Previously, we have written about the effects of corrosion on machinery and equipment and the measures coatings companies take to prevent corrosion by protecting the resources. Repairing and protecting equipment with polymeric epoxy-based composites and coatings saves Customers downtime and high replacement costs. But is there another, more universal significance to preservation of the machinery, equipment, buildings and structures and saving it from potential degradation and waste?
We sat down with Belzona’s President, Joel Svendsen, to find out how Belzona defines its role and contribution in the world’s sustainability.
Is Conservation of Man-Made Resources a New Approach to Sustainability?
Q: How does your company define sustainability today?
If you look at sustainability as minimizing damage to the environment, you can tackle it from a few different angles. The more traditional routes include using less energy; trying to reduce waste and improve recycling. We’re kind of in a fourth column. How can we preserve the life of machinery equipment buildings and structures? If you go back in Belzona’s history, we used to have tagline “Conservation of Man-Made Resources”. Essentially this is where we see ourselves. If we can extend the lifespan of these assets, replacement can be avoided and we’re able to reduce the environmental cost associated with replacing large pieces of machinery or structures.
Q: Why and when did your company get involved seriously with sustainability?
I would say it was really from the very beginning. When Belzona was formed, my father (Jorgen Svendsen) would travel around the UK and see rust and corrosion everywhere! Corrosion protection was really in its infancy at this time. For example, a bridge made out of metal would have a very short lifespan, rust away and large sections would have to be replaced fairly quickly. So, Belzona’s vision from the very beginning was that if we can begin slow down corrosion, then we don’t need as much metal.
Everybody knew it was a problem. But they struggled to come up with effective solutions for it. Steel is such an effective material. It is so integral in construction, that you want to use it all over the place and in the beginning, you accepted that its lifespan was short. Gradually people began to find solutions for it, but it has been a long process. Belzona certainly has been a leader in extending the life of steel, being one of the first companies to have effective solutions for this.
Q: Can you describe your sustainability program?
We started working on steel, but of course steel isn’t the only material that suffers from degradation. Over the years we have gone after various different materials, so we can extend their lifespan. In trying to do this, we’ve also strived to not include nasty chemicals or have a high level of toxicity. So Belzona has tried really hard in using materials that are as environmentally safe as possible. And safe for people as well. These things tend to go hand-in-hand. If you can use ingredients that have low toxicity or low volatility.
Q: What have been the biggest issues encountered in brining theory into practice?
I would say that if there is a challenge, it’s that you can make materials cheaper, but at the expense of making them unsafe for the environment. It’s not that difficult to make an inexpensive coating, at the expense of adding in lots of harsh solvents. You could look at it from the point of view – “That’s great, I’ve got this protective coating and it is a lot cheaper”. But it brings with it two problems. Solvented systems generally don’t perform as well, compared to a non-solvented system. And second, solvented systems have an environmental cost. With these chemicals evaporating into the air, they’re potentially harmful to the people breathing it in.
So, really, I would say if there is a challenge, it is trying the best to educate/inform our customers that it’s ok to spend a little more to give you much longer-lasting protection. Plus, it’s better for the environment and the people working in it.
Q: Is there a project that didn’t work out?
Quite a long time ago, perhaps the 1990s, we put a lot of effort into water-based systems. It was one way of reducing the cost, without incorporating any hazardous solvents into the product. We were able to make these systems work, but we weren’t able to achieve the same level of performance as the two-coat systems that we already had. So, in the end, the performance dictated our path. It was the right thing for customers. It was better to have a more expensive solution that lasted longer. From a sustainability stand-point, even if it’s a more expensive solution, if it allows you extend the lifespan and performance of that structure or equipment – it’s worth it.
Q: How are you measuring progress?
We regularly review our product portfolio to see where we can make our products more environmentally friendly. Are there ways that we can reformulate to use safer materials and at the same time, more environmentally friendly? Can we incorporate more bio-based materials than petroleum-based? These issues and how we measure them, are raised and discussed in our regular technical liaison meetings. From here we decide if things need to be altered and whether or not to pursue new developments.
Q: How does your company promote the sustainability of its activities/products?
Throughout our Marketing literature, videos, articles, we try and promote our sustainability in the industry. We also have a case study library, our KHIAs, which are an incredible way of demonstrating how we have been successful for decades in preserving and prolonging the lifespan of equipment and structures.
Aside from that, we do push energy efficiency. We have our coating, Belzona 1341, which is particularly useful for improving pump efficiency. This differs from our usual push, saying that we will extend the life of your equipment – whereas in this instance, we are saying we can improve efficiency. Which appeals to our customer base from an economic stand-point even more and of course, as an environmental benefit.
Q: Do employees actively participate in these programs or activities?
I do think it’s important to get our staff involved in these programs and activities as well. I will say, it is much easier these days. In decades past, there was a certain negativity towards environmental initiatives. For example, I remember a lot of people saying “If it’s not a harsh chemical, it’s not going to work well. Give me the really dangerous stuff – that’s the good stuff!” Crazy to think that people would have had this approach to sustainability. So, certainly it’s good to see people move away from this standpoint.
Q: Which sustainability initiative are you most proud of?
That’s an interesting question. I’m tempted to say our early work/early days in the company. Because we were taking unprotected steel and making a really big difference. In terms of what we are doing lately, I would say it is from a regulatory standpoint. Working in the chemical industry, it goes without saying that over time there will be something that is eventually found to be hazardous. The realisation of these previously unknown concerns then leaves you with a choice to make. As a company there are two roads to go down. Road one – you can pop a label on it and say this chemical is hazardous, be careful. Road two – you can try and reformulate and replace it with something safer. Belzona has tried very hard to not just “label it”, but to be proactive in researching and developing ways to make the products safer and better. Whereas I think a lot of other companies label it and consider their work done. I feel much happier about the way we do it.
Q: What do you see as the key drivers of sustainability in industry today?
The biggest drivers are the natural drivers throughout industry – companies want to save money. If they can save energy and prolong the life of their equipment at the same time as saving money, that’s great. So, it’s a virtual circle. Since companies want to be more efficient, they want to behave in a more sustainable fashion.
Second to that, companies don’t want to be seen as evil, but a force for good. The bigger players seem to be doing a reasonably conscientious job at “trying to do the right thing”. In third place, there is government regulation and you have stay in compliance with the rules that are out there.
Q: What is the role of third-party certifications in sustainability within the paints and coatings industry?
Their biggest role is in the realm of energy efficiency. Most importantly, they’re helpful because there is a temptation to make poor decisions when they aren’t in place. They ensure people look at the long-term goals and aims, rather than short-term, easy-to-achieve “success”.
Q: What business value have you seen?
In the end, this means, you would save money over the life of that structure/equipment, if you made it suitable in the first place. These third-party energy certifications help to drive this forward. If you take that approach further, looking at the smaller details of industry, they make people invest a little bit more up front, so you can save money, energy and time in the long run. Which falls nicely in line with how Belzona look at things.
Q: How do you compare to the competition?
I would say we do more than our competition. You maybe pay a little bit more for a Belzona product, but what you get is a solution for the long term.
Q: Almost 40 years ago everybody rushed to go green, but the results were scarce. Do you feel like this is truly a time of change or is it just another marketing strategy?
As with everything, it goes in fits and starts – fast progress, followed by a plateau. But I don’t think it died. Living in the US for most of my life, I find it interesting to compare the US and the UK in terms of environmental regulation.
Starting in the early 1970s, the US were pioneers in this field. But as result, they suffered a lot. For example, they were among the first to put emission standards on cars and automobile manufacturers really struggled to make the technology work. Whereas, when you compare to the UK, environmentalism came a little later. And because it came later, the big challenges that previously had been stumbling blocks were now overcome. That meant they were able to push it further forward more quickly. In the US, because they had this bad experience, there was a bit of an aftertaste that the environmental legislation was a nightmare. So now, there is more resistance in the US to improving regulations. But time heals old wounds and as things continue to change, environmental issues will become universal accepted rather than be a debate.
Q: How do you see the future of sustainability?
I think something we have to accept about the near-future of sustainability is that for some areas, there are no alternatives to petroleum products. For operating airplanes and ships, vessels that need to carry a great deal of energy, we’ll see petroleum for a long time. But, as battery technology improves, we’re going to see more and more things moving away from petroleum power. Cars are the leading one. I think we’re going to be increasingly shifting to electric cars, which means our power plants must be bigger.
Previously, it was thought the size of power plants, or our electrical distribution networks didn’t need to increase. People thought that we could continue to improve energy efficiency in lieu of our energy infrastructure. But it’s much more efficient to produce power in a plant, rather than in an electric car. And of course, by using electric power you open a whole load of other energy sources such as wind power, geothermal etc. Areas, which we are already working in and providing repair and protection solutions. We predict that there will be more work for us in electrical distribution, battery manufacturing and mining materials for the batteries.