Talking Business: Teesside can drive environmental solutions, says industry champion

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Teesside’s chemical industry can be part of the solution when it comes to driving the green economy forwards, says former Tees Valley LEP and SABIC chairman Paul Booth OBE.

Paul says the industry has a lot to offer – but it will only be achieved if the likes of industry, academia and government all pull together to make it work.

In a post-Brexit and Covid-restricted world, the challenges are laid bare on the table – that much is clearly evident.

There’s also a building green agenda and a sustainability movement driving consumer spending and commercial considerations.

Teesside has all the ingredients to satisfy all the requirements, believes Paul, who was talking to Tees Business in the latest Talking Business feature, sponsored by commercial IT specialists Cornerstone Business Solutions.

“Putting Covid to one side, I think the industry has been, for a number of years, moving towards the green agenda, the sustainable agenda,” he said.

“The idea that we can move into bio-chemicals, bio- feedstocks, offshore wind, develop the hydrogen economy, CO2 clean gas. There are lots and lots of ways in which you can combine chemicals in a greener and more sustainable way.

“It is about moving from where we are. These investments typically take seven, eight, nine years from when they start and these things don’t happen overnight, but I see generally the industry has been moving in that direction and continues to move in that direction.

“Industry is not particularly fazed by climate change or by the green agenda because, actually, sustainability and the green agenda and profitability and giving us all the products we need is one and the same thing.”

Paul spent his 50-year career in the chemical industry, starting out as an apprentice at ICI to become chairman of SABIC as well as an ambassador for the industry. He also chaired the Tees Valley Local Enterprise Partnership, spearheading engagement with business leaders across the region.

The use of plastics has been interesting during the Covid pandemic and highlights that we actually do need them in our lives, he says – safety screens, PPE, food wrapping materials and the like are keeping people safe.

“We can’t do without them, but what we have to do is make them in a different way from bio sources and dispose of them more economically,” he reflected. “We can chemically recycle and mechanically recycle polymers.”

He believes Teesside’s industry can be part of the solution.

“Absolutely, it needs to be a big part if the UK economy. The things we take for granted, we need to think about how to make them in different ways. There’s recognition of these technologies and the way of doing things, the way society is demanding the industry moves is understood.

“It is wonderful news that the net zero carbon project will be at Redcar. The Teesside collective will tap in to that and hopefully make the chemical industry a whole lot greener.”

A huge advocate of apprenticeships, Paul is concerned about the impact Covid will have on opportunities for young people as firms deal with a challenging environment. There are a number of major developments on Teesside’s horizon and equipping a workforce and getting young people on board, he said, will be key.