What is it like to be a sustainability project manager?

Sandy Delcommune, Sustainability Project Manager at Solvay, was nominated for this year’s WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development) award, in the category ‘Next Generation’, in recognition of the next generation of women leaders who are advancing sustainability in their company.

We reached out to her to find out more about her sustainability initiatives, how she helps create customer value, and what this nomination means to her…

Talk to us about your career at Solvay and what your role is today?

I joined Solvay back in 2013 as an internal auditor, and for almost three years, I visited many plants, Research & Innovation (R&I) centers and commercial offices. I travelled across 13 countries, which helped immerse me in the Group culture and promote best practices.

As of January 2016, I joined Specialty Polymers as a Sustainability Project Manager and discovered a whole new world! I’m now responsible for answering any customer inquiry related to sustainability, from a standard compliance questionnaire all the way to a comparative study of several products across their complete lifecycle.

Besides serving our customers, I keep an eye on the short-term and longer term sustainability trends affecting Solvay’s various businesses, from packaging to electronics, through aerospace and healthcare. This often results in passionate discussions!

How do you feel about your nomination to win the WBCSD award in the category ‘Next Gen’? Why do you think you were nominated?

I feel extremely proud and energized to go the extra mile. I think you never deliver a great solution alone, it’s always a team effort; so this nomination means our team is definitely on the right path, but by no means is the story over. We still have a lot to learn and many ideas for further improvement!

What is the most exciting and challenging project/initiative you’ve worked on?

The most challenging part of my job is to satisfy our most demanding customers. The scope of the sustainability exchanges we’re having with Apple’s environmental team for example is broad: bio-sourced materials, sustainable harvesting practices, recycled materials, lifecycle analysis of existing materials, as well as new developments and their improvement plans, renewable electricity, conflict minerals reporting…

The most complex and rewarding experiences have been in the renewable electricity commitment projects. All electricity consumed to produce materials for Apple needs to be from renewable sources, and the Closed Loop initiative — meaning that all materials sold to Apple will need to, one day, be either bio-sourced or recycled.

These are two great examples of how we can integrate sustainability into the way we do business, and I hope it inspires others to come up with innovative solutions to our customer’s challenges.

What motivates you every day?

What I enjoy most is the variety and broad scope of these external and internal exchanges.

Digging into environmental impact numbers comes as a close second: I get excited when numbers differ from expectation or when uncertainties prevent immediate decision making. Those cases spark the best discussions and this is where I learn and grow!

On a lighter note, what do you like doing for fun?

I’m a big fan of board games with friends! When I feel the need for some quiet me-time, I grow vegetables in my garden or give a hand at the local community garden.

What advice can you give to other women and men who want to pursue a career in sustainability?

Sustainability is a fast-evolving field where new standards appear every day, and we have to constantly build and realign with our customers on our shared understanding of the benefits and challenges of our initiatives. Hence, the way I am approaching every new request is not as an expert but rather as a student who needs to dig into new material every time, systematically challenge the assumptions and come up with a tailor-made solution.

My advice would be to excel at active listening, dare to make mistakes and continuously learn on the job!

How do you think we can help create customer value when leading a sustainability initiative or project?

There are two key elements: one is to start by approaching the customers and identifying which of them have high enough sustainability priorities on their agenda so we that we can really enhance our relationship with them and bring them the added value they’re looking for. Second is to ensure that their sustainability objectives are aligned with ours.