AKZONOBEL ADVOCACY: Pioneering solutions to the world’s pollution problem
G7 Summit

AKZONOBEL ADVOCACY: Pioneering solutions to the world’s pollution problem

What are some of the most pressing challenges that we face today?
According to the United Nations Chronicle, energy consumption and pollution are two critical issues faced by urban communities, which account for half of humanity or 3.5 billion people. About 60–80% of the world’s energy, which is a dominant contributor to climate change, is consumed by cities. The air quality in cities has deteriorated to such an alarming level that about 92% of the world’s population breathes unsafe air and more than seven million people die annually, according to the World Health Organization.    

What can we do to change the situation?
In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN has established 17 Sustainable Development Goals with a comprehensive list of targets to be achieved by 2030. Individual countries are expected to take ownership and establish national frameworks to implement the actions. As a leading global paints and coatings company with a strong commitment to sustainability, AkzoNobel supports these goals, which are in line with our purpose to create everyday essentials to make people’s lives more liveable and inspiring. We are at the top of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index rankings for the fifth time in six years.

At AkzoNobel, we believe that we can address some of these challenges with the innovative solutions that we have developed. With a focus on India and China, we highlight the major problems faced by these two populous countries and the solutions that we can offer.


While India’s economy continues to expand at the world’s fastest growth rate of about 7.5% annually, millions of its citizens are exposed to increasingly unhealthy air. The latest air quality report from WHO in May 2018 has announced that the world’s top-10 most polluted cities are all situated in India.    

Residents in India’s capital, New Delhi, which has been ranked the sixth most polluted, are taking the brunt of the health crisis due to vehicle emissions and burning of crops and woods. The air has become so smoggy and severely toxic that Delhi’s government had to declare a public health emergency and school closures last year. It also unveiled 26 new programmes with a budget of $8.2 billion to clean its air, with initiatives such as electric buses and vehicles, tree planting and switching from coal-fired to electric or gas ovens.

How can AkzoNobel help Indian cities combat pollution? We have developed an air-cleansing paint based on photocatalytic technology that can degrade major atmospheric pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides. These gases not only pose health implications themselves but also contribute to the formation of PM2.5 particulate matter that can penetrate deep into lungs and the bloodstream, causing diseases such as stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory infections. With sunlight exposure and moisture, our paint will generate radicals that can decompose these pollutants. A large-scale field trial is currently being planned to quantify the efficacy of our paint in improving the air quality in Delhi.

To help improve air quality in India through reduction of the emission of volatile organic compounds, we have launched our strategic programme called Waterway. Our aim is to drive the transition of solvent-based products currently offered in our portfolio for wood care and metal care applications to water-based products with equally high quality and performance.

We can help to mitigate soil pollution in India by controlling the release of biocide used in our paints. Biocide is a film preservative added within the regulatory compliant amount in an exterior paint to help protect building facades against the growth of fungus and algae, which is especially important for tropical and subtropical climates in India. Conventional types of biocide may not be able to release effectively from the paint over its lifetime and they may also be washed off by rain and can contaminate the soil. Encapsulating the biocide allows for its controlled release at its optimum level, therefore safeguarding our paint for better  durability in terms of film protection while minimising the environmental impact due to soil pollution. Our researchers also continuously strive to explore biocide-free or low-biocide solutions.

Public urination has been a major issue in India. The government has launched a nationwide campaign called Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to promote public cleanliness. To address this problem, we have developed a superhydrophobic coating with extreme liquid repellency that can protect walls by resisting the adhesion of urine, spit and other stains. Our product will be able to help transform and maintain the cleanliness of many cities and towns across India, thus providing the communities with more liveable neighbourhoods and inspiring, comfortable surroundings.


According to the International Energy Agency, China has surpassed the United States as the world’s biggest energy consumer in 2009. This has definitely taken a toll on air quality due to China’s predominantly coal-based energy production. Key major economic zones such as Beijing and Shanghai have been marred with pollution and notorious thick choking smog in recent years.

In China, buildings account for a large part of the country’s energy consumption. To promote building energy conservation, the Chinese government has developed a sophisticated policy system in recent years. These include building energy codes that state the minimum standards for the energy efficiency of building components such as the envelope, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and the power system. These codes are mandatory for residential and commercial buildings in urban areas, and voluntary for rural residential buildings but are promoted through incentives.

How is AkzoNobel going to contribute positively to better the country’s energy efficiency and adapt in this storm of policy changes? We approach this by providing solutions for suppressing heat outflow in winter with our Thermal Insulation Decorative Board systems and reducing the heat gain in the building in summer through our Keep Cool offerings.

Thermal insulation decorative boards are prefabricated boards constructed in the factory setting where the insulation and decoration layers are assembled together. These boards are made with a controlled quality unlike the traditional Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems, which are highly subjected to the reliability and quality of workmanship. They can be easily secured on the exterior façade of a building just like a jigsaw puzzle with a smart system of bracket and screws. The system also incorporates air-vent plugs to prevent moisture build-up that leads to cracking and peeling issues we see in traditional insulation systems. Factory fabrications also allow us access to a much wider technology platform such as UV-curing systems and sol-gel processes, which would have been prohibitive to use in conventional exterior wall paint. This solution essentially allows us to provide a better and higher-quality alternative to building insulation and hence effective energy management.

Another contribution from AkzoNobel concerns the energy savings brought about by specialised coatings. Other than improving our existing Keep Cool offerings to chase the ever tighter standards, we have also extended our Keep Cool offerings to Texture products in China. Keep Cool coatings reflect heat by reflecting in infrared (IR) and near infrared radiation of the solar energy. This is achieved by careful pigment management and the use of special IR-reflective pigments. With less heat build-up on the building façade and less heat transfer to the inside of a building, less energy is then required to maintain a comfortable temperature. Based on the simulation results from external parties, energy savings are quite substantial.

Beyond innovation

Proposing true and sustainable technical solutions is one aspect of our contribution. We also firmly believe in improving everyday life through our corporate social responsibility.

Giving back to communities is deeply rooted in AkzoNobel’s culture. Our Human Cities initiative is our commitment to regenerating and energising urban communities across the world. We use our products and expertise to help cities deliver a stronger sense of community purpose, pride and happiness.

For instance, our global Let’s Colour programme has been revitalising urban areas all over the world, with almost 70 million people benefiting from 2,000 projects and 12,000 volunteers involved. The 100th mural of the 100 ‘Let’s Colour Walls of Connection’, created by AkzoNobel and global peace movement MasterPeace, took place last November in a school in Badshahpur in India. The project transformed the lives of more than 5,000 children by getting them back to school and ensuring they continue their education and improve their grades.

AkzoNobel has also partnered with SOS Children’s Village to train the next generation of painters and drive local economic growth through painting training and business development knowledge, thus contributing to the employability of young people from difficult backgrounds. This successful partnership has been rolled out in countries including Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa and Indonesia, and will be extended to up to 10 countries including India in 2018.