Pillars of The Green Transition 2023 Report: Exclusive Interview with Per Magnusson
Per Magnusson, Group CEO of Jebsen & Jessen Group gives an interview as part of the Newsweek feature 'Pillars of The Green Transition', released at COP28 in November 2023
Could you give us a brief account of the company's history and its standing today?
The Jebsen & Jessen Family Enterprise, made up of several sister groups, dates back to 1895. The Jebsen & Jessen Group here in South East Asia was founded in 1963, and it is a family-owned group with a growth vision based on sustainability and accountability. We have a diversified industrial portfolio - from packaging to electrical cables, building oleochemical processing plants, and distributing chemicals. Our business activities are grouped into three main categories: distribution, engineering and manufacturing. We are mainly concentrated in the ASEAN region and operate under five different business units in nine countries.
In 2007, we were amongst the first companies to measure their carbon footprint, and, by 2011, we were already offsetting what we could not reduce, thus becoming fully carbon neutral very early on. We are extremely glad to be one of the first companies in Asia to have achieved these environmental milestones.
What made you take the carbon neutral path back in the day?
Our owner, Heinrich Jessen is a tropical biologist by training, so environmental health and safety have been close to his heart ever since he joined the group more than 30 years ago. Although back in the 90s the carbon footprint was already regarded as an important theme in closed environmentalist circles, it had not yet penetrated the mainstream. With global warming becoming a clear threat to our planet, our company's sole stakeholder took it upon himself to become a leader and show the way in tackling this issue, especially in South East Asia.
Beyond carbon neutrality, what are Jebsen & Jessen’s future sustainability targets?
Besides dealing with global warming and being carbon neutral in our Scope 1 and 2 emissions, we are also actively working on expanding our environmental framework. By October, we will release our first-ever group-wide sustainability report that covers all our efforts in this space over the last three decades.
Across our investments, we aim to do everything in our power to mitigate as many of the negative effects on the environment as possible. Out of all our business units, packaging is the most challenging one in terms of sustainability standards. Yet, in the end, all manufacturing of industrial goods has some type of impact on the planet.
Given your unique outlook across industries in the ASEAN region, which main challenges for the green transition of the area would you highlight?
The main challenge is that most countries in the region avoid recognizing that they have a problem and, therefore, do not seek to come up with solutions. Oftentimes they feel that internal business is more important than the environment, and, as a result, greenwashing is a common occurrence in this part of the world. Singapore is the exception that proves the rule, its policy makers assiduously trying to enforce solid environmental rules and regulations. With companies being very capitalistic, the uneven implementation of policy is leading to challenges with electricity usage, carbon taxes, and waste disposal.
At company level, we follow the highest international standards, and we choose to do mainly green investments that have a longer, ten-year payback, as compared to the conventional investments that have a five- to seven-year payback period. Our facilities have waste recycling capabilities, and we assure that all the water we discard is safe and clean, regardless of the country we are operating in. A key way to become even more sustainable is to make our partners in the industry, whether customers or suppliers, take the same responsibility as we do. Spreading our gospel can go a long way in conquering those net zero targets that we all want to reach.
How should the industry handle the climate change subject going forward?
Whether at country, company or individual level, it is impossible to solve such a complex challenge by acting alone. Thinking of it as a global problem is daunting, but if everyone contributes with their own little effort, they have a chance to reduce their impact and become carbon neutral in the years to come. The green revolution can succeed only if we start to change our behaviors from within.