SABIC Corporate Sustainability Director Gretchen Govoni started her career as a chemical engineer focused on oil refinery operations. She then moved into environmental and health compliance before joining GE Plastics, where she helped lead the transition to sustainability for GE Plastic’s “ecomagination” effort.

When the Saudi Arabia-based petrochemical company SABIC purchased GE Plastics, Govoni helped build SABIC’s sustainability program from the ground up and now works on most aspects of this global initiative.

She spoke with us about how SABIC is investing in sustainable product development and integrating its facilities to use the waste from one process as the raw material for another.

Eva Dienel: What are your company’s top sustainability priorities for the year?

Gretchen Govoni: The top priority is short-term economic benefit, which comes primarily from focusing on energy and resource efficiency. An example of this is our first big cross-site integration project taking vented carbon dioxide from one process and using it as a feedstock for multiple other units to make valuable chemical products. This process not only decreases carbon dioxide emissions, it turns them into economically attractive products.

We assisted in building a unique new facility to clean up the carbon dioxide vent stream, and then we built a grid to share carbon dioxide among different sites as a feedstock.

We brought this facility online in 2015; we believe it is now the world’s largest carbon dioxide purification and utilization project, designed to purify up to 500,000 metric tons per year. This is an excellent example of what is known in SABIC as ‘Chemistry that Matters’TM.

Dienel: How did your company come up with the idea for this?

Govoni: The idea came about by analyzing energy and greenhouse gas data in 2009 and 2010, when we were trying to figure out the biggest opportunities for sustainability. Our sustainability department completed an analysis that looked at top carbon dioxide-producing vents, and identified ethylene glycol sites as a potential opportunity.  

We were aware that we used carbon dioxide as a feedstock for other products, so we were able to identify this opportunity by creatively assessing the data and informing the relevant internal stakeholders about the potential.

Dienel: One of SABIC’s other priorities is sustainable product development. How do you approach this at your company?

Govoni: As we look to grow the business further, we are targeting growth of products with more sustainability benefits. Shifting toward more sustainable choices makes our production processes more efficient and enables us to pass on sustainability benefits to our customers, who are always looking for lighter, stronger, and more durable or easy-to-manufacture products.

We developed internal processes to facilitate the assessment of sustainability impacts and opportunities at every one of the technology development project steps. We do not just look at typical technology innovation parameters; we also consider sustainability impacts. This approach enables our technologists to make more sustainable choices earlier in the development process.

We apply our strong lifecycle assessment resources to provide the technical basis for understanding the best opportunities as we move into the later part of the development process.

Developing the base processes and providing lifecycle-based data helps embed sustainability and inspire our innovation processes.

Dienel: What’s the biggest value you gain from working with BSR?

Govoni: We work with BSR for their cross-industry knowledge, expertise for sustainability, and external viewpoint. BSR provides in-depth expertise in areas where our program is still developing. They provide us with another opinion of what is going on in other companies, especially downstream.

BSR’s sustainability expertise and view across a wide number of companies and organizations has contributed to strong improvement in our five sustainability reports, facilitated external stakeholder engagement, and helped to complete multiple benchmarking assessments that helped shape program development.

This blog is one in a series highlighting BSR members and their sustainability stories. To learn more about BSR membership, please contact memberservices@bsr.org, visit the BSR Membership webpage, or join the conversation at #BSRmember.