DSM’s Feike Sijbesma Named Humanitarian of the Year

18.01.2011 -

Feed The World - When DSM's CEO Feike Sijbesma was awarded the UN's 2010 Humanitarian of the Year Award, it put the chemical industry in a new light. Sijbesma, who won the award for his commitment to corporate social responsibility and in particular for DSM's partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme, said, "Although some people think that our industry is part of the problem, in fact we are already a substantial part of the solution." Brandi Schuster asked him about the role the chemical industry plays when it comes to global problems.

CHEManager Europe: Mr. Sijbesma, what responsibility do chemical companies have when it comes to tackling to global problems?

F. Sijbesma:
We all have a responsibility to do what we can, not only the (bio-)chemical industry. The private sector, and our industry in particular, has unique competencies that are key in addressing global issues, like combating climate change, developing alternative energies, addressing health and wellness for many, etc.

This goes beyond the traditional corporate social responsibility, since the private sector can develop market-based solutions to tackle many global problems. For me, it is a combination between feeling the responsibility to contribute to the global issues as well as using the same issues as a business driver.

How would you say the international chemical industry is doing as a whole as far as helping counter global problems is concerned? Will the industry ever be able to shake off its oftentimes questionable public image?

F. Sijbesma: Today within the chemical industry, achieving a top ranking on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index has become very competitive, which I think shows that things have already changed substantially in the chemical industry. The savings of greenhouse gas emissions in end-products, at the level of our customers and the final users, are two to three times higher than the emissions during the production and transport of our products. In other words: Although some people think that our industry is part of the problem, in fact we are already a substantial part of the solution.

We might need to communicate this better, indeed. On top of this, the industry will move more and more towards renewable inputs, such as bio-mass. This will also make that the industry will be seen more as a green industry. This shift has already started, and at DSM we are working on growing this bio-based economy from a niche market to the mainstream. I also like to add here the contribution our company is making in the combat against (hidden) hunger.

Do you think your winning this award will serve as a wake-up call for other major chemical companies to get involved in such global issues?

F. Sijbesma: That is my hope. There are already many private corporations involved in public-private partnerships aimed at addressing a variety of global issues but more action is needed. The private sector has an enormous wealth of unique expertise that should be shared to help realize global aims such as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

DSM has been active in helping to make progress towards achieving these goals: by partnering with the World Food Programme, we have made a commitment to fight hunger and malnutrition around the world. In addition to providing technical and scientific expertise and developing new products, we are raising awareness of this pressing issue of malnutrition - also known as hidden hunger.

How is it financially possible for a company to develop products for a consumer group that is essentially without means?

F. Sijbesma: As the world's largest supplier of vitamins and nutritional ingredients, DSM is committed to help the beneficiaries of the World Food Programme. Together we can improve the quality of the food basket that is provided to the world's neediest and most vulnerable people. We want to share our knowledge and expertise and create better, brighter lives for them and for generations to come. Almost two billion people in the world suffer directly from hunger or so called hidden hunger. DSM has the ability to help these people. We decided to do so and not turn our back.
Dying people are no business model: they need our help. So, we offer our knowledge and patents for free for this purpose to this group of people. I often say: We cannot be, nor can we call ourselves, successful in a society that fails.

Next to the "poorest of the poor," there is a large group of low-income people who don't have the financial means to afford the variety of foods needed to meet their nutrition requirements but, in most cases, can afford the marginal costs associated with fortified foods. The cost to add these nutrients is so low (i.e. $3.00 per ton of flour) that it does not even have to result in a higher final market price. Here DSM is applying its "normal business models."

DSM started its strategic partnership with the World Food Programme in 2007; what initially sparked the relationship between your company and the UN program?

F. Sijbesma: Through the sponsorship of the non-profit humanitarian organization Sight And Life, DSM has strived since many years towards better scientific understanding of the impact of hidden hunger and addresses specific micronutrient deficiencies. People who have enough carbohydrates but a shortage of vitamins and minerals stay alive but become ill and develop diseases like blindness, fatigue, anemia, etc, and become a burden for already poor societies.

In addition, DSM had already been active in food fortification for many years prior to the partnership with the World Food Programme and had created DSM's Nutrition Improvement Program. One of the main goals of this program was to develop strategic partnerships to assist in the development, implementation and monitoring of successful food fortification programs.

Against this background and realizing we are the largest player in the world in the field of mirconutrients, I was triggered at the World Economic Forum in Davos listening to some African leaders being concerned about carbohydrate rich food aid without micronutrients and claiming they might become poorer due to this. Then we decided to offer our help and give the UN access to our knowledge and expertise.

What are specifically the kinds of products your company has developed to help combat hidden hunger?

F. Sijbesma: DSM worked in close partnership with the World Food Programme to develop new nutritional solutions. For example, DSM developed a sachet of micronutrients called MixMe, which simply needs to be sprinkled over the food. It provides the full recommended daily nutrition intake and does not require people to change their diets.

We have also developed a rice product called NutriRice that is made from broken rice kernel, a by-product of normal rice, and vital vitamins and minerals (especially vitamin A). It is added to normal rice at a ratio of 1:100 and doesn't change the taste or the color of the rice but provides the necessary nutrients.

We are proud of the innovations that we have developed, which have helped more than 2 million people to date. Through our partnership with the World Food Programme we aim to provide improved nutrition to 80% of WFP's beneficiaries.

What other global trends do you anticipate will shape the future of chemical R&D? More specifically, what other projects is DSM working on to this end? Does DSM have similar programs in operations in other business units, such as in pharma?

F. Sijbesma: Climate and energy, health and wellness, and global shifts are fundamental trends that will have a massive impact on our industry. Our strategy as a company is to focus all our R&D activities on meeting the unmatched needs in relation to these trends.

On climate and energy, the chemical industry is, for example, going to have to make the transition from fossil fuel dominated to more sustainable bio-mass based production. With our life sciences and materials sciences combination we are uniquely positioned to develop bio-based solutions and are leading the way in terms of the development of bio-based materials, and the development of sustainable second generation bio-fuel. The implications of the climate and energy trend are so profound it is already touching all areas of our business and its importance is set to increase dramatically over the coming years.

For example: we make products that make solar cells more efficient, that increases the blade size of windmills, that make cars lighter (so less fuel and CO2), that make paints cleaner and greener, etc.

In 2009, DSM, having significant experience in sustainable production, was the first non- pharmaceutical company to join the Green Chemistry Institute Pharmaceutical Roundtable of the American Chemical Society (ACS), as an associate member. The Roundtable was founded in 2005 to promote green manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).


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