one hand, by deploying a process of permanent optimization and operational excellence to improve our industrial processes. And on the other hand, by devising breakthrough innovations to anticipate the different scenarios of the post-2030 world.
To optimize our industrial processes, we have several levers at our disposal.
- Reducing the energy used in our plants. Thanks to innovative energy and heat recovery systems, thanks also to the contributions of Industry 4.0 and data provided as close to reality as possible, we will be able to control our energy consumption to adapt it to our needs. And to reduce it by 5 to 20% depending on the site.
- Substituting the energy we use. In order to move ever more towards carbon-free energy, we will use green electricity, natural gas or, depending on availability, biogas.
- Innovating at the heart of our products: we will develop products with more recycled content, products designed with low carbon materials, and lighter products. Let’s take an example: a large part of the CO2 emitted in the manufacture of glass wool is linked to its weight. By making it lighter, we reduce its carbon footprint, improve the installer’s working conditions and allow the construction of a lighter building with a more economical structure.
Of course, by the very nature of our industrial activity, residual carbon emissions will remain. To make flat glass, for example, you need to melt sand and soda and when the latter melts, it emits CO2. Our goal, therefore, is to capture and transform this into Renewable Natural Gas (or biomethane). On the road to carbon neutrality, nothing is lost, everything is transformed.
And that’s why innovation is deployed in all our industrial processes.
However, there is fundamentally something unknown about this innovation. What will be the breakthroughs that will transform the sector in the years to come? Will there be a green hydrogen economy in 2035-2040 at an acceptable cost? What will be the price of carbon and will we have a tax on imports from countries that do not value the cost of carbon?
Our philosophy, given these mid-term uncertainties, is to make sure that we don’t limit ourselves to a single scenario, that we leverage our R&D efforts to be able, in 10 to 15 years, to make the right choices without locking ourselves into a single technological option.
Thus, through pilot projects, we are anticipating future developments that could be more widely deployed. Let’s take the example of plasterboard; its manufacture requires two heaters, first to calcine, then to dry. Today, these two heaters are gas-fired, but thanks to extensive R&D work, we are going to develop a first pilot project in Norway by 2022 to electrify this process. If it is successful, we will be able to extend this process to other sites.
In addition to our 2030 objectives, which are based on mobilizing all currently available, technically and economically realistic levers, we are looking ahead to the future with this scenario-based approach.
Ecological transition is a demanding challenge for both our industrial processes and our business model.
We will achieve carbon neutrality without compromising either the excellence of our products or our competitiveness. And to do so means taking into account the specificities and costs of local production. Our strategies and levers are adapted to each country, its economic imperatives (such as the cost of energy), its opportunities (more recycling in one plant, more heat recovery in another…)
Clarity of the roadmap, flexibility in execution: this is what underpins Saint-Gobain’s approach to bringing the “net zero carbon” ambition to life today.
And we have one major asset we can rely on: the Group’s employees. They are not only the project managers, but also the architects of a green roadmap that shakes up habits, requires us to reinvent ourselves, and poses industrial challenges that are met with talent every time.
Because within the Saint-Gobain group, carbon neutrality, before being an operational roadmap supported by an accounting approach, embodies first and foremost a collective and individual purpose.
Author: Benoit d’Iribarne
Senior Vice President Manufacturing, Performance and Technology, Member of the Executive Committee at Saint-Gobain
Article courtesy of Saint-Gobain