Painting For Climate Change
A Filipino company is using paint to help reduce carbon emissions, with initiatives premised on technology and innovation, and anchored on its core strength as a business. But what is more noteworthy is that this private, for-profit corporation – and a very successful one at that – consciously shifted its views on corporate social responsibility (CSR) from being a voluntary luxury to a necessity on a nationwide scale.
Pacific Paint (Boysen) Philippines was set up in 1953 and has since grown to be the country’s leading paint company. It is a benchmark for the positive relationship that can exist between environmental, social, and financial performance – achieving one does not negate success in another. And in an era where doing nothing for our environment can, in fact, cost us the only world we live in, Boysen’s efforts to provide simple and accessible ways to address pollution and climate change are a welcome progress.
Catalyst Asia spoke to Boysen’s vice president, Johnson Ongking, on its going green strategies as well as its air cleaning paint that is making an environmental impact.
How can your product KNOxOUT be used to address climate change?
Not much can be done to take pollutants out of the air once they have been released from a car’s exhaust pipe. But KNOxOUT has special properties to get rid of them, by converting air pollutants to harmless substances through photocatalysis. When exposed to light, ultrafine titanium dioxide in the paint converts water vapour into free radicals that attack nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds, which are the two main components of smog.
This process has been used in power plants and diesel engines for the past 30 years. So we incorporated this technology into our paint, to transform any surface into solar-powered air purifiers.
What was the motivation for producing this air cleaning paint?
Air pollution is a very significant problem in the Philippines, and incurs a lot of costs in terms of health, lost productivity and premature deaths. Studies showed that it cost the Philippine economy US$26.8 billion, or over four percent of our GDP, and if not addressed immediately, will also compromise the health of our future generation.
Once we started understanding how powerful KNOxOUT’s technology could be in addressing air pollution, we knew we had to introduce it to the market. We just had to give it a try, regardless of how it affected the company’s overall bottomline.
Even before launching the product, we had to invest heavily in a one-year trial by scientific institutes to prove its performance. This would have been a big risk for a startup to conduct, reinforcing our belief that KNOxOUT was a responsibility we had to take on.
KNOxOUT has been behind a lot of nationwide environmental initiatives. Can you elaborate?
We launched an advocacy called One Wall One World (OWOW) to show people what KNOxOUT could do. The basic idea is this: We all breathe the same air, and have a common responsibility to help make the air cleaner and safer for everyone.
KNOxOUT provides a way for people to do something to help make the air cleaner, like turning an ordinary wall into an air purifier, without needing to wait for the government to solve the problem. When we use motor vehicles, we leave a carbon footprint. Painting with KNOxOUT allows us to erase some of that.
We have had OWOW initiatives with city governments, corporations, universities, and NGOs working for a better environment. We also did our own initiative with Project EDSA – an urban renewal initiative to reduce air pollution along the country’s busiest thoroughfare through large-scale artworks using KNOxOUT.
The entire stretch of EDSA is notorious for the volume of cars that pass through it every day, causing heavy traffic and dangerous levels of smog. Pedestrians and traffic enforcers are constantly exposed to this polluted air, which experts have equated to being as dangerous as smoking.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels as well as climate and traffic data were monitored six months before and after painting the Guadalupe metro rail station along EDSA with KNOxOUT.
Results showed that there was, on average, a 20 percent reduction of NO2 levels in the area around the station after it was painted. An average of 150,000 motor vehicles were passing by the station at that time, so the paint was essentially cleaning up the NO2 emissions of about 30,000 vehicles every day.
How do you think projects such as OWOW and Project EDSA lend itself to capacity building?
They help raise awareness of the need to do something about air pollution. Before we started working on KNOxOUT, I personally was not aware of how serious the problem was. Obviously, my mindset is completely different now and I hope our initiatives have similarly changed other people’s thinking.
Every little bit counts in the fight against air pollution. So if people are becoming more conscious about it by walking or cycling more often, then we can build a bigger community that is actively involved in making our air cleaner. Hopefully this community will continue to grow over time and make environmental issues a larger priority in our society.
One of the first companies that adopted OWOW was Shell, which has made KNOxOUT the specified coating for their petrol stations in the Philippines. A garment factory in Cebu used KNOxOUT to improve the air quality inside their factories, and then painted it on their new facilities in Cambodia. Our Peruvian partner, AIRE, has also engaged many companies, including the country’s leading banks, real estate, infrastructure, and supermarkets, to paint air-cleaning murals as part of their CSR activities.
What was your biggest challenge?
From a corporate perspective, we were in unfamiliar territory, as we were no longer selling paint but an air purifier.
Aside from learning about air quality issues, we had to learn a whole new way of business. What we are used to doing in the paint market – who we talk to, how we talk to them – does not translate to this market. With KNOxOUT, there are social benefits too. When you clean the air, everyone benefits. Suddenly there is a social perspective, and that is completely new to us. There has been a lot of learning along the way, which has been quite an exciting and interesting experience.