Chemistry for a Sustainable Future with BASF’s Charlene Wall-Warren

Looking at the lifecycle of stadium operations, of everyday products, what role does chemistry play in promoting and furthering sustainability?

John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good in beautiful downtown Chicago. We are so honored to have with us today Charlene Wall-Warren. She is the Sustainability Director for BASF. Welcome to Green Is Good, Charlene. Charlene Wall-Warren: Thank you. John Shegerian: Before we get talking about all the great green and sustainable things you’re doing as BASF, I want you to please share your own journey. How did you even come to this place professionally and personally, where you have become the sustainability director at BASF? What was your journey like in terms of green? Charlene Wall-Warren: I’d love to. So I started as a chemical engineer working for BASF. John Shegerian: OK. Charlene Wall-Warren: Basically, doing project design, process design and for about 10 years. So I said, “So it’s really great to design pumps and equipment and make stuff.” John Shegerian: Right. Charlene Wall-Warren: “But I want to know where it goes. I want to know what happens to it.” I’m a bit of a geek so I like to know kind of what’s in the car, what’s in the furniture, what’s in the clothing, etc. John Shegerian: Got you. Charlene Wall-Warren: So about 15 years ago, BASF started a lifecycle assessment group, so we actually measure and quantify sustainability. It was a brand new job in North America and coming in as an engineer I said, “I think I can do this. It’s numerical, it’s quantitative, it’s cool. You’re looking at environmental and social” and once I tried that I got hooked. John Shegerian: Got you. And how long have you been the sustainability director there? Charlene Wall-Warren: I’ve been the Director of Sustainability for about two years now. John Shegerian: Got you. So you worked your way up. You are now the Director of Sustainability. Talk a little bit about – for our listeners that don’t know BASF – and our listeners and viewers who haven’t heard or want to learn more about BASF, please go to www.BASF.com. What is the mission and what does BASF do? Charlene Wall-Warren: So BASF is the largest chemical company in the world. John Shegerian: Wow. Charlene Wall-Warren: We have 110,000 people working around the world, €75 billion of sales and over 380 manufacturing facilities. But those are the numbers. John Shegerian: OK. Charlene Wall-Warren: We have a company purpose that is we create chemistry for a sustainable future. John Shegerian: Got you. Charlene Wall-Warren: So it’s a really interesting place to work because we’re making chemistry and science that goes into everything from houses to cars to pharmaceuticals to vitamins. We have natural and we have fossil-based products. And it’s all about creating chemistry for a sustainable future, so you get to learn how lots of stuff is made and you get to learn how everything could be made better. John Shegerian: Wow. So what were the – coming in to be the director of sustainability, what were some of the opportunities? Given that you became a lifecycle geek, what were some of the low hanging fruit, or “fruit on the floor,” let’s just say, that you were excited about tackling when you came in two years ago, and how has that journey gone? Charlene Wall-Warren: So I would say one of the things we’ve been really good at for a long time – low hanging fruit. John Shegerian: Yeah. Charlene Wall-Warren: Is operational excellence. John Shegerian: OK. Charlene Wall-Warren: So a lot of companies are talking about greening their operations. John Shegerian: Yeah. Charlene Wall-Warren: How do we use less energy? How do we generate less waste? John Shegerian: Right. Charlene Wall-Warren: Use less resources? And we have something called “Verbund” – so we are a German-headquartered company. John Shegerian: Right. Charlene Wall-Warren: And it’s all about taking the byproduct from one process and using it more efficiently in another process. So that was kind of the low hanging fruit. John Shegerian: Right. Charlene Wall-Warren: The really cool stuff, though, is when you get out into the marketplace and you kind of look at what is going on in the building space or fuel efficiency and hybrids for vehicles. John Shegerian: Right. Charlene Wall-Warren: And those are the areas – I think – where people often don’t appreciate what chemistry can bring and that is the really cool stuff. John Shegerian: Well, so you have all these people around the world and buildings and also all these amazing products. Where do you start? I mean, it sounds so daunting in terms of coming in as a director of sustainability. Where do you start? Where did you start your journey? Where did you choose to start, and how is it going? And talk a little bit about then engaging with GSA, then coming here today, too. So before we get talking about GSA – where did you start and where are you in your journey in sustainability at BASF? Charlene Wall-Warren: Sure. Yeah. So in my particular role- John Shegerian: Yeah. Charlene Wall-Warren: When we started, we were working with a group called “The Sustainability Consortium.” John Shegerian: OK. Charlene Wall-Warren: And those are consumer goods. John Shegerian: OK. Charlene Wall-Warren: So if you think of big retailers and kind of the products you and I might go to the store and buy- John Shegerian: Yes. Charlene Wall-Warren: There was really an interest in how could we make those products more sustainable – smaller footprint, less energy, less water, better toxicity aspects – and so that was kind of where we started. John Shegerian: OK. Charlene Wall-Warren: What landed us in the Green Sports Alliance and the sports space is because it’s about way more than just those kinds of products we may buy off the shelf. John Shegerian: Right. Charlene Wall-Warren: If you think about the stadium environment, I think about what is the stadium built out of? Are the products durable? Is it energy efficient? What is happening in the stadium? Are they managing food and food waste? Are they managing waste coming out of the stadium? Are they composting and recycling? All those kinds of things. And chemistry plays a role in each and every one of those areas. John Shegerian: Wow. So how many years has BASF been involved with the Green Sports Alliance? Charlene Wall-Warren: So we are, actually, this year part of their leadership council. John Shegerian: Right. Charlene Wall-Warren: And it’s a relatively new relationship for us, but it builds on over five years of work where we started out with the Seattle Mariners Safeco Field. John Shegerian: Right. Charlene Wall-Warren: Working with them on their zero-waste goals about five years ago. John Shegerian: Got you. So you started – so BASF saw the opportunity in sports and entertainment and got involved back then, and now you’re taking this leadership role with other global leaders. Charlene Wall-Warren: Yeah. Yeah, because for us it’s not about just putting a name up there. John Shegerian: Right. Charlene Wall-Warren: It’s really about saying, “We want to partner with a venue. We want to understand what their goals are.” John Shegerian: Right. Charlene Wall-Warren: We want to understand how chemistry can help them achieve their goals, and the most exciting thing – and this is, I think, for BASF, why we’re thrilled about this- John Shegerian: Good. Charlene Wall-Warren: We’re a science company. John Shegerian: Yeah. Charlene Wall-Warren: And if you look at the average person out there 70 percent or so are interested in sports. John Shegerian: You’re right. Charlene Wall-Warren: And it’s a much lower percentage interested in science. John Shegerian: Great point. Charlene Wall-Warren: So it gives us a chance to go in. Fans are interested, they’re engaged, they’re passionate. You can kind of let them know what chemistry and science is all about and build more awareness when it comes to sustainability, so it’s a great space. John Shegerian: It’s a great platform for BASF then. Charlene Wall-Warren: Yeah. Exactly. John Shegerian: Wow. Talk a little bit about the culture of the company. You’ve been there now quite some time. How do you take all the great work you’re doing in sustainability and message it both ways and get engagement and get engagement from your employees, and then how do we appreciate – now that you’re getting involved with the sports industry – but how did I know that when you came in and you lowered the footprint of all your great consumer products, how has that messaging typically gone? So how do you message both ways – employee engagement and then consumer engagement? Charlene Wall-Warren: Yeah. Sure. So in the stadium what we actually do – we have done things like Sustainable Saturdays. John Shegerian: Oh. Charlene Wall-Warren: So we’ll actually partner – this is one of the things we did in Seattle – we’ll go in and say, “Let’s help teach the fans about composting and zero-waste” and things like that. John Shegerian: Cool. Charlene Wall-Warren: What we do internally – and this is also one of the most exciting things – is we actually leverage our BASF team – and we’re doing this with the New York Yankees this coming July. We’re saying, “Guys, come and join us. Let’s go to a game, and you can watch the game, and you can have a good time, but we’re going to make you work for a little bit and we’re going to ask you to help us just hand out some awareness and messages about sustainability, about zero waste,” and we get so much enthusiasm from the employees. I mean, I have had employees just reach out with an email and say, “Hey, wow, I saw BASF’s sustainability moment up there during the Yankees game.” John Shegerian: That’s awesome. Charlene Wall-Warren: That’s awesome. So people get really excited about it. John Shegerian: Wow. And it’s great for the fans and your consumer fans, and it’s great for your employees the same way. Charlene Wall-Warren: Absolutely. John Shegerian: Wow. That’s so great. Well, it looks like you have a long relationship in front of you with the GSA, obviously, because it’s great for – as you said – you get to take your core business science and platform it using sports, where more people are definitely interested. And it’s so nice to have a chance to interview you, and we would like you to come back on and keep sharing the journey as you continue growing all the sustainability efforts at BASF. Thank you so much for being with us today. Charlene Wall-Warren: Thank you. I’d love to. Appreciate it. John Shegerian: For our listeners and our viewers out there, you’ve been enjoying Charlene Wall-Warren. She is the Director of Sustainability for BASF. To learn more about what Charlene and all her colleagues are doing in green and sustainability at BASF, please go to www.BASF.com. To learn more about the Green Sports Alliance, please go to www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. We thank you for being with us today, Charlene. Thank you for doing all the great work you do with BASF. You are making the world a better place. You are truly living proof that Green Is Good.