What does globalization mean for you? And how do you assess the current economic situation?
Star: I associate globalization with topics such as innovation, sustainability, competition and, of course, growth opportunities. Borealis is a good example of this: Our growth history over the past twenty years has been very much based on innovation. And I expect that this excellent development will continue. Why? Quite simply: Today 7,5 live billions of people worldwide, 2050 will be ten billion. Fortunately, prosperity is growing with the world's population, and so will consumption. If we want to make this sustainable, it is important to use the most efficient materials - and plastics are easy to use in many applications. The demand for our plastics will therefore grow. However, this growth will not take place in Europe, but especially in Asia and the Middle East. Accordingly, we want to continue to grow with our joint venture, especially in these regions.
What does that mean for the location Austria?
Star: We have a production site for polypropylene and polyethylene in Schwechat, a large melamine and fertilizer production in Linz and our international research headquarter. In short: We produce innovations and products in Austria. The plastic production facilities that we build worldwide are based on these technologies. At Borealis in Austria people from more than thirty different countries work, and of course the attractiveness of the site in terms of quality of life also plays a role. In addition there are personal security and legal security, but also a high level of training of the employees. With labor costs in mind, we need to take full advantage of the training levels of our employees to be productive and competitive. Where Austria should grow, is in the field of top universities: We have few institutions that attract world-class researchers.
"I am convinced that it is possible to achieve more in the field of climate protection with plastics than without plastics."
Climate protection is currently in discussion as never before. What does that mean for Borealis?
Star: We face major challenges around the world in our energy consumption and CO2 emissions. We now know that plastics are the most efficient material class in terms of the CO2 impression, helping us to save a great deal of CO2 in their use phase. Renewable energies without plastics would be unthinkable. Photovoltaic modules can be made more efficient with these materials, and also for the energy distribution, plastics make a significant contribution through increasingly better insulation materials for high and extra high voltage cables. In the automotive industry, plastics enable lightweight construction and therefore vehicles with significantly lower energy consumption. And we have countless opportunities to do even more - I am convinced that you can achieve more with the protection of the environment with plastics than without plastics.
Plastics are massively criticized. Currently, things are getting better Prohibitions discussed as new uses.
Star: Especially with bans you have to think carefully, with which we replace plastic solutions. I hope that all the plastic bags that are banned will be replaced with bags that are actually reused several times - if we replace them with disposable bags of other materials, that is certainly the worse solution. That's why it's important to try to achieve goals rather than work with prohibitions, because these are always an innovation and creativity brake. In this context, I see a great opportunity for Austria as a country with one of the world's highest recycling rates and numerous leading recycling companies. One could certainly use technology and know-how from Austria more intensively for internationalization, for example in waste management, in order to offer solutions where the biggest problems occur.
Plastic is generally considered part of the problem ...
Star: You have to see that in the bigger picture. As a society, we have a total waste problem. Twelve percent of the waste is plastic waste, of which we still release too much into the environment. This causes enormous damage, which must be limited. Only about two percent of plastic waste in the world's oceans comes from Europe and North America. The main problem lies elsewhere, and solutions have to be found there. Central to this is the recognition that plastic waste is recyclable material that should be returned to the raw materials cycle.
Which solutions do you have in mind?
Star: We have ourselves run a very interesting project called STOP in Indonesia, which shows how a garbage collection system can be built in a developing country. The goal is that the system will be self-sustaining once. In a first city - Muncar - ten thousand households were first equipped with garbage cans and trained in dealing with it. We have set up a sorting center there, where fifty people are employed. It is great that the project also attracts other companies. We are cooperating with the Indonesian government to roll out the model to the entire country - the expansion into two other cities is imminent. An important partner is the Norwegian Development Cooperation, which co-finances the project. After all, the budget is more than ten million euros.
"Our vision is that plastic waste will simply be another source of raw materials in the future."
What can Borealis itself contribute to recycling?
Star: Of course, the plastics industry is challenged to find economically viable solutions for the recovery of plastic waste. Borealis has begun manufacturing recycled content products for 2014, and 2016 has bought a recycling company to enter its own business, with Ecoplast adding a second recycling company last year. This is about mechanical recycling: post-consumer waste is shredded, washed, separated and finally re-processed into plastic granulate. This is the most energy efficient recycling process that we see as a great growth opportunity for Borealis.
Do not you have to start earlier?
StarAs far as Design for Recyclability or maybe even Design for Circularity is concerned, we are sure to face big challenges. We have spent a lot of research and development in recent years to do the same with less and less material. For example, if you take a bottle of water, you see that less than half of the material used in the polyethylene closure today is ten years ago. Even packaging films are now so thin that you hardly see them. This is possible because they are made of different materials, but they are not separable again and only result in an inferior recycled material during reprocessing. With our Borstar technology, we can now produce multi-layer films with the desired properties from different types of polyethylene, resulting in a high-quality recyclate that can be used again for film production. Also in the field of chemical recycling - the splitting of plastics into short-chain hydrocarbons that can be used as oil substitutes - we are already far and looking for applications for the ReOil process that OMV has developed. Our vision is that plastic waste will simply be another source of raw materials in the future. We have developed a good lead, which we will gladly use.
How is sustainability practiced at Borealis in general?
Star: We have a good and pragmatic sustainability strategy with the three pillars circular economy, health and safety as well as energy and CO2. For many years now, we at Borealis have attached great importance to occupational safety. Last year we were injured at 1,3 per million working hours - that's a great level, but not enough: we're pursuing a goal zero strategy. We also have programs to reduce corporate energy use and CO2 emissions. On the one hand, these focus on the optimization of our processes and on the other hand on the use of new technologies. Just one example: In operation, combustible gases are released again and again, which are flared off. We reduce this continuously. As part of our sustainability strategy, we also pursue a corporate social responsibility program with three main topics. On the one hand, we promote education at our locations in Austria. The second focus is water. As part of Water for the World, we work with international organizations - for example, since 2007 in Mozambique, we've been giving 800.000 people access to clean water. We provide our know-how and our products. The third main topic is recycling, our biggest project here is STOP, which I have already described.
What is decisive for the future viability of a company?
StarFor me, this is first and foremost a corporate culture that enables the company to make the best possible use of market opportunities. After all, we practice high-performance sports, and you have to be one of the best, if you want to play permanently. We can only do that if the employees also support a corresponding corporate culture. This includes continually questioning processes. This really is the key point and prerequisite for sustaining innovation and sustainable business in the long term.
"I love the efficiency: Nature shows us in an impressive way how much can be achieved with minimal waste."
What makes a manager successful?
Stern: Above all, a successful manager must first know himself and be in harmony with himself. Only then can you burn for something and achieve something. For example, I love efficiency: Nature shows us in an impressive way how much can be achieved with minimal waste. There are countless opportunities in every company where technology and innovation can make huge gains in efficiency and make a decisive difference. And that's what it's all about: creating something that makes a real difference.
Many thanks for the interview!
Alfred stern 2018 has been CEO of plastics manufacturer Borealis since mid-2008. After coming to Borealis for several years as a US company, Du Pont, 2008 initially headed the research center in Linz and took over 2012's role as executive vice president of polyolefins and innovation. In this position, he was responsible for the strategic reorientation of Borealis towards circular economy and recycling. Born in Styria, he completed his doctorate at the Montanuniversität Leoben, is married and has two children.
TO THE COMPANY
Basic supplier for many sectors
Borealis is a leader in the fields of polyolefins, basic chemicals and fertilizers as a chemical and plastics group. The group is owned by 64 percent of Mubadala, an investment company based in Abu Dhabi, and 36 percent owned by domestic oil and gas group OMV AG. Together with Borouge, a joint venture with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company ADNOC, Borealis serves key industries around the world with a broad range of applications in the energy, automotive, pipe, consumer, healthcare and packaging sectors. Borealis employs approximately 6.800 employees in more than 120 countries, including 1.900 in Austria. In 2018, the company generated revenues of 8,3 billion euros.