Interview with Matthias Maase, Director Global Sustainability Care Chemicals, BASF

Matthias Maase
Director Global Sustainability Care Chemicals, BASF

Hello Matthias, you recently took over the lead of the newly established global sustainability team for BASF's Care Chemicals division at a very turbulent time. How did you get started? 

Indeed, the economic situation in the Home and Personal Care Industry in Europe is not easy at the moment. High inflation levels make consumers think twice where they spend their money. This has an impact on how frequently people clean, which products they choose and if they spend the little extra for more sustainable alternatives. Nevertheless, the long-term mission in our industry is clear: we need affordable products, without compromising on performance while providing an improved sustainability profile. 

For BASF's Care Chemicals division, sustainability has long been a driving force. How does the current situation in the European Chemical Industry affect the commitment you're making?

The transition of the chemical industry towards climate neutrality comes at a cost which cannot be ignored. In this context it is important that legislation and regulation provide a level playing field across industries. Players who are driving the change should be recognized. Moreover, cleaning and personal care products need ingredients, and these are built from carbon. This feedstock base cannot be “decarbonized”.  Other industries, like transportation, can switch easier from carbon-based fuels to other energy carriers like hydrogen or electricity. This should also be reflected by regulation.

The current geopolitical developments represent a huge challenge for the chemical industry as well as for our downstream industries. However, BASF has not changed its commitments to a more sustainable future and the same is true for Care Chemicals. 

Where does your sustainability path lead to?

We have a lot on our agenda. The big topics are greenhouse gas emissions and climate neutrality, biodegradation, responsible sourcing of feedstocks and protection of biodiversity, water stewardship and circularity – just to name a few.

Our customers for example have published very ambitious targets to reduce their overall greenhouse gas emissions and they look toward us to support them in achieving their goals. Step one is to have a meaningful baseline, for which our customers need solid and comparable data on the product carbon footprints of the ingredients that we supply to them. BASF is pioneering the ability to provide such data for each of our individual sales products, and we are engaged in industry consortia that are currently developing harmonized methodologies and standards like Together for Sustainability (TfS) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Partnership for Carbon Transparency (PACT). 

Data and baselines are the starting point. As a next step, we need tangible measures and approaches to reduce product carbon footprints. BASF has initiated major projects for the reduction of our scopes 1 and 2 emissions as part of our “Net Zero 2050” Roadmap. In addition, we offer approaches like Biomass Balance that allow the use of sustainably sourced renewable carbon feedstocks from biomass, preferably residues. Replacing fossil carbon by renewable alternatives is an important approach to generate sizeable product carbon footprint reductions at scale, in a short period of time and in an affordable way. We recently converted the majority of our European ingredient portfolio with our partner Henkel to renewable feedstocks using the Biomass Balance approach. This will avoid more than 200,000 tons of CO2 emissions in total in the next four years.

In personal care, we focus a lot on biodegradable alternatives for our high performing polymers. The Verdessence family represents high-quality biopolymers that enable our customers to gradually replace conventional ingredients in their products. We recognize that this is challenging and not possible on a one-to-one basis. But we have developed solutions that take a holistic view and support our customers in the development of new or adjusted formulations. Digitalization plays an important role in this journey. Whether it is the Emollient Maestro, the Surfactant Navigator or the SFA Formulator in personal care, our digital tools are giving our customers the ability to develop sustainable formulations faster and reduce ingredients with sustainability challenges.

Our offerings are accessible through our well-established digital platforms, like D’lite in the personal care space. Customers can find product information, formulation support, access to smart AI based tools and Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) data. This gives our customers the confidence they need to move forward.

Where do you see the greatest challenges to come?

Coming back to climate neutrality. The first and fastest step is avoidance. We have for example developed high performing ingredients that either boost the cleaning performance of a formulation or enable a net reduction of ingredients at the same performance level. Cleaning polymers and enzymes are great examples for such innovations. In a next step we increase the share of renewable carbon, e.g. from biomass or waste, to substitute fossil carbon, either in dedicated products or by means of the mass balance approach. This allows very significant reductions of the product carbon footprint of an ingredient. However, biomass will also not be an unlimited resource if you consider the growing world population, the need to stop deforestation and the decreasing area of arable land. The Home and Personal Care industry will continue to need chemicals, and chemicals will continue to be based on carbon chemistry. Cleaning products are converted to CO2 at the end of their life, e.g. through biodegradation in a sewage plant. We need to explore new ways to recycle the carbon in this CO2 as a feedstock for ingredients. In other words: in the long run we need to close the CO2 re-cycling loop.

What is the innovation to come in the next couple of years? 

As we move towards more renewable raw materials, we need to ensure that we source sustainably by protecting biodiversity and human rights. Through responsible sourcing, we can increase transparency and traceability in our supply chain. We continue to expand this. Starting with palm, we already have several certified sustainable raw materials in our portfolio. For coconut, castor, shea, argan, rambutan and others, we can provide dedicated information, creating transparency.

I have mentioned already our biomass balance approach to substitute fossil feedstocks by renewable alternatives, such as biomethane or biobased cracker feeds. In addition, we are transitioning production sites to green electricity. BASF has a 49.5 % share in the world’s largest offshore wind farm Hollandse Kust Zuid with an installed capacity of 1.5 GW. It will enable BASF to implement innovative, low-emission technologies at several of its production sites in Europe. BASF’s Antwerp Verbund site will benefit from the renewable power to a significant extent.

Last, but not least circularity will be a key priority for the next years. Some approaches like shifting toward more biobased ingredients and enabling more sustainable feedstocks with Biomass Balance are already happening. In the future, we expect carbon capture and use to become an important additional pillar to also bring CO2 back into the re-cycle loop. 

The transition to more sustainable home and personal care is a journey. There will be no one master solution that solves all problems. It will be a mix of innovations and approaches that add up to create impact for a more sustainable future.

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