BASF Pushes New Tagline
(Bloomberg) — BASF SE is spending more than ever on water cleansing, climate protection and accident prevention, initiatives that may help soften the chemical industry’s image of sprawling factories pumping out toxic compounds.
In one subtle nod to its new mission, the world’s biggest chemical maker adopted a new slogan this year, switching from the straightforward “The chemical company” to the more engaging “We create chemistry.” Spending on environmental projects is rising faster than operating profit, highlighting the role of sustainability at BASF.
“Top management in the chemical industry is really committed to this topic,” said Margret Suckale, the board member who oversees the company’s biggest chemical park in Ludwigshafen, Germany. “For BASF, sustainability is of highest importance.”
Corporate makeovers are common in industries from chemicals to energy and mining as companies seek to appeal to an environmentally-minded public. BP Plc adopted the slogan “Beyond petroleum” in 2000 in a nod to its renewable-energy push and replaced its shield logo with a sunburst in green, yellow and white. Europe’s major chemical companies have made sustainability part of their strategy and DSM NV in the Netherlands even links executive pay to ecological goals.
The attempted reputation shift is dramatic — cleanser instead of polluter, model earth-citizen instead of resource exploiter. Chemistry makes cars lighter, wind-turbines stronger and houses more energy-efficient, the companies say.
Even so, contentious products remain. BASF, Bayer AG and Syngenta AG sell pesticides that have been blamed for honeybee deaths. The European Commission restricted the use of some of the pesticides from December 2013 and Greenpeace has called for a complete ban. BASF says its pesticide Fipronil is safe. Bayer and Syngenta sell pesticides that contain neonicotinoids, which they say don’t kill bees exposed to field-realistic test conditions.
Spending on safety and environmental initiatives may build public trust, but investors may have reason to question the economic benefits.
Just 21 percent of consumers are willing to pay a premium for socially and environmentally responsible products and actually do so once in a while, Uwe Bergmann, head of sustainability at detergent maker Henkel AG, said at a conference last month.
While public perception of the industry is climbing, it still ranks below the average, according to a survey by European chemical association Cefic.
Just 34 percent of respondents said they saw the industry in a positive light in 1998 and that climbed to 49 percent by 2010, according to Cefic. Last year’s survey, based on an index, gave chemicals a favorability score of 5.4 out of 10, half a point below the average for all industries surveyed.
“The skepticism is certainly understandable,” Suckale said. “But if you explain our products and show that they are the solution to the problem, then you see very clearly how the chemical industry is contributing.”
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