The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)

Rising to the 1.5°C Challenge: BASF’s “All-of-the-Above” Climate Strategy


Here at ACI, we have challenged our members to align their corporate climate strategy and targets with the 1.5°C ambition, which strives to reach net-zero global emissions by 2050. Across the cleaning products industry, companies are taking bold action to limit the global average temperature rise to less than 1.5°C.

BASF is combatting climate change through research and development invested in new technologies, energy efficiency during the production process and more sustainable sourcing of raw materials.

ACI spoke with Margaret Fenwick, BASF’s Head of Communications and Sustainability, Care Chemicals, North America, to learn more about BASF’s climate strategy and how the company has made progress toward its goals.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

ACI: One of BASF’s climate goals is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by 2030 using new technologies. What are these new technologies and how do they help reduce emissions in production?

Margaret Fenwick: Indeed, BASF has set a very ambitious goal to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, and by 2030, to reduce our emissions worldwide by 25%, on our way to the 2050 goal. New technologies are one of the ways we aim to achieve these goals. A good example of a new technology is our “e-cracker” project, an electrically heated steam cracker furnace. Steam crackers play a central role in the production of basic chemicals and require a significant amount of energy to break down hydrocarbons into olefins and aromatics. Typically, the reaction is conducted at temperatures of about 850 degrees Celsius in the furnace. Today these temperatures are reached by burning fossil fuels. The e-cracker project aims to identify how we can use renewable energy to power the steam cracker to those levels of temperatures. Using renewable electricity to power this process could reduce emissions by up to 90%.

ACI: What is BASF doing to make sure that existing production plants are also operating more efficiently? How does this increased efficiency play into BASF’s overall sustainability strategy and help protect the planet?

Margaret Fenwick: “We produce efficiently” is one of the core tenets of BASF’s sustainability strategy, and driving efficiencies throughout our operations in order to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, is core to our climate protection strategy. For example, between 1990 and 2018, BASF cut its CO2 emissions by half while its production volumes doubled. This was accomplished by many efficiency-boosting measures as well as the use of catalysts to reduce nitrous oxide emissions. We will continue to move forward with these energy efficiency measures that form part of our climate protection strategy, along with sourcing more renewable energy and new technologies to lower our carbon footprint.

ACI: As a company that makes ingredients that go into cleaning products, how does BASF see its role helping others in the cleaning product supply chain also combat climate change?

Margaret Fenwick: At BASF, we know that the climate challenge is not going to be solved alone. We must partner up and down the value chain, throughout the supply chain, in order to address the climate issue. This begins with our suppliers, working closely with them to understand the carbon footprint associated with the products that we are sourcing. It moves on to our own production, making sure that we are producing efficiently and reducing our emissions as much as possible. And then on through to our customers and end-users, creating sustainable, low-carbon solutions to help them meet their climate commitments. 

ACI: In the case of surfactants, a common ingredient in cleaning products, why is palm oil used and how does palm oil relate to climate change?

Margaret Fenwick: BASF produces a number of surfactants, including alkyl polyglycosides (APGs), which are very versatile surfactants made from 100% natural, renewable, plant-derived feedstock, and palm oil can form part of that feedstock. These APGs provide outstanding performance and can be used in a number of different cleaning applications.

Palm oil and palm kernel oil are very versatile vegetable oils, and oil palm trees produce higher yields per hectare than any other oil seed. This said, oil palm plantations can contribute significantly to climate change due to deforestation, loss of biodiversity and the loss of peatland. We share the widespread concern about this challenge and are committed to reducing the impact on the environment. In the past three years, our focus has been on certified sustainable palm kernel oil and we have used our certified supply chains to increase traceability.

ACI: What is BASF doing to create palm oil-based surfactants that lower global warming impact? And how do these BASF products compare to traditional surfactants in regards to their carbon footprint?

Margaret Fenwick: BASF now offers around 150 surfactants that are certified according to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), using the Mass Balance approach. The RSPO certification process is currently the most transparent and effective initiative globally to improve the entire palm oil sector. It provides the necessary infrastructure to monitor the market transformation in a transparent manner. 

When an ingredient, such as a surfactant, is RSPO certified, it is associated with a much lower carbon footprint because it is more sustainably sourced. Third-party Life Cycle Assessments show that RSPO-certified production of palm oil account for around 36% lower global warming impact than non-certified production. Compared to conventional sourcing, BASF contributed to a saving of more than 300,000 metric tons of carbon emission in 2020.

ACI: What are the company’s next steps to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050?

Margaret Fenwick: Climate protection is of the upmost importance to BASF. We know we need to move fast and comprehensively, and we also know we cannot move alone. We need to partner along the value chain, and we're excited to do this.

Therefore, at this time, at BASF, we are putting our full force behind our climate protection and carbon management projects. We know to meet our net zero CO2 goal by 2050, we need an all-of-the-above strategy. This goes from our research and development (R&D) invested in low-carbon technologies and approaches, to our resource efficiency and efficiency in our production process, to the sourcing of renewable energy, and driving sustainable, low-carbon solutions.

Looking more specifically at our R&D efforts for low carbon management, we discovered that 70% of the emissions associated with our production are related to only 10 base chemicals. Those 10 base chemicals go into over 20,000 other chemistries. So, we have identified where our R&D and new technologies absolutely need to target, and in addressing the root part of the carbon footprint and impact, we will be addressing the carbon footprint of many more chemistries.