SMART sustainable thinking and an ambitious digitalisation roadmap have given Univar Solutions the edge over its competitors. In fact, both lie at the core of the global giant’s business model.

Even within the last couple of years, the chemicals industry has seen a huge shift in perspective – from traditional challenges such as mergers and acquisitions and product innovation – to a much greater emphasis on consumer-centric needs and values.

Sustainability – the established core value

Sustainability is, of course, integral to these values. Customers want to see a drastic cut in carbon emissions and waste. Throw scarce, costly natural resources and complex regulations into the mix, and the challenges reverberate all the way up the supply chain.

Univar Solutions – a world leader in chemical and ingredient supply and distribution – was ahead of the field when it produced its first Sustainability Report in 2008. Since then, it has made great strides forward in transforming processes, culture, products, safety and innovation, to name just a few key objectives.

Its first climate action goals – set in 2017 – were achieved ahead of this year’s target date, despite the unforeseen upheaval caused by the pandemic. Now, the company is already looking forward to its next generation sustainability goals to 2025. These will focus on:

  • Climate Action: implementing technology, processes and culture in support of a net zero emission future
  • Safety: keeping employees, vendors and customers safe at work through culture and practices
  • Resource use: driving sustainable usage through principles of circularity and operational excellence
  • Release prevention: responsible handing of materials across operations and supply chains.
  • Sustainable sourcing: improved performance and minimum standards across the supplier base
  • Sustainable solutions: leveraging products, services and technologies to support customer journeys
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion: improved representation at leadership level and creating a culture of authenticity at work
  • Community engagement: showing commitment to help keep society healthy, fed, clean and safe.

Director of Global Sustainability, Liam McCarroll, explained: “The industry is facing massive unavoidable challenges, and we as a company feel we have an important part to play in coming up with solutions to the complex issues faced on a global scale.

“We always strongly believed in implementing a proper strategy from the start of this journey 15 years ago, rather than making a broad commitment without the plans to back it up.”

“Sustainability is very much part of who we are as a business, but ultimately it’s not just about us, it’s about working closely with our partners and the broader supply chain. Transparency and collaboration are how we seek to drive positive change.”

Univar Solutions made a pledge to align with a target well below 2 degrees two years ago, and is a signatory of the UN Global Compact, a corporate initiative based on universal sustainability principles. It has also invested heavily in energy- efficient heating and lighting infrastructure, and low carbon technologies. While Liam concedes that it will be impossible to exclude all energy consumption, “We’re a business that moves things from one place to another, after all!”, the company is seeking to mitigate the impact of operations as much as possible by making green energy procurement an important part of its strategy.

The company is also focused on reducing key emissions further by 2030, with the ultimate aim of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

As Liam pointed out: “Our goals are a true reflection of where we want to stand in terms of our carbon footprint. But again, it’s not just about us. It’s how we as a business support our customers and suppliers on their own sustainability journeys. Our experiences are all interlinked: there’re no winners if we don’t all succeed together.”

“We appreciate that different regions are perhaps on different stages of their journey, but our global programme has been initiated because, at the end of the day, we’re all facing the same challenges no matter where we live and work.”

Dwayne Roark, Head of Global Government Affairs & Communications, added, “With the continued ESG focus on our industry and beyond, our bold approach to our 2025 sustainability goals and metrics has really aligned us to our customers and suppliers. In fact, it has really stretched the boundaries of what we can do together.”

Digitilisation – a new driving force

“The chemical industry has traditionally always been very conservative in outlook,” says Mark Mongan, EMEA Commercial Manager at Univar Solutions. “But I think everyone in the industry, particularly distribution, has really woken up to digitalisation in the last five years.”

“Customer experience is becoming more and more important, particularly when it comes to offering digital solutions.”

“We want our customer experience to be positive and we want to be easy to do business with, and that’s where we aim to differentiate ourselves with our e-commerce platforms.”

Mark acknowledges that the buying and selling aspect of the chemicals marketplace is a crowded one. “But what sets us apart from our competitors is our level of service and customer support, not only from a technical perspective, but increasingly from a digital one too.”

“Covid definitely speeded up change, but it was happening anyway. The days of picking up the phone to ask for a regulatory document and then waiting around for it to drop into someone’s To Do list are long gone.”

“The pandemic didn’t just transform the traditional 9 to 5 – it accelerated our plans to deliver innovative customer solutions.”

“We live in an age of instant information, which sounds easy to do but can be technologically quite complicated. However, we’ve already successfully rolled out our e-commerce platforms in the US, Canada and Europe with plans to expand further in the coming months. It means customers can log in and download regulatory documents whenever they want.”

“They can get immediate pricing on products, choose specific volumes from suppliers, raise and send orders – it’s so much more efficient that the old analogue transactions by phone or email.”

However, Mark is keen to stress that the customer always comes first, and contact by phone or email is still available, if preferred. “We’re here to help, offer different ways of doing business, and provide the tools to do just that.”

So far – despite the challenges of lockdown – the transition to a dedicated e-commerce platform has been exceptionally smooth. Mark added: “Customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with a recent survey showing 85% in favour of the changes, and happy to keep on logging in to do business.”

“Our customers want additional regulatory documents to be made available online, which was already on our roadmap.”

“I think it’s important to say while we have got a really strong, market-leading platform, this is just the start. You can’t stand still in a digital world!”

Mark is naturally reticent about planned functionality updates, but says that the goal is obviously to enhance the customer experience further.

“Ultimately, we want customers to be able to create their own accounts and check in and out without any input from us.”

“Our new platforms have simply opened lots of doors and introduced exciting new ways of doing business!”

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