DSM: The future is in plastics and nutrition

What do 'artificial dirt' for Astroturf sports fields, the plastics used in iPhones and the biomedical polymers used in contact lenses have in common? The answer is DSM, a global life sciences and material sciences company, which also happens to be the world's largest provider of vitamins, carotenoids and other nutritional ingredients.

The company is made up of a large number of business units grouped together in five major 'clusters' — nutrition, pharma, performance materials, polymer intermediates and base chemicals. The nutrition cluster, which is comprised of DSM Nutritional Products and DSM Food Specialities, had some $3.9 billion in global sales in 2008, with $890 million of that in North America.

Beyond just striving for financial success, however, the company has embraced a motto coined by its CEO, Feike Sijbesma: "Business cannot be successful in a society that fails." Toward that end, DSM has worked hard to green its businesses and become a positive corporate world citizen.

In September, DSM's greening efforts received the ultimate crown when the company regained its No. 1 position in the chemical industry sector in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index. The index includes some 300 companies that rank among the top 10 per cent in their industries in corporate sustainability.

In 2003, DSM first joined the Dow Jones STOXX sustainability index for Europe. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, it achieved a leadership position in both the European and the global indexes. The company was again named leader in both indexes in 2007 and 2008.

Over the years, DSM has taken a number of steps to reduce its carbon footprint. In 2008, for example, it earned the Carbon Trust Standard certification for its Scotland-based dairy. Carbon Trust is an independent organisation set up by the UK government to support a low-carbon economy.

Most recently, last fall, the company signed the United Nations Global Compact CEO Water mandate, which is a voluntary mandate corporations can join to improve water conservation.

Global hunger
DSM's parallel commitment to the global problem of malnutrition has also led to a variety of innovations. In May 2009, DSM joined the Amsterdam Initiative on Malnutrition (AIM), a Dutch public-private partnership aimed at eliminating malnutrition for 100 million people in Africa by 2015.

Then in July, DSM became the first private corporation to endorse a new strategy launched by a coalition of humanitarian groups called Roadmap to End Global Hunger. Its goal is to halve global hunger by the year 2015.

"DSM is meeting the innovation challenges presented in finding solutions to micronutrient deficiency or 'hidden hunger' in the developing world," said DSM executive vice president NA, Hugh Welsh. "In partnership with the UN World Food Programme, and others such as our Sight & Life organisation, we have developed and distributed various products to meet the nutritional needs of a diverse global population."

One example is DSM's MixMe product — a single-dose sachet of vitamins and minerals that can be sprinkled over food before eating. "So far, approximately 250,000 people across Kenya, Nepal and Bangladesh have received them," Welsh says.

Another unique DSM product involves taking broken rice kernels, which are not typically sold to consumers, and fortifying them with vitamin A and other micronutrients. They are then blended into whole rice kernels, called NutriRice. In May 2009, the product won a GAIN Business Award for Innovation in Nutrition. The annual award recognizes the development of a new product or service that fights malnutrition, improves health and promotes sustainable development.

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