An interview with Cristian Barcan of BASF Nutrition & Health
By Beef Issues Quarterly Editors
Sustainability has become a hot button topic, gaining more attention from consumers who are demanding “sustainable” products, without understanding the definition of sustainability in its totality. The beef community wants to put perspective and a wider reaching definition on sustainability, and what makes a product more sustainable. The Beef Sustainability Assessment Project has been initiated to do just that, as well as benchmark our industry, so that we know where continuous improvement is needed to preserve the beef community for future generations. To help provide some context to sustainability, sustainable products and the Beef Sustainability Assessment Project, Beef Issues Quarterly sat down with Cristian Barcan, Applied Sustainability and SET leader of BASF Nutrition & Health. BASF has become a business leader in the area of sustainability with their own products, and now helps others continuously work towards their sustainability goals. Barcan has been involved with the Beef Assessments Project as well as sustainability assessments for multiple consumer products. He provides great third party insight into the world of sustainability, and can help us in the beef community better market a more sustainable beef product for the future.
Beef Issues Quarterly Editors: Can you give us some background about your position with BASF, and also what is your role with the Beef Sustainability Assessment project?
Cristian Barcan: As a leader for BASF Nutrition & Health, I help our customers to produce and market end-consumer products that are more sustainable, more eco-efficient and traceable along their value-chains. Our goal is to help the market translate consumer expectations regarding sustainable products to industries that we know well. BASF has a long tradition and good reputation as a sustainability leader and we’re very excited to share our knowledge with our key business partners for the benefit of the entire value chain. My role with the Beef Sustainability Assessment project is to coordinate the BASF related activities and involved resources. Our goal is to empower the beef community to identify the forward path to help the industry create and be able to market more sustainable beef.
BIQ: Why did BASF become involved in the sustainability movement and how did you become leaders in the area of sustainability?
CB: As the world’s leading chemical company, BASF knows its challenge and responsibility to innovate toward more and more sustainable products. We have been strongly committed to sustainable development for the past decades. BASF has been recognized for its ongoing sustainability achievements as Europe’s “Most Sustainable Company” for two consecutive periods, awarded by Manager Magazine and Kirchhoff Consult, and BASF shares are listed in the top sustainability indices in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Through science and innovation we enable our customers to meet the current and future needs of society. The S.E.T.-initiative is an innovative outcome of BASF investments in sustainable solutions. S.E.T. stands for Sustainability, Eco-Efficiency and Traceability. Based on quantitative and qualitative assessments, S.E.T. makes our customers’ sustainability measurable and marketable.
BIQ: How did BASF implement changes within the company structure to become more sustainable? What were some of the biggest challenges, and how did you deal with those?
CB: The notion of sustainability can only be effective if it is firmly integrated into the internal organizational and management systems. The BASF Sustainability Council chaired by Board member Margret Suckale ensures that the BASF Group policy is in accordance with the principle of sustainability. In 2004, we began setting up regional steering committees in Asia, America and Europe who support the implementation of our sustainability organization in the various regions. Several project teams liaise with and report to the Steering Committee. Their tasks include drawing up quantifiable indicators, developing and monitoring environmental and social standards and expanding our sustainability reporting.
Our Sustainability Center is the central coordinating body between the Sustainability Council, the Regional Steering Committees, the project teams, operating units and sites. The Sustainability Center is also responsible for external cooperation with environmental groups, industry associations, initiatives such as the United Nations’ Global Compact and rating agencies. With the S.E.T.-initiative we can offer the market a holistic sustainability approach that takes advantage from these resources. With our home-grown Eco-Efficiency Analysis for example, we have completed Live Cycle Assessments for more than 450 products, processes or methods of production. BASF has a dedicated S.E.T. team integrated within the Nutrition & Health Division.
BIQ: What do you hope to discover or believe you will discover about the beef industry through the Beef Sustainability Assessment?
CB: I guess the path to more sustainable beef might be found along the value-chain and includes several stages starting from feed production, covering harvesting, meat processing as well as packaging and final distribution. But there will be no “one-fits-all” solution; therefore I do not want to speculate on possible findings. Our main job is to set up the framework to identify potential areas of improvement, with the beef community and the market being in the driving seat of taking responsibility for the actions. Potential areas for improvement will be analyzed in terms of emissions, energy and resource consumption, land use, water consumption, animal health and welfare, social issues, economics, as well as traceability.
BIQ: Can you talk about a similar project for another food industry or product and share a bit about what you learned?
CB: We advised a large pork meat producer in Europe regarding the improvement of their product sustainability program. We helped the company identify their own learning experiences and get better over time. We calculated the environmental footprint of pork and found out that harvesting and processing only account for a small share of the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Feed and farming practices have a much greater effect. More than 50 percent of the carbon footprint of pork from this producer is due to the feed used. We also learned how traceability can help improve animal welfare, since traceability tools help to trace back animal maltreatment. During the project we were very impressed by the openness of the organization and its readiness for sustainable improvement.
BIQ: It is very difficult to pin down a definition of sustainable, but what do you believe would be a good outline for sustainably within the beef community?
CB: Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In 2050, more than nine billion people will live on our planet. We all need to find solutions to address the needs of the growing world population by taking into account its impacts on the planet’s resources. The beef community can play an important role in providing the world with nutritious beef in a more resource-efficient way. Many companies focus on only one aspect of sustainability, such as the carbon footprint. It is necessary to consider the full range of ecological protection, economic success, and social responsibility throughout the value chain and to take a holistic approach.
BIQ: What would you say are the biggest public misperceptions about sustainable products or industries?
CB: One of the biggest public misperceptions about sustainability is that some view it as a distinct goal that could be achieved. From our experience sustainability is rather a process or a journey towards more sustainable products: There is no such thing as “the sustainable product," there are rather “more sustainable products” compared to others or they are “more sustainable than before”. We, the BASF S.E.T. leaders, consider ourselves as partners on the journey toward more sustainable products over time.
BIQ: How has BASF becoming one of the leading businesses in the area of sustainability affected the company’s public image? How do you think the public image of beef might be affected as a result of the Beef Sustainability Assessment?
CB: We are convinced that aligning economic success with environmental and social responsibility ensures our long-term business success. With our investments in sustainability and innovative solutions
we strengthen our positioning as enabler for a sustainable future. In a similar way, the beef industry might benefit from an improved public image based on quantifiable results by the Beef Sustainability Assessment. S.E.T will help to make sustainability efforts measurable while avoiding speculations and misperceptions.
BIQ: What are some of the biggest improvements in sustainability that BASF has made that could relate to or transfer to the beef community?
CB: We have set voluntary long term global goals in the areas of economy, environment, safety, employees and society. Through these goals, sustainable development at BASF is transparent and verifiable. More information can be easily obtained from our websites (www.basf.com/sustainability and www.set-initiative.basf.com) or our social media activities (e.g. S.E.T. on Facebook). The beef community can also try to make its sustainable improvement visible and measurable. It can benefit from our S.E.T. offer that includes an elaborate service toolkit like Hot-Spot-Analysis, Eco-Efficiency Analysis and a traceability strategy. The holistic approach helps the beef community understand their way forward.