Sustainability transformation of the chemical industry – opportunities and risks for SMEs. Results from an empirical study in the German State of Baden-Würrtemberg

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Poster Number:  04 

Main Presenter:    Julia Walz 

Co-Authors:   Claus Lang-Koetz     Philipp Preiss      Tobias Viere                                    

The chemical and pharmaceutical industry, a main pillar of the German economy, faces the challenge of significantly reducing its CO2 emissions. In 2014, this sector emitted 181 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, with the aim of reducing these emissions to 51% of 1994 levels by 2030. This ambitious transformation aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2045, which requires a comprehensive change in the industry.
In the chemical industry, the goal of climate neutrality appears possible through the creation of a carbon cycle, more efficient use of energy and raw materials, as well as a chemicals strategy declared by the EU. In the literature, additional aspects such as decarbonisation, circular economy, energy supply, biomass, electrification, recycling, resource efficiency and hydrogen economy are mentioned.
With small and medium sized companies making up around 90% of the German chemical industry, how can these companies approach and implement a sustainability transformation? We investigated this in a study from autumn 2023 to spring 2024. The aim was to provide orientation of what sustainability transformation means for SMEs in the chemical industry and what approaches exist to implement it. The research question was: what are possible solutions and methods for a transformation process towards climate neutrality in SMEs?
The thematic focus was placed on the climate neutrality strategy of the German Chemical Industry Association and the categories of circular economy, energy and chemicals strategy that fall under it. The topics of decarbonisation, production routes, sustainable process evaluation, innovations in chemical products and product design were also considered.
To this end, several systematic literature searches were initially carried out, following a strict review protocol as well as a deductive category application and a thematic synthesis. Approx. 150 SMEs in Baden-Württemberg were approached for expert interviews. Around 15 interviews were ultimatively conducted in virtual meetings, transcribed and analysed. A systematic approach was guaranteed by also applying a deductive category application, a thematic synthesis and correlation analysis. From this, challenges, the motivation for transformation and possible solutions are compiled. Finally, a guideline with recommendations for action for a sustainable transformation for SMEs in the German chemical industry will be developed.
This will show practitioners aspects to be considered and how a sustainability transformation can be approached in the industry. From a scientific perspective, the results contribute to a better understanding of drivers and barriers in the chemical industry and highlight possible methodological support for a sustainability transformation.

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