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The Dutch company Corbion is a manufacturer of lactic acid and lactic acid derivatives, emulsifiers, functional enzyme blends, minerals, vitamins and algae ingredients. Its products are used in markets such as food, home & personal care, animal nutrition, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and bioplastics. In 2016, Corbion completed their first TfS assessment and in 2019 achieved a gold score for the second time.
Responsible sourcing, responsible operations and sustainable solutions: drivers of the sustainability strategy
Corbion’s corporate strategy is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Considering the organisation’s footprint, business’ nature and environment in which it operates, it is the company’s belief that significant impact can be made by focusing on UN Goals “Zero hunger” and “Responsible production and consumption”.
Key sustainability initiatives of Corbion are responsible sourcing, responsible operations and sustainable solutions. The company’s responsible sourcing initiative aims to create a sustainable supply chain for its agricultural raw materials, considering social, environmental and governance practices of the supply companies.
Corbion targets 100% responsible sourcing of cane sugar and palm oil by 2020, and 100% responsible sourcing of all other agricultural raw materials by 2030. The company’s responsible operations ambition aims for zero incidents and zero waste. Ambitious targets for 2030 include a Total Recordable Injury Rate <0.25, zero waste to landfill and 100% renewable electricity.
The company sustainable solutions are based on renewable resources and aim to improve the quality of life for people today and for future generations. The aim is to assess all innovation projects on sustainability and to have 50% of Corbion’s products covered by a Life Cycle Assessment by 2020.
Corbion’s Responsible sourcing of cane sugar in Thailand: from implementing the Bonsucro Chain of Custody standard to driving the uptake of Bonsucro certified sugar
In the past years, the company focused on the responsible sourcing of cane sugar in Thailand. Together with two of its cane sugar suppliers (Mitr Phol and TRR-Saraburi), JV Total Corbion PLA and Bonsucro (a multi-stakeholder initiative focused on improving sustainability in the sugar cane sector), Corbion has been driving awareness of sustainability and relevance of sustainable practices for the sugar cane industry in Thailand.
Corbion implemented the Bonsucro Chain of Custody standard at its manufacturing site in Rayong, Thailand and is now able to offer its customers Bonsucro certified sugar. This further improves the sustainability benefits of biochemicals and bioplastics such as PLA by ensuring the feedstocks are grown using sustainable agricultural practices and the entire supply chain operates with care for people and the environment.
The company’s partnership with its cane sugar suppliers and Bonsucro increased the momentum for sustainability in the sugar cane sector in Thailand. It created local visibility for sustainability achievements in the Thai sugar cane sector and for the potential of sugar in the bio-based economy. The partnership also supported Bonsucro certification of smallholder farmers and uptake of Bonsucro certified sugar in Thailand.
It takes partners to create sustainable supply chains
For Corbion to succeed in developing these initiatives, it was key to involve the company’s sustainability, procurement, quality and communications departments. External partners involved included Mitr Phol, TRR-Saraburi, Total Corbion PLA and Bonsucro. Mitr Phol is the world’s fourth largest sugar producer, active in the value-added sugar cane business for more than 50 years and a supplier to Corbion since Corbion started operations at its lactic acid manufacturing site in Thailand in 2007. TRR Group is one of Thailand’s eldest established sugar milling companies and second largest sugar group in the country. Saraburi sugar is one of the largest factories within TRR group and a supplier to Corbion since 2010. Total Corbion PLA is a global technology leader in Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) and lactide monomers. The company is a 50/50 joint venture between Total and Corbion. Total Corbion PLA, headquartered in the Netherlands, recently started a new world scale, 75kT per annum PLA production plant in Thailand.
Lessons learned: understand your value chain, create mutual understanding and share benefits
According to Corbion, it is crucial to understand the value chain, collaborate with other actors in the chain and understand their position. The partnership covers the full value chain from sugar cane farming, conversion of sugar into lactic acid and PLA manufacturing. Each partner contributed by explaining their needs and expectations regarding their respective suppliers/customers and further down/up the supply chain. This created a mutual understanding of the challenges and potential for improvement.
But Corbion has also some additional recommendations for other chemical suppliers who aim for sustainable supply chains. Extremely important are continued education and clarification of the relevance of sustainability for the end-user and of the value that sustainable practices can bring to all parties in the chain. Corbion rewarded suppliers who achieve Bonsucro Certification by purchasing Bonsucro certified sugar and accepts that this comes with a premium initially. Factors that increase the impact beyond the partnership are local communications about sustainable sugar cane and sustainability achievements, and the benefits for local communities. For a partnership to be successful, it needs to add value to all parties involved and partners need to be willing to share the benefits of the partnership.
Carbon footprint reduction: the next step in Corbion’s sustainability journey
Corbion’s next step is to work with its strategic suppliers on carbon footprint reduction. The company has joined the Science Based Targets initiative and is currently developing carbon footprint targets in line with the Paris agreement. Reduction of its raw material and transport-related carbon footprint will be a critical success factor to achieve corporate targets.
According to Ms. Diana Visser, Director Sustainability at Corbion, sustainability is all about aligning their business to meet the defining societal needs of the current era, from food security to resource depletion to population growth. “Sustainability is at the heart of what we do – and we demonstrate it every day across our entire value chain. We are proud that all our efforts are recognized in the Together for Sustainability Assessment (by EcoVadis) and the result puts us with a very good rating among the 97th percentile.”
Note: We thank Ms. Diana Visser of the Corbion organisation for her contribution to this article.
The Dutch company Corbion is globally active in the manufacturing industry, employing around two thousand employees and realizing an annual turnover of around 900 million Euro. Corbion is a company quite well advanced in driving sustainability through its supply chain activities.