Five Minutes with ChenFai Chung, North Asia Vice President and AP Sustainability Leader at Emerson

To start off, tell us a little about yourself and your role at Emerson’s Automation Solutions business.
ChenFai Chung, North Asia Vice President and AP Sustainability Leader at Emerson

I have been with Emerson for 29 years, and after multiple assignments at various locations, I am currently vice president and general manager of North Asia for Emerson’s Automation Solutions business. Since 2016, I have been responsible for the Korean and Japanese business, steering growth initiatives and strategies to help industrial customers achieve top-quartile performance in the region. I lead operational affairs including sales, marketing, engineering, operations, financials, human resources, and governance.

Most recently, my portfolio includes the role of AP Sustainability leadership where Emerson engages stakeholders such as government agencies, research institutes, industry associations and customers to help advance the sustainability and decarbonisation journey as well as contribute to the net zero transition targets with our major strategies.

With regard to sustainability, do you think that it’s increasingly becoming a corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concern?

Environmental sustainability is a top-of-mind issue for Emerson and industrial manufacturers across the globe for many reasons. We all have a moral responsibility to help create a better world for the next generation. Understanding the important role that new automation technologies and solutions play in improving environmental sustainability, Emerson has engaged in a global strategic initiative to enable our customers to meet their sustainability goals through our advanced industrial software, technology and services.

How do organisations commit to holding themselves accountable to the sustainability goals they set?

Our customers who are prioritising opportunities to enhance their environmental sustainability, set new ESG targets and reach top-quartile performance, are seeing cost reductions across their operations. It’s important to establish aggressive yet achievable goals for key sustainability indicators like operational CO2 emissions, water usage, and overall equipment efficiency, then following a clear road map for investing in scalable solutions that enable a strategic step-change approach. This makes it easier for organisations to remain accountable to their sustainability goals while ensuring regulatory compliance, saving energy and maximising their return on investment.

I understand that Emerson has an initiative aimed at sustainability, called “Greening of, Greening by and Greening with” – can you explain more?

Emerson understands the important role we play in advancing new technologies and solutions that help improve environmental sustainability for our customers and the industries they serve. Our three-part strategy is focused on Emerson, our customers and our global stakeholders.

“Greening of” is how we improve our company’s own internal environmental sustainability performance. In 2019, we made a commitment to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, normalised to sales, across more than 200 of our global manufacturing and shared service facilities by 2028. We are also concentrating on energy efficiency, sourcing more renewable forms of energy, and engaging our supply chain and logistics partners in more sustainable practices.

“Greening by” is how we support and enable our customers’ decarbonisation and environmental sustainability efforts. We are privileged to work across several industries and use our sensing, compression, final control, systems, software, and service capabilities to deliver the right solutions to meet specific industry challenges.

And finally, “Greening with” is how we engage with leading sustainability industry forums, academic institutions and others to support sustainability policies and regulations. We need to have honest dialogues about how to best leverage existing global infrastructure and work together on novel solutions.

Over the past few years many of our customers have developed ambitious decarbonisation and environmental sustainability strategies, and our approach to materialising these strategies will help both our company and our customers to achieve ambitious environmental sustainability targets and transform business operations.

What are some of the biggest challenges with regard to embracing sustainability in the petrochemicals industry?

In addition to many of the same challenges the petrochemical industry has faced during the past 20-30 years, today the challenges of meeting environmental sustainability goals and participating in the new circular economy are very much front and center, compounding the pressure to change.

Two of the latest developments in the petrochemicals sector are the recycling of plastics, moving from mechanical to chemical recycling and the new regulations in emissions reductions, particularly on the flare system. Companies are moving towards demonstrating their investments and progress toward meeting decarbonisation goals.

Where do you think the petrochemicals industry currently stands in the push toward decarbonisation? What is lacking, and what should be done?

The petrochemicals industry has the technologies available today for preventing and reducing emissions and improving overall energy usage. However, while these technologies exist, there is the challenge of adopting new proven technologies, as well as training the workforce and working on updating the standard operating procedures to fully utilise the advantages of new technologies. It takes a holistic approach to leverage all the value created from technology and data.

The industry is also looking at new technologies for plastics and chemicals recycling. Polymers are the world’s most frequently produced, versatile and widely used plastics. However, less than 1% of them is currently reclaimed for recycling and reuse. There are new technologies that can create ultra-pure recycled polypropylene from waste plastic.

A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that humanity has delayed curbing our fossil-fuel emissions for so long that we can no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years. What does this mean for current sustainability efforts, and the petrochemical industry as a whole?

It means change is inevitable. The question is how the industry will respond. We must make progress on decarbonisation, relying on technologies to reduce emissions leakage, improve energy and resource efficiency, and ensure pipeline integrity with leak and corrosion detection, to name a few.

Until we acquire the technology one day to fully phase out non-sustainable fossil fuels, we must keep the world economy operating as we use fossil fuels responsibly and more efficiently while developing low-carbon fuels and alternate energy resources and infrastructure.

What do you think the industry needs to focus on more to advance sustainability efforts?

Top Quartile performance means being within the top 25% of the industry in key areas such as reliability, enhanced safety, higher productivity, and lower emissions and energy usage. We know that improving the Energy Intensity of plants lowers their carbon footprint as well as emissions. Using today’s automation technologies and analytics software coupled with digital transformation strategies can go a long way toward advancing environmental sustainability goals while the industry continues to explore alternative fuels like hydrogen and biofuels and low-carbon power sources.

Emerson technologies can help petrochemical companies capture lost and used energy. Our energy management information systems dynamically monitor and optimise energy usage. Other areas where technology has significant impact is emissions reduction and prevention, leak detection, and pipeline corrosion and erosion detection.

What are the main drivers influencing change across the future of the oil & gas industry?

In the oil and gas industry, public sentiment and concern over climate change is pushing the investor community for greener investments, as well as more stringent regulations from the regulatory agencies.

The world has no choice but to make progress on decarbonisation. Even as the fossil fuels we use today remain critical, the energy sector is developing alternate fuels sources and building out new infrastructure. Finding ways to use fossil fuels responsibly is vital and Emerson is committed to delivering innovations that make this possible.

Oil and gas operators focused on ESG want to demonstrate progress toward net zero goals, including asset divestments. Emerson covers the entire value chain with technologies to address issues like methane emissions in the upstream sector, and pipeline integrity in the midstream market.

Finally, with the remoteness of sites in the oil and gas market, it is proving difficult to get skilled workers on-site in the current environment. The solution requires semi-autonomous and autonomous operations while devising new ways to optimise the productivity of personnel, all of which contributes to increased performance, profitability, and sustainability.