By HANK HAYES
KINGSPORT — In the past five months, two of the most respected national publications in the United States have pointed to Eastman as a leader for companies who “get it” when it comes to sustainability. In late 2020, The Wall Street Journal evaluated 6,600 publicly traded companies around the world and, using independent data analysis, determined Eastman was among the top 100 most sustainably managed companies in the world. Just over a month ago, Barron’s magazine evaluated sustainability metrics to identify the 100 most sustainable companies in the nation — and Eastman was ranked No. 27.
This sort of spotlight on Eastman makes sense when you hear Eastman’s chief technology and sustainability officer, Steve Crawford, describe the space between the company’s innovation strategy and its sustainability strategy.
“Our innovation strategy and our sustainability strategy are the same,” Crawford said. “We refuse the concept that the world should have to choose between a more sustainable future and a growing, profitable economy or, in our case, a business.”
Sustainability has been a core element of Eastman for several years, and now the company’s commitment to sustainable innovation is more prominent than ever. Late in 2020, Eastman announced the most far-reaching sustainability commitments in the history of the company related to what it considers to be three critical impact areas: mitigating climate change, making circular materials mainstream, and caring for people and society.
Eastman’s goal on climate change is bold: It plans to be carbon neutral by 2050 and achieve approximately one-third of that goal by 2030. To increase circularity of materials, specifically the plastic materials used in products that touch our lives every day, Eastman is growing its molecular recycling program dramatically, and that growth will have a tangible impact on Northeast Tennessee. More on that in a minute. In the area of caring for society, Eastman plans to not only drive product innovations to meet society’s most pressing needs, but also strive for a more just society. Eastman is targeting gender parity by 2030 and will also be a leader for racial equity within its industry sector.
Eastman launched these commitments in late December with a theme of “A Better Circle” or, in other words, a better planet for all. Teams across the company are already putting in the work that will be necessary to achieve those 2030/2050 goals.
For those living in the Tri-Cities, the circularity goal in particular will manifest itself visibly in a matter of weeks. Eastman announced in late January that it will build one of the world’s largest molecular recycling facilities in Kingsport, and construction on the $250 million plant will begin this spring. The molecular recycling plant will be located on the southeast side of the plant, and drivers on John B. Wilcox Highway will see the construction from the road.
Eastman has already recycled millions of pounds of plastic waste since it launched its molecular recycling technologies in Kingsport two years ago. The new recycling facility is an essential element of its 2030 goal to recycle more than 500 million pounds of plastic waste by 2030 — and more than 250 million pounds by 2025.
“Thanks to the support of the State of Tennessee and our local officials, we are able to build this facility in our home state, which we believe positions Tennessee to be a leader in enabling the circular economy and an example for others to follow,” said Eastman CEO Mark Costa, who announced the molecular recycling facility with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and the mayors of the City of Kingsport and Sullivan County. “This will be a great investment for our local community and our customers, while also creating small business jobs to develop the recycling infrastructure necessary to support investment in a sustainable future.”
Eastman’s vision for A Better Circle, as captured in its 2020 sustainability report, includes a number of stories as well as a question-and-answer session with Crawford. The Q&A touches on wide-ranging topics ranging from the sustainable products that are proof points of Eastman’s commitment to sustainable innovation to how the company’s strategy drives Eastman’s focus toward the right things. Crawford said this era of sustainable innovation at turbo speed is an exciting time for the Eastman team, because it so clearly connects to the company’s purpose to enhance the quality of life in a material way.
“When we come to work in the morning, Eastman’s purpose of enhancing the quality of life in a material way guides everything we do,” Crawford said. “We’re not in the business of making materials for the sake of making them; why we make materials is much more important. We know the challenges of today will require true innovation through first-principles research, deep knowledge of the issues and how our products impact our customers and consumers, and the ability to provide practical and economical solutions that enable a more sustainable future. We have a responsibility to not just make materials but to create materials that make lives better for the 10 billion people that will soon live on our planet.”
To learn more about Eastman’s vision for A Better Circle, visit www.eastman.com/sustainability. Or visit Eastman on YouTube and watch “Sustainable innovation for A Better Circle.”