Johan Landfors, President of AkzoNobel North America, gave the keynote speech on the first day of Coatings Trends & Technologies (CTT), where he discussed the challenges and opportunities created by some of the global developments we are seeing today.

One of these challenges is urbanization. According to Landfors, one million people are moving into cities every week. At this pace, by the year 2050, 6.3 billion people, or 65% of the World’s population, will be living in cities. This will surely impose problems for current housing, infrastructure and commercial environments.

Another challenge is water scarcity and a loss of arable land. Landfors cited a study by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs that states that global water demand is projected to increase by 55% by 2050, and that 1.2 billion people live in areas of physical water scarcity. He noted that there is enough fresh water on the planet for seven billion people, but it is distributed unevenly, and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed. This not only affects the general population, but has a profound impact on industrial operations as well. Landfors’ presentation also included a report from the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, which states that nearly 33% of the world’s arable land has been lost to erosion or pollution in the last 40 years, and that the world will need to grow an estimated 50% more food by 2050 to feed an anticipated population of nine billion people.

The problems and challenges we, and future generations, face certainly seem daunting. Landfors noted that some people feel threatened by the future. He, however, feels inspired by it, noting that history tells us that humanity has a great capacity to innovate to solve major challenges. He has confidence in what our world is capable of. One of his slides said, “Keep calm. Engineers will save the world.”

Landfors painted a picture of what our future might look like with continued innovation and collaboration to deliver sustainable solutions. In the building and infrastructure area, he noted that in 2050, 95% of new buildings will use zero net energy and that less than 6% of buildings will be heated with fossil fuels. In the transportation arena, there will be near-zero transport-related deaths, universal access to low-carbon transport, and super-efficient and aerodynamic planes. For consumer goods, we will have longer-lasting and more efficient products, and recycling will be integrated into all business models. And in the industrial arena we will see major improvements in the eco-efficiency of resources and materials. Closed-loop processes will be the norm, and landfills will be obsolete.

Landfors noted that the chemicals and coatings industries have to be a part of the solution and lead the way in creating more value with fewer resources. He discussed AkzoNobel’s “Planet Possible” sustainability strategy, and encouraged all companies to integrate sustainability into all functional processes, including financing (capital expenditure), R&D, procurement, human resources (talent attraction, training) and legal code of conduct.

“To ignore sustainability and trends is not possible. You have to realize that it’s about the future of our society, and the responsibility we have as individuals and as corporations to help find the right solutions for the future. But you can make it in a profitable way. You can make it into a sustainable business model if you build it into your strategy – if you try to understand what the world will look like in 2050.”

 If you were unable to attend CTT, you can watch this keynote presentation on demand (as well as two other sessions) by clicking the button in the upper left-hand corner at