The Global Goals
How is the chemical, plastics and life sciences industry in Belgium contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals?
essenscia and the companies of the chemical, plastics and life sciences industry in Belgium are strongly committed to playing their essential and enabling role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals developed by the United Nations. Only together with governments, social partners, NGOs and civil society (SDG 17) and with a democratic, stable and well-functioning institutional context (SDG 16), can we be successful in our transition towards a sustainable future, maintaining our capacity as economic actors contributing to society’s welfare, whilst operating within the safe ecological boundaries of our planet (SDG 6, SDG 13, SDG 14, SDG 15).
Discover how the sector is contributing to each of the seventeen SDGs.
The figure shows how indicators, initiatives and challenges developed in this report relate to the UN SDGs. Some SDGs are clearly more intensively covered in this edition, but almost all are covered in some manner: through a challenge for the sector, a material indicator, or some best practice initiative of a member company or essenscia.
We believe our strongest contributions - through our innovations, technologies and products - relate to the following domains:
The indicators show mainly the performances of the Belgian production sites for which (mainly) public data sets are available. In this section, we also explain the role of the products made from chemical substances, chemical mixtures, or chemical materials such as plastics, and the role they are meant to play in society.
End poverty in all its forms everywhere
The sector of the chemical, plastics and life sciences industry is an important contributor to welfare in Belgium. With more than 95,000 direct jobs, 220,000 indirect jobs and more than one third of total Belgian exports, it provides purchasing power and access to economic resources to a significant amount of people and families. In 2019 it generated almost 21 billion of added value and contributed more than 5 billion euro to the Belgian state budget (net of subsidies and tax incentives).
Both ‘white collar’ and ‘blue collar’ employees, men and women, are well represented within the sector. Through multiple training centres, and in close collaboration with relevant partners, the sector is also striving to make jobs more accessible to more vulnerable groups in the society.
End hunger, achieve food safety and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
To meet the basic nutritional needs of a growing world population, increasing the agricultural production yield in a sustainable way is crucial. Chemical-based products are instrumental for sustainable pest management with phytopharmaceuticals, for enhancing crop yields with slow release fertilisers, for enriching soils with essential nutrients.
Thanks to the innovations of the sector (for instance in the field of biostimulants), the nutritional value of food increases, improving the nutritional status among low-income population groups. Biotechnology allows the development of plants with better resistance to extreme droughts or insects.
Plastic packaging not only protects fresh, processed and prepared food and beverages but also extends its shelf life, thus reducing food waste.
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all stages
The Belgian pharmaceutical industry is a world leader in the development of medical breakthroughs and production of, for instance, the Covid19 vaccines. Leading R&D centres work closely together with the academic world to develop new pharmaceuticals, vaccines, therapies and diagnostics that help save millions of lives.
Chemistry plays an important role in water conservation and the purification of contaminated water into clean and safe drinking water, thereby protecting consumers from disease. Plastic pipes allow the transportation of safe drinking water to remote places.
Occupational diseases in the chemical and life sciences industry are among the lowest in the manufacturing industry and the sector largely invests in continuously improving implementation and knowledge about REACH and other product policy legislations, while sharing its expertise on chemicals and their safe use with a large number of institutional actors. essenscia provides training to its members to minimise exposure to chemicals for its employees and downstream users, including consumers. And on Sustainable Portfolio Management, as a means of actively steering companies’ portfolios towards overall improved environmental and sustainability performance, beyond legal requirements, thus aiming to continuously reduce exposure, as well as safe use.
While the production index has risen significantly over the last decades, the acidifying and organic emissions to air and water have dropped to a record low, making the Belgian chemical, life sciences and plastics industry a world leader in decoupling (increasing) economic growth from (decreasing) environmental impact.
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities to all
Member companies invest massively in training and lifelong learning programmes for all their employees. The sectoral training fund Co-valent provides a wide range of professional trainings to the sector companies and has invested in specialized training centres for the chemical, plastics and life sciences industry.
The sector also provides vocational training to unemployed people, hereby enriching their skills and competences and in doing so addressing the training needs of the industry. Furthermore, essenscia works closely together with education partners and institutions to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) to attract young talents to the sector.
essenscia shares best practices and information about chemical safety and conducts trainings to enhance environmental, health, product safety and process safety practices throughout the whole value chain.
In a world facing multiple changes, skill requirements evolve. Therefore, Co-valent maps changes in skills and accompanies employees and companies in the sector to proactively take timely action.
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Sector companies select employees based on their qualifications, experiences and competences, giving equal opportunities to everyone.
In the chemical, plastics and life sciences industry, women make up 28.7% of the total workforce, which is consistently higher than in general for the manufacturing industry (23.2%). Since 2000 the share of female employees in the sector is steadily rising. Moreover, almost half of all researchers in the sector are women.
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Chemistry plays an important role in water conservation and the purification of contaminated water into clean and safe drinking water, protecting consumers from diseases. The wide use of chlorine disinfectants is an important public health measure which significantly reduces the exposure to harmful germs. Plastic pipes allow the transportation of safe drinking water to remote places without loss of this precious resource.
Being a major water user, the industry invests in reducing the pressure on quality water sources by closing water circuits and by opting for an optimal use of surface water. Also, a Water Learning Network has been created to further step up sector efforts on reducing water use as much as feasible.
The chemical, plastics and life sciences sector has significantly improved its production processes to reduce its impact on water quality.
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
The chemical sector is both an important consumer of energy for its production processes and a provider of solutions enabling the generation of clean energy and the reduction of energy consumption in most parts of society.
For its own production sites, the sector has improved its energy efficiency and increased its use of renewable energy sources. The sector continuously invests in research and development to find tomorrow’s solutions that will allow to reconcile the need for constant and important amounts of climate neutral energy to enable the sector to continue providing its solutions and contributions to welfare.
The chemical industry plays an important role in the development of renewable energy solutions. Breakthrough technologies in energy generation (wind or solar energy), energy storage (battery technologies, hydrogen) or for the development of alternative fuels all depend on innovations from the sector to become more efficient, affordable and scalable.
Light-weight composite materials based on plastics allow the development of electric and/or high energy efficient cars, buses, trucks and planes consuming less fuel and creating less emissions. Innovations in tires and gasoline and diesel additives further reduce fuel consumption. Polymer based insulation materials and insulating window profiles significantly reduce energy consumption in housing and household appliances.
Thanks to the chemical industry, washing detergents containing enzymes have been developed, which reduce wash temperatures as well as water consumption. This also reduces the amount of electricity needed per load of laundry by 30 percent.
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Since 2001, economic growth and productivity in the chemical and life sciences industry has clearly been decoupled from the impact to the environment providing sustainable economic growth and quality jobs in the sector.
With all developments ongoing in the transition towards a circular economy, resource efficiency will continue to increase significantly going even beyond the current good numbers. The sector permanently invests in technologies to improve its energy efficiency and resource efficiency. It is diversifying from fossil resources by investing in biobased resourcing and the use of recycled plastics.
The sector is an important employer, providing good salaries, a stable social climate and safe working conditions. Occupational diseases are among the lowest in the manufacturing industry. essenscia shares best practices and information about chemical safety and conducts trainings to enhance environmental, health, product safety and process safety practices throughout the value chain.
95 percent of all manufactured goods – from textiles, to electronics, to automobiles – are touched by chemistry. As a result, the chemical industry has a multiplier effect on job creation and economic growth in a sustainable way.
A significant number of companies in the sector have introduced Codes of Conduct to advise their employees on, amongst other issues, competition and anti-corruption law. A growing number of suppliers are also being required to sign up to such codes and sustainable procurement procedures are being put in place.
As the sector is in constant need for new talent, it invests in numerous initiatives to inspire young people to follow STEM education and to attract them to the industry.
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation
The chemical, plastics and life sciences sector is by far one of the largest contributors to the Belgian economy and welfare. It continuously attracts new investments thanks to its unique position, its interconnection with other industrial clusters, its focus on innovation and cooperation with the academic world. Industrial symbiosis is kéy in the transition to a more sustainable economy and the sector plays an important role therein.
Chemistry enables the development of sustainable infrastructural and building solutions (plastic pipes, insulation, flooring, sealants, adhesives, paintings,…). Through its products and technologies that enhance energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it helps create environmental friendly, sustainable living spaces and green urban mobility solutions.
essenscia initiated public private partnerships such as BlueChem, the incubator for sustainable chemistry, to stimulate innovation and support small and medium sized enterprises investing in sustainable chemistry solutions. The share of SME’s in the sector is currently around 60% and they play a very important role to interconnect with larger, often multinational companies in the sector.
Reduce inequality within and among countries
The chemical, plastics and life sciences industry empowers and promotes social and economic inclusion of all, irrespective of age, gender, disability, ethnicity, religion or other status.
The individual companies of the sector select employees based on their qualifications, experiences and competences, giving equal opportunities to everyone.
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
The products supplied by the chemical industry play a vital part in enhancing food supply, sanitation and housing for people.
The building stock in Belgium is facing a tremendous challenge in meeting energy requirements and reducing its impact on climate. Building products such as insulation boards, pipes and fittings, window profiles and roofing based on plastics are crucial for sustainable constructions with minimum energy consumption and effective water management.
The sector contributes to improving air quality through water-borne paints and coatings capable of purifying the air or protecting historic buildings.
The high level of urbanisation in Belgium requires action to reduce the adverse environmental impact of cities. Products from the sector are used to develop smart mobility solutions like light weight cars, public transport, electric bikes and steps and so on. Companies are encouraging their employees to make a modal shift by switching from car to other sustainable modes of transport
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Supporting the chemical and life sciences sector in its transition towards a circular economy is a strategic priority for essenscia. Both for plastic materials and for the sector as a whole, circular business models are being tested and innovation is ongoing.
Through initiatives like Responsible Care®, VLARIP, WALRIP and the Process Safety Academy, essenscia is committed to continously promote the safe and responsible use and handling of chemicals, both in on site operations and throughout the whole supply chain. The sector aims for a continuous improvement in environmental, health, safety and security performance. Even more attention will be given through trainings on sustainability reporting and safe and sustainable by design as design principle for developing new products in stepping up and demonstrating sustainable transition.
The industry heavily invests to minimise its environmental impact, and maximise energy and resource efficiency. Its strong interconnections in the Port of Antwerp and with other industrial areas through a dense and transnational network of pipelines allow for a safe and sustainable transport and enables industrial symbiosis. The chemical clusters around Antwerp, Ghent and Feluy allow true industrial symbiosis in which the side and waste streams of one production unit are being used as a valuable raw material by another production site, in this way unlocking the true value of materials.
Plastic packaging not only protects fresh, processed and prepared food and beverages but also extends its shelf life, thus preventing food waste.
The sector is committed to reduce its waste generation through packaging waste prevention plans, the use of re-usable packaging and better recycling.
Through the publication of its sustainable development report every two years, essenscia promotes sustainable practices and shares relevant information with its stakeholders. Through different working groups essenscia and trainings also facilitates exchanges of best practices amongst member companies on sustainable practices.
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
The chemical sector is both an important emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions throughout its production processes as well as a key solution provider enabling the reduction and smart management of GHG emissions throughout most parts of society.
Since 1995 the GHG emissions of the chemical and life sciences industry in Belgium have more than halved while in the same period production volumes nearly tripled. This obvious decoupling of production and emissions is a result of, among others, the implementation of measures for using less energy or other sources of energy while enhancing the energy efficiency of chemical production processes.
The chemical industry has not only significantly reduced the GHG emissions of its production facilities, it is also investing in several innovation pathways in the fight against climate change, where multiple actions will need to be taken simultaneously.
Innovation is ongoing in the capture and utilisation of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide (CCU) as raw materials for innovative new chemistries. Indeed, we believe we can handle carbon in a smart, circular manner where it would be seen as a valuable and reusable resource which can be managed without impacting climate. This will need further research and development, but pioneering usages already exist. As an additional measure, carbon capture and storage (CCS) is also looked into, as a quicker and necessary complementary method for quickly removing GHG emissions from the atmosphere.
Transport and housing are the two most important non-ETS regulated contributors to the climate change challenge. The products of the chemical industry are an important lever in making transportation and construction more sustainable. In doing so, far more GHG emissions are avoided during the life cycle of chemical products than were emitted during their production phase.
Light-weight composite materials based on plastics allow the development of electric and/or high energy efficient cars, buses, trucks and planes consuming less fuel and creating less emissions. Innovations in tires and gasoline and diesel additives further reduce fuel consumption. Building products such as insulation boards, window profiles and roofing based on plastics are crucial for sustainable constructions which have a minimum energy consumption.
The chemical industry also plays an important role in the development of renewable energy solutions. Breakthrough technologies in energy generation (wind or solar energy), energy storage (battery technologies, hydrogen) and the development of alternative fuels all depend on innovations from the sector to become more efficient, affordable and scalable.
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
The chemical and life sciences sector is engaged in preserving valuable marine ecosystems. Unmanaged leakage of waste in certain areas of the world and emissions to water are currently impacting those ecosystems.
Through its Responsible Care voluntary engagement, the sector strives for continuous improvement expressed in a better quality of waste water and less nitrogen and phosphorus emissions to water.
Marine littering is a global challenge threatening oceans’ ecosystems mainly caused by irresponsible and inappropriate waste management in certain parts of the world. To take effective action, it is important to understand the pathways and sources of this pollution. The chemical sector has accepted its responsibility and is contributing to solve the issue.
The plastics sector is engaged in the Operation Clean Sweep programme to avoid pellet loss in the environment during its own production and converting stages. The sector reaches out to other stakeholders to use and handle plastic pellets in a safe and responsible way.
Sector companies also participate in litter clean-up actions and multinational companies are engaged in the Global Alliance to End Plastic Waste to help countries with insufficient and ineffective waste management systems to make significant progress and thus avoiding the leakage of plastic waste towards oceans and rivers. The sector calls for a worldwide zero plastics to landfill policy so that plastic materials no longer get lost in the environment, but are being reused as a precious resource in a circular polymers economy.
Nevertheless, a world without plastics would be nor desirable, nor sustainable. Indeed plastics are versatile materials with different functionalities depending on their composition. This has allowed the development of a wide variety of sustainable solutions based on plastics, often replacing less sustainable materials.
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Any human activity has an impact on terrestrial ecosystems through land use changes. In a prosperous society, protecting and restoring habitats is essential.
Through a wide variety of products, the chemical and life sciences industry helps preserve nature’s resources. For instance, plastic has replaced ivory in billiard balls.
The products of the sector are instrumental for the recycling and more resource-efficient production of paper products, reducing the need for fresh wood pulp.
In agriculture, a sustainable use of chemical fertilizers helps to restore nutrient levels in the soil lost over years of cultivation – helping to halt and reverse land degradation.
Innovation in biotechnologies allows the development of plants with high resistance to extreme droughts, helping to combat desertification. Biotechnology helps to improve the bug resistance of plants, avoiding or minimising the use of phytopharmaceuticals.
On a smaller scale, and in close collaboration with their local communities, companies in the sector help conservation in many ways.
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions for all
As an industry federation for the chemical and life sciences sector, essenscia always acts with a long term view on what is in the best interest of our industry and of the society in which we operate. The federation does this with openness and respect. By working closely together with governments, institutions, downstream users, other industries and all relevant stakeholders we share our knowledge and strive to improve chemical and waste management throughout the supply chains.
Given the fact that 95% of all products on the EU market are linked to chemicals or chemical processes, sound management and strong institutions are essential to provide a level playing field for the sector to operate in
essenscia welcomes European legislation on chemicals providing a high level of security based on risk assessments, allowing safe use throughout the value chain. Given the fact that 95% of all products on the EU market are linked to chemicals or chemical processes, sound management and strong institutions are essential to provide a level playing field for the sector to operate in. Respecting the decisions of those European institutions, and implementing and enforcing them accordingly across Europe, remains equally important.
A significant number of companies in the sector have introduced Codes of Conduct to advise their employees on, among other issues, competition and anti-corruption law. A growing number of suppliers are also being required to sign up to such codes and sustainable procurement procedures are being put in place.
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the Global Partner for Sustainable Development
essenscia and its member companies are committed to creating strong and inclusive partnerships with stakeholders. The sector federation works closely with the educational system and is the frontrunner in promoting STEM education and dual learning whereby the industry provides internships to students. essenscia has long-standing partnerships with the science centres Sparkoh! and Technopolis to promote sciences and technologies to youngsters.
essenscia is calling for a balanced approach whereby, during the decision process, social and economic aspects are considered alongside environmental impacts. As the first sector association in Europe, essenscia already launched its sectoral sustainability report in 2009 to promote and communicate about the uptake of sustainability in the sector.
In its activities essenscia is calling for a balanced approach whereby in the decision process social and economic aspects are considered next to environmental impacts
essenscia is one of the founding partners of the public private partnership Circular Flanders, engaging in circular economy. Currently, together with the Flemish Public Waste Agency OVAM, we are engaged in co-leading a work agenda on circular plastics and chemicals. It is also the founding father of cluster organisations Catalisti and GreenWin to support open innovation in sustainable chemistry and plastics by fostering collaboration between small, medium-sized and large companies, universities, research centres and governmental organisations.
One of the engagements of the voluntary worldwide Responsible Care initiative is capacity building through corporate leadership, through influencing business partners and through engaging with stakeholders and the community. ICCA, the International Council of Chemical Associations continuously engages in capacity building in Africa. With its VLARIP and WALRIP workshops, winner of the European Responsible Care Award in 2018, essenscia facilitates the cross-sectoral exchange of best practices in the safe use of chemicals, both by employees and consumers.
essenscia and the trade unions, both represented in the sectoral training fund Co-valent, are supporting the North-South collaboration projects of Ondernemers voor Ondernemers. Individual member companies are also engaged in North-South partnership projects or social inclusion projects.