Article

20.12.2021

Building a sustainable chemical industry together

As a bank, we promote sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation. Together with BlueChem, the first incubator for sustainable chemistry in Europe, we are taking some important steps in the chemical industry.

In December 2021, BNP Paribas Fortis extended its exclusive partnership with BlueChem for a further three years. A logical step after the successful cooperation over the past years.

BlueChem is the first independent incubator in Europe to focus specifically on innovation and entrepreneurship in sustainable chemistry. It provides legal, administrative and financial support to promising Belgian and international start-ups and ambitious growth companies. BlueChem recently invested in a brand-new building on the Blue Gate site, the new climate-neutral business park in Antwerp. The incubator provides start-ups, SMEs, large companies, research centres and knowledge institutions with fully-equipped and freely-configurable labs, individual offices and flexible workplaces. Tenants include a company that splits CO2 molecules into useful chemicals, a company that develops protein sources for meat substitutes, and a company that extracts chemicals from polluted industrial waste water.

Didier Beauvois, Head of BNP Paribas Fortis Corporate Banking: “We are very proud to be a partner of BlueChem, which, like our bank, feels very strongly about sustainable development and open innovation, which is why we chose to immediately extend our partnership with BlueChem by a further three years. Our aim with these kinds of initiatives is to help companies and industries meet the conditions set out in the European Green Deal, the European Commission’s initiative to make the European Union climate neutral by 2050.”

Sustainable partnership

As a leading bank in Belgium, we believe in taking our responsibility and contributing to the sustainable development of our society, now and in the future. A promise we can continue to deliver thanks to our partnership with BlueChem.

Our primary role within this unique partnership is to share our expertise. The bank has a centre of expertise, the Sustainable Business Competence Centre, which closely monitors innovative, sustainable developments, using this knowledge to support companies in their sustainability transition. We also have a wealth of experience, through our Innovation Hubs, in fine-tuning business plans for start-ups that want to evolve into scale-ups. Making our network available is a second crucial role. We connect with potential clients and investors and identify synergies between start-ups and large companies. Contacts that also offer added value for our Corporate Banking clients.

Barbara Veranneman, Chairman BlueChem NV and Director International Affairs essenscia: “BlueChem partly owes its success to strong strategic partnerships, such as with BNP Paribas Fortis, among others. Our sustainable chemistry incubator is thus able to provide the right facilities in the right place, in addition to specialised, custom services. This access to high-level expertise is definitely an asset, offering start-ups and scale-ups optimal support so they can focus on their core business: bringing sustainable innovations to market."

Why the chemical industry?

The chemical industry is a major contributor to our country’s economy. Antwerp is home to Europe’s largest and the world’s second-largest integrated chemical cluster. We can have a major impact by providing optimal support to start-ups and scale-ups throughout Flanders in terms of innovation and sustainability.

We don't always realise that developments in the chemicals industry impact every aspect of our daily lives: virtually every technological product contains plastics, smartphones are jam-packed with chemical elements, the biodegradable packaging of the products on supermarket shelves, research into new batteries, recycling that involves a great deal of development, etc.

A good example is Triple Helix, an innovative growth company that was one of the first to move to BlueChem and which received support from the bank from the outset. The company is preparing the construction of its ‘SurePure’ recycling plant for polyurethane foam and PET shells, which will be converted into new raw materials, for new applications. Polyurethane is used in mattresses, car seats, insulation panels, etc. But this is just the first step. True to the motto ‘Molecules as a service’, Triple Helix is already planning similar initiatives with glass, stone and wood . Considering waste as a resource creates a huge growth market.

Steven Peleman, Managing Partner Triple Helix Group: “What makes BNP Paribas Fortis such a valuable partner is that it can bring the right parties to the table, essentially becoming a lever on the pathway to a more sustainable industry. It’s not just the financial aspect. The bank also looks for strategic partners, helps us to strengthen our credibility, and brings in potential investors. A bank that looks beyond purely financial considerations can create tremendous added value for us.”

Sustainability and innovation in the chemical Industry

Innovation in chemistry is the key to overcoming our planet's sustainability challenges. The chemicals industry develops crucial innovations and products to successfully address climate change, even though it is not traditionally considered a 'greener’ industry. There are several opportunities: better recycling techniques to extract sustainable metals from waste, biodegradable plastics, the replacement of certain substances in existing materials, or the greening of a chemical production process. Moreover, innovation is not an easy feat in the chemical industry. It takes a lot of time, guts and money to scale up from a lab setting to industrial-scale production.

European Green deal

All these efforts to increase sustainability are part of an EU-wide initiative. The European Green Deal is a set of policy initiatives by the European Commission to make the European Union climate neutral by 2050. It proposes to achieve this by drastically reducing CO2 emissions and by immediately absorbing or offsetting any remaining carbon emissions in Europe by 2050, for example by planting forests or with new technology. This would make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world. An ambition that we, as a bank, are more than happy to lend our support! And what about you as a company?

Would you like to know more about how we promote sustainability and open innovation or do you require support for your transition to a more sustainable business model? Discuss this with your relationship manager or the experts of our Sustainable Business Competence Centre.

Read the full press release here

Article

29.01.2020

BlueChem and our bank are committed to sustainable chemistry

Helping growth companies develop sustainable innovations for the chemistry of the future. This is the goal of incubator BlueChem. Leentje Croes and Jeroen Vangindertael talk about this unique initiative.

BlueChem is the first independent incubator in Flanders – and far beyond – that focuses specifically on innovation and entrepreneurship in sustainable chemistry. A unique ecosystem of start-ups, SMEs, knowledge institutions and major global players will take up residence at BlueChem's brand-new premises in Blue Gate Antwerp, an eco-efficient and water-bound business park. Leentje Croes, who has a degree in Bioengineering (Chemicals and Biotechnology), has been a Manager at BlueChem since 1 January 2019. Jeroen Vangindertael, who has a PhD in Biochemistry and Biotechnology, is an expert in this field at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre of BNP Paribas Fortis, which has forged a partnership with BlueChem. Hearing them discuss BlueChem's plans, even a layman cannot help but become enthusiastic about this venture.

How did BlueChem come into being?

Leentje: "essenscia, the Belgian cross-sectoral federation of the chemical and life sciences industries, observed in 2012 that disruptive innovation often came from start-ups. essenscia wanted to stimulate this drive for innovation by supporting these start-ups, so between 2012 and 2014 they carried out an initial feasibility study based on the question 'What is needed to help these companies and keep the chemicals and plastics industry successful?' After all, our industry is extremely important for employment and prosperity in Belgium. The feasibility study led to the idea of an incubator. A follow-up study, between 2014 to 2016, provided the finishing touches: the theme 'sustainable chemistry' was linked to the incubator, a financial plan was drawn up, and the process was set in motion. In 2017, BlueChem was born!"

Jeroen: "The time was right to roll out this model in the chemicals industry. We have seen for some time at essenscia – the cross-sectoral federation of the chemical and life sciences industries – that big companies support or engage biotech start-ups. The purpose is to follow what these start-ups are doing and potentially enter into collaborations at a later stage, but also to accelerate and keep abreast with innovation. And although there was a wealth of established companies in the chemicals and plastics industry, a lively ecosystem of start-ups was still lacking."

Why does sustainable chemistry matter?

Leentje: "The scientific innovativeness of the chemicals industry is essential for our planet to be developed sustainably. At BlueChem, we consider sustainable chemistry as the industry par excellence of the 21st century and a pacesetter for the circular economy. Moreover, the chemicals industry provides crucial innovations and products to successfully address climate change."

Jeroen: "The chemicals industry is often criticised for not being sustainable enough. But everyone uses the products developed in the chemicals industry in their daily lives. There's virtually no technological product that doesn't contain any plastic, for example – that's almost impossible. Today's research into batteries is also about chemicals. Biodegradable packaging materials in supermarkets are manufactured by the application of complex chemistry. And recycling also involves a great deal of development. In the transition to more sustainable chemicals, an incubator like BlueChem is a perfect model."

Leentje: "Smartphones also have a long list of materials made by the chemicals industry. Developments in the chemicals industry have a knock-on effect on many aspects of everyday life, but most people are not aware of that.

At BlueChem, we want to improve the image people have of our industry. We want to show the general public all the wonderful things chemicals make possible."

What has BlueChem achieved since its creation?

Leentje: "The subsidy application we submitted in 2017 to the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for financial support for our construction was approved in that same year. It was a major milestone! Construction began at the end of 2018 and provisional completion is scheduled for 5 February 2020.

A year ago we only existed on paper... and now we have a state-of-the-art building with all the facilities a start-up could need.

We have achieved a lot in a year, such as entering into partnerships with BNP Paribas Fortis but also Deloitte, Deloitte Legal and Port of Antwerp. What's more, the first tenants will soon move into our building: Arpadis, Catalisti, Creaflow, InOpSys, Triple Helix, Vito and large companies such as BASF, Borealis and Ineos. This mix of small and large companies creates an interesting dynamic within the ecosystem. Our objective for the first year of operation, an occupancy rate of 20%, had already been achieved four-and-a-half months before the opening."

Jeroen: "December 2019 saw the launch of the BlueChem Kickstart Fund, an investment fund of approximately EUR 3 million made available by the City of Antwerp. This fund gives BlueChem tenants a financial boost of up to EUR 700/m² for furnishing their labs."

What can BlueChem and BNP Paribas Fortis do for each other?

Jeroen: "Our bank has an extensive network and we see almost all start-ups in Belgium – not only through our Innovation Hubs but also because we invest in a lot of university spin-off funds through Private Equity. Our ambition, therefore, is to promote BlueChem throughout Belgium. We also have a wealth of experience, through our Innovation Hubs, with business plans for start-ups that want to evolve into scale-ups. We can certainly support companies in this process. Chemicals is a capital-intensive industry, and sooner or later these start-ups will need equity or debt financing to finance their growth. Clearly the bank plays an important role in this. It is also valuable for us to follow these companies from the very beginning so that we understand what they are doing. It means we can respond quickly if and when there is a need for financing. In this connection, Conchita Vercauteren from our Business Centre Antwerpen Stad and myself will also sit on BlueChem's Advisory Board."

Leentje: "Although we are still in the start-up phase, we have achieved many successes together in the past year. BNP Paribas Fortis is an ambassador for BlueChem and contributes to our brand awareness among start-ups and in general. That opens doors for us, of course. We have also referred a number of start-ups to our branch in Antwerp, as they had questions about setting up business or transferring their company from abroad. They got the advice they needed from BNP Paribas Fortis."

What are your plans for the future?

Leentje: "Once our official opening on 28 April has taken place and the tenants have moved in, we will focus on the day-to-day support of our tenants. This can range from administrative advice to finding the right partners within our network. Organising seminars with BNP Paribas Fortis is also one of the possibilities."

Jeroen: "We at BNP Paribas Fortis are very enthusiastic about BlueChem's future. Belgium and, more specifically, Antwerp have been top players in the chemicals industry for many years. It's good to see they are forging ahead on the same path and are now also a frontrunner in sustainable chemistry.”

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Article

18.11.2020

Joining forces for a low-carbon economy – our bank's contribution to CO2 Value Day Europe

The fourth CO2 Value Day took place online on 10 November. The event, which we helped set up as one of its partners, focused on the progress made in developing the CCU industry.

At BNP Paribas Fortis, we were delighted to help stage this event. The subject of carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) lies close to our heart as we strive toward a low-carbon economy.

About CCU and CO2 Value Europe

Carbon capture and utilisation encompasses all industrial processes aimed at capturing carbon dioxide – from industrial sources or directly from the air – and converting it into usable products. Today, carbon is not simply a waste material; it can be reused as a raw material for a host of applications, including building materials, fuel production and in the chemical industry.

CO2 Value Europe, a European organisation founded in 2017, aims to promote the development and market introduction of these sustainable industrial solutions and thus contribute to reducing global CO2 emissions and diversifying the raw material base away from fossil fuels and gas. The organisation brings together more than 50 companies from various sectors across Europe, including 12 multinationals. As its only financial partner, we support CO2 Value Europe by giving the organisation access to our expertise and network.

The event

The CO2 Value Day is a unique opportunity for all members of CO2 Value Europe to assess the overall progress made in developing the CCU industry. This year, the event was once again a mix of plenary presentations, keynote speeches and interactive workshops.

After a welcome and introduction by Stefanie Kesting, Chair of CO2 Value Europe, Sebastien Soleille took to the floor. As Global Head of Energy Transition & Environment at our bank, he discussed the role banks play in supporting sustainable development. This is a responsibility that we do not take lightly at BNP Paribas Fortis, and we've been helping companies with their sustainable transition for years through our Sustainable Business Competence Centre. We focus on four pillars: decarbonisation, the circular economy, human capital and smart cities.

Vincent Basuyau, Policy Officer at DG GROW, then shed some light on CCU when it comes to current EU policy. This primarily concerned the Innovation Fund, established by the European Union to invest in innovative projects that decarbonise industrial activities in Europe.

The plans for 2021 were also unveiled. In the coming year, CO2 Value Europe will focus above all on the ongoing development of and market uses for CCU technologies. The aim is to coordinate the many different players involved in CO2 use in Europe, integrate their efforts into the value chain and become the ambassador of the CO2 user community towards policy-makers and financiers. After all, a favourable legal and market framework is a prerequisite for the commercial roll-out of CCU solutions.

CO2 Value Europe aims to encourage the ongoing development of CCU technologies by:

  • offering solutions to decrease net CO2 emissions from hard to abate sectors, such as energy-intensive process industries (e.g. cement and lime mortar, chemicals, steel and other metals) and the transport sector;
  • creating negative emissions in sequestering CO2 in building materials resulting from the carbonation of mineral waste;
  • providing an alternative raw material for the production of chemical building blocks and to replace fossil fuels and gas;
  • facilitating the storage and transport of renewable energy, speeding up the transition of energy systems in the EU;

There was also time for two break-out sessions, with the first focusing on developing a strategy to create a regulatory framework that supports the deployment of CCU technologies.

The second session concerned projects and financing. Aymeric Olibet, Sustainable Business Advisor at BNP Paribas Fortis, talked about a range of topics, including the solutions we offer companies through our Sustainable Business Competence Centre, financing sustainable projects through green bonds and green loans, and blended finance (a mix of public and private funding).

Finally, attendees had the chance to meet other participants during online speed meetings.

Article

12.06.2024

We need to move forward together

Since 2019, the bank has reduced its CO2 emissions per full-time equivalent by 55%. And according to Sandra Wilikens, Chief Human Resources Officer, everyone must play their part.

Between 2019 and 2022, the bank succeeded in reducing its CO2 emissions by 55%. So how did you do this?

"Mainly by focusing on the energy efficiency of our buildings, which account for approximately 80% of our immediate emissions. We also optimised our real estate and significantly reduced business travel. We settled on a structured approach involving all departments. Since 2012, our Green Bank Platform has gathered the contact persons of each department every quarter, allowing them to present an action plan with their initiatives. They then develop a series of KPIs on energy and paper consumption, business travel, the electrification of the vehicle fleet, waste management, etc. Because measuring is knowing."

The target was to achieve a 42.5% reduction in emissions compared to 2012 by the end of 2025. A goal we have since achieved. What else is in the pipeline?

"We have no intention of resting on our laurels until 2025. Because there is no time to waste if we want to be carbon neutral by 2050. Our new headquarters at Montagne du Parc in Brussels is a good example of energy efficiency, but there is still a room for improvement in the rest of our real estate. We will improve the energy efficiency of the various regional offices, install solar panels in more than 80 branches, and LED lighting will become standard in all our buildings. These efforts must allow us to reduce our CO2 emissions by another 7%."

How much progress have you made in terms of the electrification of your fleet?

"We are making a sustained effort to electrify our fleet, and I think we are on the right track. At the end of 2022, just under 30% of our fleet of leased company cars was electric – 100% electric and plug-in hybrids. In the third quarter of 2023, these cars accounted for 95% of new orders. This was largely due to the new car taxation. But for employers, it doesn't stop there. They must deal with a complex tax framework, including the reimbursement of electricity costs. Some of our staff members also face obstacles, for example, because they have difficulty accessing a charging station. I intend to organise a mobility roundtable this year. The aim is to bring governments, operators, start-ups and companies together. Because we have to move forward and are all in this together."

How do you ensure sufficient employee engagement?

"With a lot of communication. You need to explain what you are doing and why. That is the only way to get people to cooperate. We have a network of more than 200 EcoCoaches within the bank. The sustainability compartment of CBA 90 also inspires. We set six specific objectives each year. If we achieve at least three, all staff members receive a bonus at the end of the year. To date, this has been a success. We also have other incentives. With our “Green Fuel Consumer Plan”, we reward staff members who have a company car but use it sparingly. We are also launching many campaigns to promote soft mobility, such as walking, cycling and public transport. The decision to base our offices in cities is also positive. At the end of 2022, 79% of the employees working in Brussels used public transport to get to work. Outside cities, 60% of employees do this."

Finally, can you think of any issues that need to be addressed urgently?

"Digital pollution is often underestimated. To give you an idea: sending 100 mails emits just as much CO2 as driving twenty kilometres. That’s why we organise an internal campaign every year to raise awareness among our staff members and give them tips on how to reduce their digital footprint. Regularly cleaning up your mailbox, sending links instead of files, deleting outdated files: all little things. But if our 11,000 colleagues do this daily, we can make a big impact. Every effort counts!"

Article

10.06.2024

Electronic invoicing between companies to become mandatory

The bill to introduce this obligation in Belgium has been submitted to the Federal Parliament. If the draft bill is approved, B2B e-invoicing will become mandatory from 1 January 2026. Our experts explain why Belgium wants to introduce these new rules, what the implications are for your company and how we can better support you.

“The bill is consistent with international developments and initiatives at the European level,” says Nicolas De Vijlder, Head of Beyond Banking at BNP Paribas Fortis. "Europe's ambition is a harmonised digital standard. Structured e-invoicing between companies will also reduce the administrative burden of invoicing, enabling companies to work more efficiently and increase their competitiveness. The automation of VAT declarations will also help governments prevent tax fraud and adjust economic policies based on more qualitative data.”

Evolution rather than a revolution

“The new legislation is an evolution rather than a revolution,” adds Erik Breugelmans, Deputy Managing Director at BNP Paribas Factoring Northern Europe. "Digitalisation is becoming pervasive at all levels of society, as we have seen with the increase in electronic payments, as well as the additional obligations in recent years regarding electronic invoicing to the government. In this sense, the bill for mandatory electronic invoicing between companies is a logical next step. Our bank is happy to contribute to this process, although we do not intend to offer the same services as accounting software or fintechs. However, we are happy to help our customers with payments and financing."

The impact on businesses

“Customers need to be aware that the new regulations will have an impact on their internal and external processes,” continues Erik Breugelmans. "The majority of Belgian companies mainly serve an international market, which means that the introduction of electronic invoicing will be more complex for them than for companies operating in the domestic market. As the legislation will be introduced in one go, they need to start preparing now."

“The new rules will affect a company’s accounting department as well as its IT department,” emphasises Nicolas De Vijlder. "The procedural requirements are key, otherwise the automated process will not work. However, one of the main benefits of advanced automation is that everything can be done faster and more efficiently. The time between sending an invoice and paying it will be shorter and cash flows more predictable. In addition, it will also reduce the risk of error and fraud, as all transactions will pass through a secure channel."

Ready to offer you even more and better support

“Thanks to the far-reaching digitisation resulting from the new regulations, we will be able to further optimise payments,” concludes Erik Breugelmans. "As a bank, we need to finance our customers’ receivables as quickly and efficiently as possible, so that they have easier access to their working capital. In addition, because we have already gone through an entire process in terms of large-scale automation, we will be able to adapt quickly to the new rules. We can also draw on the expertise of the BNP Paribas Group, which is currently developing an e-invoicing solution for large companies."

Want to know more?

Listen to the episode on B2B e-invoicing :

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