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Mitigating climate change means decarbonizing our economies, and for Saint-Gobain, the goal is simple: by 2050, we must not emit any more carbon than we absorb. We must be carbon neutral.

This commitment is rooted in a long history of reducing our environmental impact. It is inseparable from our ambition to provide customers with solutions to help them to decarbonize and reduce their own environmental footprint.

Our net zero carbon ambition is also a very concrete manifestation of our purpose, Making the world a better home.

On this journey, we will pursue a range of methods to reduce our direct emissions on our sites (scope 1), indirect emissions mainly linked to the use of electricity (scope 2), and emissions upstream and downstream of our value chain (scope 3). These methods include product design and new composition for materials, making industrial processes more energy efficient, moving our energy mix towards low-carbon and renewable sources, working with partners who supply raw material and those who transport our products to lower their emissions, and finally, investigating carbon capture and sequestration solutions for residual emissions.

We see our goals in steps – the first being reductions in Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2025, and then further milestones for broader and even more ambitious reductions by 2030.

Using less carbon intensive raw materials – finding more sustainable substitutions

For decades naphthalene has been used by the Abrasives industry as a pore inducer in the manufacturing of vitrified bonded abrasives. At Saint-Gobain Abrasives it has been used in many brands, including Norton Poros 2 where it’s specially designed porosity has enabled high productivity for key markets such as Aerospace and Industrial Gas Turbines. Whilst naphthalene brought many technical benefits enabling very open and porous grinding wheels, it also brought health and environmental impacts that we wanted to change.

Substitute materials have been trialled for decades in the abrasives industry, but naphthalene proved extremely difficult to replace. In the last few years however, different perspectives were considered – instead of trying to replace naphthalene with another material, Saint-Gobain Abrasives initiated a quite radical and more holistic decision to entirely redesign our grinding wheels. New processes, new grain technology, new production techniques and new raw materials were developed. After rigorous quality tests at our grinding centres and Universities, at external test facilities and through validation testing at key customers with highly sensitive work pieces, we were confident that we had the right technology in place to go ‘naphthalene free’.

New product technologies were launched including Norton Vitrium3 Creepfeed, Norton Vortex 2 and Norton Quantum X, and early 2020, the next ambitious goal was set, to make Saint-Gobain abrasives a naphthalene free manufacturer by the end of 2020. An intensive roll out ensued, which unfortunately was hampered by the Covid pandemic. Several months were lost but with strong co-operation and commitment from our operational teams and customers, thousands of products were tested and converted, and the original target of being naphthalene free by the end of 2020, was realised. Not only did we have a more environmentally friendly product, we had a product that could out-perform our naphthalene induced abrasives, bringing additional performance related benefits to our customers. The net effect on our carbon footprint is estimated to be -30% reduction in absolute terms compared to production volumes (that included naphthalene) in 2019.

It’s fair to say that decarbonisation can only be collective. It must demonstrate an alignment of all the players involved and a common approach to progress.

As a result, it is also about the deeper transformation of businesses and value chains – which means it’s also an opportunity for growth and innovation. We continue to reinvent the manufacture of our products and industrial processes while improving the quality and performance of our solutions. The circular economy challenges us to do better with less and we are already responding.

We know, however, that carbon neutrality alone is not enough to combat climate change. We must start decarbonizing tomorrow’s technologies, and prepare to adapt them to the future demands of a green transition. It is not yet too late – but it’s time to speed things up.

Xavier Orlhac - Vice President Saint-Gobain Abrasives EMEA, Vice President FEPA