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Why Sustainability Has Become Key to Retaining Manufacturing Talent

The article is by Zhao Minli, Vice President, Consumer Industry Performance Materials Asia Pacific

For businesses, sustainability initiativessimply make financial sense. Consumers are increasingly making sustainability a key consideration in their purchasing decisions. A public opinion research, conducted by GlobeScan and its partners in late 2020, shows 47 percent of Vietnamese respondents had supported a socially responsible company in the past year, against a global average of 33 percent. In addition, 81 percent said they had sought out information about environmentally-friendly lifestyles in the past year, versus a global average of 47 percent.

Another key consideration for organisations is their employees. Employees are growing increasingly unafraid of bringing their personal values to work, and companies that do not respect their concerns are at risk of being considered unattractive employers (an especially key concern in industries facing a shortage of skilled talent). McKinsey recently published an article with a title that succinctly sums up the issue: “Help your employees find purpose – or watch them leave”. 

In it, the writers discuss how companies and leaders can help optimise the sense of fulfilment that employees derive from their work. They contend that companies must establish a corporate purpose that takes into consideration the organisation’s role in society and provide employees with “meaningful ways to reflect on the company’s efforts and their impact”. 

A 2020 report by employee engagement platform Peakon delved further into employee expectations and values, showing that sustainability ranked among the top.One key finding was that the volume of employee discussions on environment-related topics had risen 52 percent compared to the previous year. This was particularly evident among younger employees, with the Gen Z cohort seeing a 128 percent increase, while Millennials also saw a still-impressive growth of 62 percent. At an industry level, it has been especially evident that consumer concerns around sustainability in the usage of raw materials and packaging have affected the Manufacturing sector –employee comments on environment-related topics rose 595 percent, almost six times the growth of the nearest industry, the Consumer sector, which experienced an increase of 106 percent. 

While this research wasconducted on80 million employee survey comments across 160 countries, I think all employees around the world would share the same values and expectations from its employers. And the employees in Asia Pacific generally, and in Vietnam specifically, are no exceptions. 

This finding resonated with me, given that I work with a company that provides the chemicals and raw materials for a wide variety of purposes, including the manufacturing of footwear. I spoke with mycolleague from BASF on the topic of sustainability – Simon Zhao, Regional Marketing Head of Footwear Sport and Leisure – to glean some key insights into the sustainability trends shaping the manufacturing industry, and how these trends resonate with their personal values. 

• The Use of Biobased Materials: Manufacturers are increasingly looking for bio-based materials that do not compromise on performance or quality. My colleague highlighted their pride in our company’s investment into the development of products derived from materials such as vegetable oil or castor oil with adjustable Bio carbon content, allowing for a biomass balanced approach which drives the use of renewable resources and sustainable manufacturing processes. 

• The Reduction of CO2 Emissions: Many companies are pledging to achieve net zero on their CO2 emissions. For BASF, this includes a plan to invest up to 4 billion euros over the next decade to achieve this goal through technology, including improvements to production plants and a switch to renewable sources of energy. This has also meant the development of more environmentally friendly products, including our artificial leather solution Haptex which emits 30 percent less greenhouse gases and uses 25 percent less energy during its production process compared to traditional solvent-based PU leather products.

• The Rise of Recycling: Many products are now made with the circular economy in mind. Along with the use of biobased materials, the concept of mass-balance has gained prominence. This refers to the recycling of plastic or organic waste as feedstock, reducing the need for fossil feedstock so that fossil resources can remain in the ground.

It was clear from my conversations with my colleague that our organisation’s investment into sustainability helped them to derive a sense of purpose from their work, and they are far from alone in their feelings on this. An authentic commitment to sustainability has benefits for both the revenues and talent retention strategies of manufacturers and brands, creating a positive cycle where the organisation answers the sustainability concerns of employees, who in turn help the company to develop sustainable products and solutions that customers want.

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