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Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, thank you Mayor Urbach for inviting us here today. My name is Markus Steilemann, and I am Chief Commercial Officer at Covestro. At our company, I am responsible for all product-related units, from research and development to sales and order management.
As Mayor Urbach already mentioned, Covestro has operated as an independent company only since September 2015. Prior to that, we were a sub-group of Bayer AG and more specifically the plastics division.
Our business is producing precursors for various plastics. These are used to manufacture a variety of products that have become so commonplace, we can’t imagine daily life without them: from laptop cases and car paint to lenses for glasses and refrigerator insulation.
Many of these products are based on polyurethane foam, which is our main source of revenue. In its flexible form, it is used in products such as mattresses and cushions. You are probably sitting on polyurethane foam right now, or sat on it in your car driving here.
Rigid polyurethane foam in turn is one of the best insulation materials in the world.
As I said, it can be used to efficiently insulate refrigerators or even entire houses. That’s important, because buildings account for 40 percent of the total energy used globally and about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. Efficiently insulating millions of existing and new buildings around the world would produce enormous leverage for climate protection.
Sandwich panels have been available for a long time now for use in industrial buildings. These consist of a layer of rigid polyurethane foam several centimeters thick sandwiched between two metal sheets. The panels can be manufactured and installed quickly and easily. At the same time, they provide efficient and inexpensive insulation for structures such as warehouses.
At Covestro, we asked ourselves: Why couldn’t we implement a solution like this – cost effective, fast, efficient – in residential housing as well?
The advantages are obvious. Wall panels such as these made with our foam can be manufactured quickly, and instead of using aluminum, they can also be encased in two thin layers of cement. The resulting components are very light, weighing only a little over 100 kilos per wall panel, depending on the size, so they are also easy and fuel-efficient to transport.
All of these plusses translate into cost and time savings prior to construction and at the site.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
You can see that we had been thinking for quite a while about how we could use our existing products for industrial buildings to create affordable housing for everyone. We consider helping those in need to be our company’s humanitarian responsibility.
So, several years ago, we decided to step up our involvement in this issue, which we termed “Inclusive Business,” primarily in lower-income and structurally weak regions of the world, or places where living space is scarce or expensive.
This model is called “Inclusive Business” at Covestro, because we want to use our products to help people in the lower tiers of the income pyramid. And current estimates put about four billion people in that category, so we have a lot of work to do! These people are often living in precarious situations from which they are unable to free themselves due to their circumstances. However, if they can be provided with a good place to live, their quality of life improves, along with hygiene and health. This provides people with better prospects and a chance at upward social mobility. In a nutshell, they have a future.
Through this initiative, prefab houses have already been built in the Philippines and Iraq as well as India. We are currently in negotiations with various non-governmental organizations to construct this type of housing in Jordan.
In Iraq, for example, hundreds of thousands of people fleeing terror and forced displacement are stranded near the city of Erbil. Most of them have no chance of returning to their homes: They are suddenly without roots, without a homeland. With this baggage, they live in tent cities, where people are crammed together in very little space. It’s almost impossible for them to think of opportunity and a future. Many of these refugees therefore make their way to Europe seeking a place where they can work to build a new life.
This search for protection, security and prospects for the future draws people to Germany as well. Those of us who live here in prosperity – and those of us who work for Covestro, currently a successful business – therefore have a responsibility to help. As fellow human beings, by empathizing and getting involved. As a company, with our materials and solutions.
We are already doing it on the ground, in places like Iraq. And we can do it right here in Germany, too.
Emerging countries are not the only ones who can benefit from a solution like the one here in Bergisch Gladbach – countries like Germany also can. For one, housing must be built quickly for the large numbers of people currently seeking refuge here from war and displacement. Mayor Urbach already mentioned the pressure being felt by cities such as Bergisch Gladbach. This wave of immigration is a challenge of historical proportions for our country. But the possibilities could be endless if we succeed in integrating these people into our society, encouraging their participation, and ensuring equal opportunity. The amazing effort put forth by Germany’s population, both volunteers and cities and municipalities like Bergisch Gladbach, shows how it can be done.
Companies like Covestro can, must, and want to provide support. For example, we partner with Wuppermann Bildungswerk in Leverkusen to offer assistance with learning German, living in Germany, and finding a job. We would like to enable 15 people each year to receive enough assistance that they can start an apprenticeship with us.
And we can offer solutions in this country with our materials, too. This will help many people, not just refugees. Especially in major metropolitan areas and university towns such as here in the Rhine and Ruhr region, high-quality, affordable housing is scarce. There is a deficit of hundreds of thousands of apartments, and that number continues to rise.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The model home we are handing over in the ceremony today is an example of what affordable housing can look like. We’ll go over there in a minute, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It lacks none of the features of a conventional home.
Making a project like this a reality requires close cooperation among many participants. At Covestro, we are particularly pleased that our contact with the city was established thanks to the initiative of our committed employees who live right here in town. We are equally happy and thankful, Mayor Urbach, that you and your employees were not just open to this idea, but enabled and supported its implementation.
The house was built in just four weeks, with the framing done in just under two weeks. The key here was the efficient construction method featuring a push-fit system used by our French partner, prefab housebuilder Logelis. With their extensive knowledge, they were able to process and use our materials optimally here and, for example, in Iraq. Without them, it would not have been possible to construct this house, so many thanks for this cooperation, Mr. Sassi!
The wall panels can be varied in size and shape to build houses to order, even ones with multiple stories. The price per square meter of this type of house by Logelis runs around 1,150 euros. Those of you familiar with the industry know that regular prefab houses are much more expensive. In large metro areas like Cologne, the price of housing is even higher – recently, real estate there averaged well over 3,000 euros per square meter: unaffordable for lower-income populations.
The floor and ceiling of this house are insulated with polyurethane as well. The building’s entire shell is made of this material, which means that this house here at the refugee center meets the passive house standard. It does not require any conventional heating.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This building was quick and easy to build, is made of light components for low transportation costs, and meets the passive house standard. A house like this has many advantages, even compared with conventional homes, but costs a fraction of what those homes cost.
It is the first house of its kind in Germany. That also means that we had to obtain countless permits and jump through many hoops, so we now know exactly what we need to do to complete similar projects in other cities and municipalities.
This will enable us to provide housing for lower-income people or those in need – quickly and easily. We hope that this building will help the city, the refugees, and the volunteers who work here admirably and tirelessly. And we hope that we will be able to help even more people with this solution in the future.
My heartfelt thanks again goes to everyone involved in this project – let’s all go see the center and house now.
This news release may contain forward-looking statements based on current assumptions and forecasts made by Covestro AG. Various known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors could lead to material differences between the actual future results, financial situation, development or performance of the company and the estimates given here. These factors include those discussed in Covestro’s public reports which are available at www.covestro.com. The company assumes no liability whatsoever to update these forward-looking statements or to conform them to future events or developments.
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