Reading in the press over the holidays about the need for further consolidation in the paint industry and the growing global presence of the top three companies (PPG, AkzoNobel and Sherwin Williams), I was reminded just how much journalists focus on the sales revenue, geographic spread, product range and overall growth potential of a company, as if that were all that matters in this world.

The focus on business dynamics is understandable, given investor interest in financial performance, but if you consider the long-term sustainability of a company, something major is often missing in these commentaries. There are, after all, three pillars to sustainability. Not only do we have the economic and environmental pillars, but one cannot ignore the social pillar.      

I attended a Sustainability Leaders’ Forum in London recently and heard about the wide range of projects in progress or already completed by companies, big and small, not only in the coatings sector but also in the communications, retail, fashion, insurance, transportation, electronics, engineering and speciality chemicals industries. Energy reduction, waste management and social engagement were the initiatives most frequently referred to by the speakers.

Having come to the conference with a mind full of coatings initiatives such as carbon footprinting, renewable raw materials, waste management and enhanced paint functionality, it came as a bit of a surprise to learn of large companies in other sectors devoting significant resources to social outreach and support programmes. Their business reasons for working in these areas were associated with:

  • developing outreach programmes to understand the views of communities both inside and outside each corporation;
  • fostering improved relations, clarity, understanding, effective communication and shared priorities with stakeholders; 
  • enhancing corporate brand image in the eyes of potential customers and investors; and
  • improving employee motivation.

One of the most telling economic justifications I heard for putting resources into the social pillar of sustainability with direct relevance to the coatings Industry was: 

  • When price and quality are equal amongst competitors, brand choice can be based on corporate social purpose.

So what can the coatings Industry do in this area? As it turns out, quite a lot! The following information was amassed from company websites and industry conference sources:

PPG has published its community-based sustainability objectives as:

  • partnering with employees and their families to improve their health and well-being;
  • creating an engaging and inclusive workplace;
  • delivering positive change to society and to the communities where it operates.

The company launched a community engagement framework in 2011 to help define the actions that all the company’s sites around the world are required to follow to “develop and maintain strong two-way communications with key community constituents, governmental agencies and non-government organizations.”

PPG runs a major grants program for school and other community-based projects. For example, the company has committed significant funds to support the long-term development of a zoo in its home town, Pittsburgh, and has provided funds for a similar program in Mexico.  

AkzoNobel launched a worldwide initiative in 2005 called the AkzoNobel Community Program. “So far, over 9,000 volunteers from more than 50 countries have worked on over 2,000 projects. Since its inception, this program has led to a great variety of projects; from educating and supporting underprivileged groups – often impacted by the economic crisis – to contributing to creating more awareness in the community about the importance of a clean environment. It also provides opportunities for employees to develop team building and leadership skills. The company sees its Community Program projects providing value, much-needed assistance and a sense of excitement to its communities.”

Community engagement at Sherwin Williams comprises both formal corporate programs as well as localized efforts. They include the following:

  • an annual cash award to a charity committed to either children’s health or educational programs that lead to economic independence;
  • a matching gift program to qualifying educational institutions;
  • partnerships with local schools, colleges and universities providing research funding, curriculum development, trade skill training, and full and part-time internships;
  • localized drives to collect and distribute school supplies; and
  • volunteer efforts and material donations to paint and renovate local educational facilities.


In 2012, UK-based Crown Paints, part of Hempel A/S, won the British Coatings Federation’s coveted Sustainable Innovation Award for the time and effort the company had devoted to the communication of its sustainability ethics to both employees and its local communities. On that occasion, the judges had favored a social program to the many technical innovation submissions that had been put forward by other companies.

My final example comes from Holland, where the medium-sized family firm Van Wijhe Verf has embraced all aspects of sustainability. At a global conference a year ago, the CEO proclaimed that building sustainability into the heart of its corporate strategy had provided clear direction and significant motivation to employees. The CEO even reported that sustainability had provided a sense of FUN for all involved. Now there’s a social attribute worth sustaining!!  

We can be proud of the contribution that the coatings industry has made to all three pillars of sustainability, including the social pillar. The challenge is now to extend this progress to all corporations in the coatings industry and broaden the scope of its impact.  

 Over to you!