Business Review Exercise on Sustainability: Umicore

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There has only been given one planet earth, and the despite the indestructible appearance any large corporation may present, business unit sustainability for organizations is a key concern as one races towards the next century. An evaluation and analysis of business sustainability of Umicore as the focus of this investigation, examines the company's future direction and suggests a pathway of further considerations. Two main objectives for such a suggested pathway incorporate the ideas of effectiveness in leadership, and ethical practices. It is not easy to determine or foretell the future particularly in terms of dealing with issues of sustainability on a planet which has limited resources that are obviously threatened every day. All over the world in today's global economy, all organizations are feeling the pinch of concern over the environment and how to negotiate sustainability in its practices. 

Further examined in this scope pertaining to Umicore, shall commit to an expansion of understanding in how to address, plan, and contemplate such sustainable changes by the inclusion of a sample drafting of a 3-year plan. Such plan specifically addresses the following: a) the vision/mission of the Umicore organization, b) the Umicore leadership climate, c) process of motivating and empowering employees, and d) challenges that Umicore organizational leaders are likely to face in the future. Sustainability matters. This evaluation and recommendation plan for Umicore as a whole, rather than taking a single business unit, stands as an exemplary sample model for reporting and suggesting a sustainable pathway that can move from decision-making and planning to real-world implementation within the rubric of solid business sense. 

Umicore is an exceptional firm to begin with, and this is important to understand. According to a recent report in Forbes Magazine, by Jacquelyn Smith entitled “The World's Most Sustainable Companies” Umicore is deemed in ranking first place as the company that is operating most sustainably in the world today in 2013. It may be intensely vital at this point to qualify what it means to be in sustainability anyway. The same source, Forbes, in quoting Corporate Knights vice president of research Doug Morrow, describes sustainability as “recognizing that a corporation's long-term interests are intellectually and financially consistent with resource efficiency, proactive health and safety practices, and responsible leadership” (“The World's Most Sustainable Companies”). Common sense, right? Toby Heaps, Corporate Knights editor throws in further clarification by characterizing sustainability as a creation of more wealth than is destroyed, and balancing a foundation of financial, human, social, and natural capital. Well said. But how to carry it out is much more complex than the seeming simplicity of its definition. 

Who is Umicore anyway? Umicore is a Belgian multinational group whose business activities revolves around materials technology, so think metals generally. More specifically, think about catalysis in terms of automotive metals-based compound products, metals-based compounds for the pharmaceutical industry, and other energy/performance materials in addition to recycling waste complex waste treatments. Yes, a mouthful but you get the idea. So a direct correlation to the earthly environment is tied to Umicore which is being celebrated as doing a fine job of handling sustainability and mitigation of problems in its handling of company protocol, operations, as applied to its business units. 

While is it useful to mention the business units comprised in Umicore, the overall gist of this exploration considers a holistic approach to the entire company. However it is worth a mention of the four areas that the Umicore organization covers. These include the business unit areas of Precious Metals Refining, Precious Metals Management, Battery Recycling, Aluminum Recycling, Jewelry and Industrial Metals. To begin to evaluate Umicore and gain any comprehension of its future direction, obviously one must take into account its primary business focus, the corporate focus thus far, and recent company plans activities. 

Last year certain plans were made public regarding Umicore's decision to change one of its business unit's practices. Alex Harrison in a Twitter comment news update announced that Umicore had plans to take its Zinc Chemicals unit, or sub-unit, through new changes by raising “premiums on the metal price of its different zinc chemical products” anywhere from between 5% and 10% (“Umicore Plans To Raise Its Zinc Metal Premiums”). Umicore deemed the necessity of the price hike because, they reason that the move is compensating for fundamental and significant costs for relevant materials and labor expenses across the board. This seems to be a familiar cry nowadays. Everything seems to be getting more expensive each day. Realities of financial weight of responsibility is certainly no less in terms of the business world, although one may face rising costs in his or her personal life. 

The future direction of Umicore appears to be on a sensible road to retaining the levels of sustainability it already embraces. On top of its core applications of chemistry and materials metallurgy, Umicore actually embraces a philosophy of sustainability in every aspect. Gunther quotes Umicore's chief executive, Marc Grynberg as proclaiming that “Sustainability has been and remains an all-pervasive driver of our strategy and day-to-day actions,” and that “We don't see sustainability as an add-on. It's really a part of everything we do” (p. 32). When investigating even further into the attitudes and actions of Umicore, the company has to date designed a strategy to so-called “capitalize” on four global trends of “resource scarcity, electrified transportation, clean energy production and storage, and cleaner air” (p. 32). Not bad when one considers the widely negative reputations of multinational companies, in terms of not caring about either planet or people. 

Additionally Umicore spent some 157 million Euros on Research and Development in 2012, according the same aforementioned source and recycles in very high levels of efficiency. To get an idea just what those recycling numbers look like Umicore manages to extract and recover from 50,000 mobile phones a recycled numbers rate of a “kilogram of gold, 10 kilograms of silver, 400 grams of palladium and 420 kilograms of copper” reports Gunther (p. 32). In absolute and measurable savings Umicore cut emissions by 6 percent in its efforts towards efficiency hitting their 2011 goal. 

To suggest a sustainable pathway for Umicore means to focus upon raising the bar within the organization by focusing upon, and incorporating an improvement of best business practices. The two areas represent effective leadership which no organization can thrive without and fashioning a firm commitment to ethical practices. The development of outstanding leadership qualities do not happen by accident. A two-fold prong suggested for Umicore to utilize includes effectiveness in leadership management, and an integration of even better ethical practice applications. To this end authors Crossan, Mazutis, Seijts, and Gandz in their peer-reviewed journal article entitled “Developing Leadership Character in Business Programs” discuss building upon a model that already has strengths with an aim to address leadership and character development at the individual, and group levels (p. 285). The idea researchers promulgate is first to have taken a look at the awful business practices which resulted in company debacles, clearly reflecting unethical practices of “greed and rampant materialism” [which led to] “an increased distrust, if not [outright] disdain, for business leaders” (p. 285). Everyone can remember these sorts of financial crises and how unpleasant, unbearable, and embarrassingly unfair they are. 

The first suggestion in this area is that Umicore upper management executives, and leadership staff to take into account the need for ongoing workshops, study, and training in business ethics theory and practice. To fully capture, improve, and indeed sustain sustainability it is necessary to hold a proactive approach for all parties involved. Given the complexity and highly intense technical nature of Umicore's organization it is important to remember that at the end of the day, it is people who make all and any successes possible. The authors devote an examination of what other researchers had contributed before to the literature and mention initially that there are not necessarily right answers but rather that examples should be raised in discussions about company and business values. Upon this consideration the question they ascertain continually popped up about whether good character and ethics could be taught in the first place.

Borrowed from Peterson and Seligman the authors gave very heavy props to their weighty and in-depth perusal of the subject. In quoting Peterson and Seligman, authors Crossan et al., agreed with their conclusive list of six virtuous values of wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Umicore should therefore be encouraged and suggested to embrace and implement these qualities into its workforce, from the heights of upper management leadership down to the rank-and-file expert. Wisdom is thus, for example, described as “cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge (creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective)” in situations (p. 286). There is no room to expound on each of the six virtues, however to suggest specifics it is necessary to comment upon a few more. 

Other suggestions to Umicore in terms of effectiveness in leadership and developing a maintenance of high standards of ethical practice include making an effort to incorporate the quality of humanity. This aspect emphasized by Peterson and Seligman, as notes Crossan et al., defines humanity as “Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others (love, kindness, social intelligence)” (p. 287). If you really think about it, it's a matter of application of common and basic manners. Most likely your parents taught you not to throw sand in other kids' eyes when you were in kindergarten. Common courtesy alone can go a long way, yet this particular definition of humanity actually goes a step beyond. Kindness, love, and altogether cultivating an atmosphere of friendship is so basic and so right. 

Some of these other virtues aforementioned like justice and temperance, simply boil down to treating other human beings as you yourself would want to be treated. So the primary gist of these other characteristics suggested to Umicore to diligently incorporate into their effective leadership and ethics practices includes not brow-beating employees when he or she has made a mistake. Allow persons in the company to have a voice of input into offering suggestions of doing things differently, and perhaps better without making them feel the wrath of harsh and punitive judgment from upper management. 

Sample Draft Of 3-Year Plan:

The following is a sample draft of a 3-Year Plan for Umicore to address pulling together a conglomeration which may help to assist improvements in the company's best business practices. 

I.  The Vision and Mission of the Organization -

a) Year One & Year Two investigate in-depth ways to further technically improve and even strive to maintain a leadership position in values of sustainability. This should be done by accomplishing an in-depth, detailed analysis of recycling metals taking into account the end-of-life recycling rate (EOL-RR), industrial ecology, old scrap ratio (OSR), recycled content (RC), recycling input rate (RIR), and recycling metrics as mentioned by the authors of “What Do We Know About Metal Recycling Rates?” as published in the peer-reviewed journal, Journal of Industrial Ecology.

b) Year Three should take an aggressive stance to upgrade all technological equipment and processes to practice, by way of practical and gradual integration into the system, of implementation what has been learned to further improve recycling across all business units. You can easily see how the learning of further advanced research comprehension and techniques can assist in qualifying actual and better results. The primary concern from a technical point to stay vigilantly aware upon is for Umicore to keep abreast of the fact that “metals are predominantly used in alloy form, but not always, and recycling information that specifies the form of the metal is not commonly available” argue Graedel et al., (p. 355). Continue implementation then, in Year Three.

c) Management practices in Year One should be highly focused upon top leadership figures on an individual basis. By Year Two and Three, gradual embracing of ethics training sessions should be firmly in place for individuals, smaller team groups, and culminates in Year Three with semi-annual conference meetings and pep talks.

II.  Leadership Climate for Umicore - the leadership culture is as follows. In Year One, the idea is taken from author Mirvis who looks to the creation of better company culture and climate by accepting the social responsibility of dealing with other human beings and planning programs to address employee engagement in general. Year One should require individual meetings with each employee personally by leadership, and require that that year should be taken to memorize each individual's name. Realistically this could take a year.

A) Year Two and Year Three would model the company's sales force to design a philanthropic system to engage in volunteerism in the communities which are lesser served, for educational purposes and giving back. The non-profit efforts might take the form of a nice luncheon for community members including slideshows about energy, and a giveaway of educational scholarships and 100 month-long food baskets for the poor. This way, Umicore reaches out to consumers on the individual level and even helps small business owners to better understand the importance of sustainability. 

III. Motivating and Empowering Employees - this is closely overlapped and related to a sub-section of business climate. So Year One would offer employees small sessions of listening. The leadership is listening to feedback of what creativity workers have, and how they want to advance their education or expand their roles in the company. They only listen.

a) Upon Year Two and Year Three:

Leadership shall take what was learned, having compiled it into a sensible database, and build a format to address in implementation choices and options for the employees. This may be accomplished in Year Two. Year Three should actually have (or firmly be building) a track record of results.

IV. Challenges Likely To Be Faced In The Future - this is perhaps in many ways the fundamental grounding for long-term company success at Umicore.

a) Year One should focus upon an assessment of global uncertainty and risks, thoroughly. In a report by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services entitled “Risk Management in a Time of Global Uncertainty” risk has been assessed as more critical than ever. Year One should entail a step-by-step evaluation to action from developing risk mitigation situations in the world, linking tasks to another.


Crossan, M., Mazutis, D., Seijts, G., & Gandz, J. (2013). Developing leadership character in business programs. Academy Of Management Learning & Education, 12(2), 285-305. doi:10.5465/amle.2011.0024A

Graedel, T. E., Allwood, J., Birat, J., Buchert, M., Hageluken, C., Reck, B. K., & ¡K Sonnerman, G. (2011). What do we know about metal recycling rates? Journal of Industrial Ecology, 15(3), 

355-366. doi:10.1111/j.1530-9290.2011.00342.x

Gunther, M. (2013). Corporate makeover. Corporate Knights Magazine, 11(4), 32-34.

Harrison, A. (2012). Umicore plans to raise its zinc metal premiums. Metal Bulletin Daily, (343), 67. [A tweet data format]. 

Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. (2011). Risk management in a time of global uncertainty. [Data file] Retrieved from 

Mirvis, P. (2012). Employee engagement and CSR: Transactional, relational, and developmental approaches. California Management Review, 54(4), 93-117. doi:10.1525/cmr.2012.54.4.93

Smith, J. (2013, January 23). The world's most sustainable companies. Forbes. Retrieved from  

Umicore. (2013). Sustainability ¨C approach to environmental management. [Data file] Retrieved from and Retrieved from