Elsbeth Roelofs has a background in Chemical Engineering and Sociology of Technology and Science. From 2000 until 2015, Elsbeth worked as researcher and business developer at TNO, the largest research institute in the Netherlands. Her field of expertise was system innovation, sustainable innovation related to biobased and circular economy, sustainable chemistry.

Since 2015, Elsbeth Roelofs is working with CSR Nederlands as Program Manager International CSR in the Chemical Sector. This entails the development of innovative and inspiring projects together with (chemical) companies and other stakeholders that make the international value chains of Dutch chemical companies connected to developing countries and emerging economies more sustainable. Projects that combine business opportunities and tackle sustainability problems at the same time. See also information on the ISCR program.

 

Three questions and answers

1. Why did you engage in the ISC3 Advisory Council?

Contributing to the shaping of the ISC3 network is very interesting for me and CSR Netherlands. I have the opportunity to share our vast experience in developing sector networks with a focus on sustainable development, and give input based on my expertise in system innovation processes. Besides that, being a member of the Advisory Council provides me more options for enlarging the impact of our projects, since I am able to get a better overview of the worldwide activities and networks with regard to sustainable chemistry.

 

2. How developing countries will take advantage from sustainable chemistry approaches?

In our view sustainable chemistry means not only applying sustainable chemical processes and producing products with a small environmental footprint. But also that companies have the obligation to be aware of the sustainability issues in their value chain, upstream and downstream. Often we see that tackling sustainability issue are offering a business opportunity. Without letting the society ‘pay’ for the negative effects on people and the environment. That is in our view the business case of sustainable chemistry that will pay off for developing countries at the same time. In our sector scan on “International CSR in the chemical sector” we provided an overview of sustainability issues in the international chemical value chains of Dutch companies.

We see that sustainability issues in developing countries occur throughout the whole value chain. Problems regarding people and the environment related activities in sourcing raw materials, producing chemicals and the use and end of life of chemicals. Think about child labour or hidden slavery in mines and agriculture, pollution of soil, water and air by chemical plants and chemical waste, lack of safe working conditions in chemical, corruption. The negative social and environmental impact is most of the times larger in developing countries due to lack of legislation, enforcement of legislation and lack of knowledge.

Besides this, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is stimulating 13 Dutch sectors to come to an agreement on Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) since 2015. That is, making the international value chains more sustainable. The chemical sector is one of these sectors. The textile and clothing industry and their stakeholders have reached an agreement in July, 2016. They work together on issues like protection from discrimination; child labor; forced labor; achieving living wage; safe and healthy conditions for employees; reducing adverse environmental impact by, for instance,  saving on and reusing raw materials to lead to more circularity ; reducing the amount of water, energy and chemicals used; prevention of animal suffering. The banking sector has recently reached an RBC agreement – with a focus on human rights and banking – with unions, NGOs and the government.

 

3. What about the economic opportunities of business models based on sustainable chemistry

Sustainable chemistry for CSR Netherlands is doing business, while balancing people, planet and profit in all decisions you make.  Besides that, two other pillars of sustainable chemical business are transparency and stakeholder dialogue. That is, being transparent as a company on what you do and on what is happening in your value chain. And, communicating with your stakeholders to get input on your strategy. This means that a companies will never be able to have a sustainable business without seizing economic opportunities.