BASF hosted a media summit earlier this month to discuss sustainability as a grounded approach for growers. Greenhouse Grower caught up with Jan Buberl, director of specialty products at BASF, who outlined the chemical company’s sustainability initiatives.
BASF deals largely with row-crop farmers yet also serves the greenhouse floriculture market. Have you found greenhouse growers are more or less receptive to sustainable business practices, in your experience, than row-crop farmers?
First, I think sustainability applies to everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a greenhouse grower or an outdoor grower. Their needs are different. We see a need for (sustainability) in all market segments, and we need to offer both more sustainable solutions that benefit their needs in the long run.
What factors does BASF take into account in determining which products are sustainable and which are not?
To determine whether a product is sustainable or not, you have to put that product into the whole context of the production system. Take the example of a greenhouse: A lot of different factors enter the equation. (BASF’s) Eco-Efficiency Analysis system analyzes the full footprint of the value chain, from the production of the active ingredient to the final outcome of the product. We take a lot of different aspects of conservation into account–the use of water, energy and land–to determine the eco-efficiency of our products.
There are a couple of new BASF products that have been deemed sustainable under BASF’s Eco-Efficiency Analysis system. Has BASF tested existing products to see whether those are sustainable or not under the Eco-Efficiency Analysis?
We have tested some existing products, but certainly this formal testing and having a complete analysis is intensive. We will do that with two of our new innovations–on the pest control side and the other on the turf and ornamentals side. We will provide the results of those two products when the time comes.
Is it the supplier’s role to promote the product as a sustainable one down the supply chain or is that the responsibility of the grower, retailer and others who may work more directly with our industry’s consumers?
We see sustainability as a key need for our customers. Whatever we can provide to promote sustainability, we are happy to do. So what we can do at that point in time is enable growers with the tools to at least have a sustainable production system and product. I think the dialogue with the grower is important, because a fear we have is that sustainability becomes just a buzz word and something without practical application. It’s important for the grower to be able to see one product is more sustainable than another. And if we can help promote their product at the next level, we would be happy to do so.
A dilemma can emerge when competing greenhouse chemical companies develop sustainable products yet measure sustainability differently. So how does the grower choose a vendor when standards are different?
That’s why it’s important to have dialogue with the grower. At BASF, we have more than just the concept–there’s science behind it, we can calculate, we can compare and we can actually go into a dialogue and challenge elements of it. I think this whole practical approach makes it much more tangible than just, ‘Hey, a product is more sustainable.’ There’s something behind it now, and that’s why we are very confident customers will understand this concept and take it from there.
How has research and development within BASF changed as sustainability becomes a core part of the company’s offerings?
We have a whole team working on sustainability, doing these eco-efficiency analyses and learning more. In the context of doing more research on water efficiency, we fine-tune every day more the way we calculate the output. We use a lot of third parties around the globe to help us because it’s important sustainability isn’t just triggered by us, but that it has third-party validation. It has to be validated by third parties.
Learn more about BASF at betterplants.basf.us.