How $1.5 Billion Materion Set Up Sustainability Governance and Reporting

By Christa Avampato |  May 10, 2022

To build a truly sustainable world, we need new materials for its construction.

For almost a century, $1.5 billion Materion has been pushing the material boundaries of what is possible. In commercial airplane construction, Materion’s metal alloys keep the plane’s electrical connectors connected, despite intense vibrations and extreme temperatures. Smartphones, computers, and tablets run more quickly and efficiently because of a Materion chemical that improves semiconductor performance. Materion is even in the money in our wallets. Added to paper currency, their ink additive enables printing inks to change color, making it harder for money to be counterfeited.

In addition to materials on this planet, Materion also plays a key role in space exploration. Working with NASA, Materion’s materials are part of the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest and most powerful space telescope ever created. Its 21-foot primary mirror is outfitted with Materion’s lightweight specialized metal beryllium. This beryllium, covered with gold, was used to craft the telescope’s 18 mirror segments. Materion also developed a set of specialized metals to create the solar panels that power the telescope, converting sunlight into electrical energy.

This artist’s conception of the James Webb Space Telescope in space shows all its major elements fully deployed. The telescope was folded to fit into its launch vehicle, and then was slowly unfolded over the course of two weeks after launch. Image via NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez

Where Sustainability Sits

Jon Newton is the Global Director of Sustainability at Cleveland-based Materion, and he leads the company’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) efforts. 

The reporting structure of Newton’s six-member team was set up with the intention of embedding sustainability into company’s strategic planning, decision-making, and core operations. He reports directly to Materion’s General Counsel and Corporate Secretary. This gives his team a direct reporting line to the CEO and Board of Directors, and ensures engagement with the entire executive team. 

Materion’s Board of Directors has a Nominating, Governance, and Corporate Responsibility Committee that oversees all environmental and social matters significant to the company. 

This article is part of our ongoing coverage of sustainability issues. Thanks to Planbox for its support of this series.

A Mission to Serve Internal and External Stakeholders

By looking at a material supplier, it’s clear how sustainable practices in one company can have a big ripple effect. Materion has 36 global locations, customers in more than 50 countries, and a 3,100-person workforce.

In addition to educating its own workforce on sustainable practices, Materion also requires its business partners and 2,000+ suppliers to abide by the same responsible business standards and principles that Materion employs. This includes the company’s Supplier Code of Conduct, which has an environmental protection clause.

Adopting a Widely-Used Accounting Standard

Jon Newton, Global Director of Sustainability at Materion

The manufacturing of materials is an energy-intensive job, so energy use is always top-of-mind at Materion. To benefit the environment and reduce its costs, the company tracks and reports its energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its 36 locations. It follows the GHG Protocol, the world’s most widely-used greenhouse gas accounting standard. This rigorous tracking and reporting allows Materion to identify and implement measures to reduce its GHG emissions. This has led the company to modernize its equipment and improve process technologies. Thus far, those changes have enabled it to:

  • reduce GHG emissions by over 300 metric tons (MT) of Carbon Dioxide Equivalents (CO2e) per year;

  • reduce energy usage by over 1,800 gigajoules (GJ) per year 

  • reduce water usage by over 60,500 cubic meters (m3) per year.

A Sustainable Word to the Wise

“At the end of the day, sustainability is about change management,” says Newton. “How to structure sustainability responsibilities, where to position them organizationally, and the critical issues of highest concern to the organization will likely be different from company to company, and across industries.” 

At the end of the day, sustainability is about change management.

Newton lists several important factors that should be considered to ensure a company’s success in sustainability: 

  1. Ensure access to and engagement with senior management and the Board of Directors. He meets with the Materion Board four to five times a year.

  2. Focus on robust governance mechanisms in order to drive awareness, an understanding of sustainability-focused change, and accountability.

  3. Don’t underestimate the importance of human resources and their support. They are uniquely positioned to bring the human perspective, and are critical partners to embedding sustainability goals and objectives into the company’s accountability mechanisms. 

While every company must find its own formula, to set up a sustainability team for success, it is vital to consider where to place the team within a corporate structure, how to resource them, and how to make their work a driver for strategic and operational decisions.