SUSTAINING BUSINESS

When you deal with the entire economy, but your own product is of little use in itself, you need to develop an understanding of the greater system you are part of. For Braskem, this has led tosustainability as the only viable strategy to stay in business and grow, says Fernando Musa.
Fernando Musa
Chief Executive Officer
Braskem America
“Doing sustainable business today ensures our survival and creates opportunities for growth that will provide
a basis for perpetuity.”
FERNANDO MUSA

It is not every day that you hear a CEO tell you that his product is useless. “But truth be told, in itself plastic is of little use,” says Fernando Musa, CEO for the US operations of Brazilian plastics giant Braskem. It is of little use until it is shipped to a customer that then transforms it into something like packaging or perhaps a part of yet another product. This again is shipped to another manufacturer before it – perhaps – reaches the end-consumer. Then, often being of little value in itself, plastic is discarded, filling up landfills or the oceans if not properly recycled or recovered.

“Sometimes there are four or five links before our product reaches the end-user and then we also have to consider what happens post-consumption. For us to be successful, we need this whole chain to work,” says Musa.

That is one important aspect of Braskem’s business. Another is the ubiquity of the company’s product. Plastic is everywhere.

“Our products are used in every industry you can think of. We basically deal with the whole economy,” he says.

Put these things together and they form the basis of a world view soundly based on systems-thinking and stakeholder engagement. As Musa says, “At Braskem we need to understand that whatever we do with products can have different consequences
in different parts of society, in different regions and for different users. But understanding that also carries great advantages for us.”

The advantages can be found throughout the business; in the efficiency and not least safety of operations; in innovation and product development; in resource management based on Braskem’s reuse and recycling initiatives; and in the recognition the company gets for its sustainability work and not least the opportunities this opens. When great consumer-products companies feel the pressure from consumers to deliver more sustainable products, this helps Braskem’s business. In this business environment, being the world’s largest producer of bio-based plastics is a good position to be in. If you can do things right.

“We put a lot of effort and discipline into this. We want to deliver value to all stakeholders, but we’re also a very complex organization, and this brings some challenges,” says Musa.

“Having a clear set of goals – like the UN Global Compact’s principles or the Sustainable Development Goals – helps create focus amidst the complexity. But Braskem also has a few other tools to help it navigate. The company is always looking for trends and tools to help it prioritize and deliver on its promises of creating value for all stakeholders,” says Musa.

One tool is a comprehensive materiality analysis of the most important issues for Braskem’s stakeholders and the company’s ability to influence these. This highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the current operations.

“We have multiple objectives, so having tools like these helps us frame, prioritize and provide a framework for our managers around the world. This is very important, and being a process industry with many engineers, these kinds of matrices and charts feel comfortable,” he says with a laugh.

For Musa, the tools serve a purpose: they support what he sees as the three imperatives in business: survival, growth and perpetuity. In that respect, he is perhaps not that different from many of his colleagues globally. He wants his company to stay in business, he wants it to prosper and he wants it to continue to do so. What sets this credo apart from many others is the road chosen to reach these goals. To Musa, these general business imperatives necessarily lead to sustainability
as a business strategy.

“If you don’t structure your business around sustainable processes and strategies, you will not get there. Doing sustainable business today ensures our survival and creates opportunities for growth that will provide a basis for perpetuity,” says Musa.


WHAT’S NEXT?
DISCOVERING THE FULL VALUE CHAIN

In the coming years, we will need to develop a greater understanding of each company’s place in the life cycle of products and business value chains, says Fernando Musa.

“It’s very easy to look at a problem and see only a very small part of it. NGOs and governments often look at only one or a few parts of a problem and focus on that, without seeing the rest of the picture and the good things that can also be there.
If we are to become better at achieving the goals we set for ourselves, I think we need to educate stakeholders and society more to see the fuller picture, so that business and science aspects don’t get in each other’s way,” says Musa.