Umicore N.V. (formerly Union Minière) is a multinational materials technology company headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. The company traces its roots back to an Anglo-Belgian mining company which operated in the copper-belt in modern day Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1906 and 1966.
Umicore was formed by the merger of four companies in the mining and smelting industry in 1989. The company has since evolved into a technology-focused business that refines / recycles / manufactures specialized product – all from precious metals, cobalt, germanium, zinc and other metals.
But what does this have to do with sustainability? A vexing question in light of the less-than-stellar history the mining sector has when it comes to being environmentally friendly.
Umicore’s operations now include clean technologies including recycling and emission control catalysts, materials for rechargeable batteries and photovoltaics. Mining, once the core of the Umicore’s operations, no longer plays a direct part in their business model.
From their perspective – complementary business groups enable a more sustainable world, combining cutting-edge technologies and recycling to give new life to used metals.
Their overriding goal is “sustainable value creation” based on an ambition to develop, produce and recycle materials in way that fulfills their mission: Materials for a better life.
To foster its sustainable business model Umicore created the “Horizon 2020” strategy. It has four key strategic growth-drivers, including clear leadership in clean mobility materials and recycling and turning sustainability into a greater competitive advantage. The company clearly views their sustainability-oriented business model as an asset versus being an expense.
Sustainable Development Goals
Umicore also identified four sustainable development goals in their latest annual report, creating a clear road map for helping address the world’s most pressing issues – in clear alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
1. Meet the Growing Demand for Clean Mobility and Clean Air
Umicore is a leading producer of catalysts and catalytic filters used in emission abatement systems for light and heavy-duty vehicles, both on and off-road. Their catalysts and particulate filters convert pollutant emissions into harmless gases and trap the particulate matter, enabling their customers to meet present and future environmental standards.
2. Work to Deliver Energy-Efficient Technologies, while optimizing resource use and reducing pollution
The Company is a leading producer of cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries, which are key in determining the power and energy density of rechargeable batteries and to maximize the driving distance of electrified vehicles. Their nickel-manganese cobalt (NMC) cathode materials are used as a benchmark of excellence in the industry.
3. Foster Sustainable Growth and Champion a Circular Business Model
Umicore’s Hoboken NJ facility is the world’s largest and most complex precious metals recycling operation, processing over 200 types of raw materials – from mining and industrial residues to “End-of-life” materials. These include electronic scrap and spent rechargeable batteries – that yield over 20 different metals. As part of their closed-loop business model, most business units recycle industrial residues from customers.
4. Be a Preferred Employer with a Commitment to Empowering Women for Leadership
As a growing business with a presence in key markets around the world, the company has won top-employer status for worksites in Europe and Asia. They strive to create a collaborative environment, ensuring meaningful work and career-long learning and development opportunities. Employees have an average length of service of 10 years, and a group-wide retention rate of 94%. Employees share the same values, and they respect one another while working towards making materials for a better life.
Substantial Process Made on Eco-Efficiency
Umicore set ambitious 2020 targets in terms of improving the efficiency of their operations. The targets align with UN SDG #7 Affordable & Clean Energy and # 12 Responsible Consumption & Production:
• -23% reduction in Energy Consumption
• -59% reduction in metal emissions to the air
• -57% reduction in metal emissions to water
As part of their commitment to sustainability, Umicore takes into account the environmental impact of their operations, and strives to continuously improve their environmental performance, implement risk management strategies based on valid data and sound science.
They actively participate in the management and remediation of risks that are the result of historical operations and facilitate and encourage responsible design, use, re-use, recycling and disposal of Umicore products.
Their success is marked by their ability to make sustainability a competitive advantage through increased energy and material efficient – compared with their 2015 baseline measures.
Umicore was ranked 14th out of the 100 world’s most sustainable companies – published by Corporate Knights, a research division focused on sustainable performance rankings. Umicore is also ranked number 1 globally among companies which produce or transform metals.
Marc Grynberg, CEO of Umicore stated:
“I am delighted that Umicore is once more recognized as one of the most sustainable corporations in the world. Sustainability is integral to our strategy and business model and we consistently demonstrate our commitment to clean mobility and recycling both through cutting edge technology innovation and significant investments.”
A refreshing thought and truly amazing sustainability transformation – from a company that started in the copper mining business in Africa over 100 years ago.