Minimizing the impact of our operations on climate and the environment are key elements of our sustainability strategy.

The Umicore Way and our mission of Materials for a Better Life are the drivers behind our commitment to sustainability. As a materials technology company, we aim to increase the efficient use of metals, energy and other inputs in our operations to balance environmental and economic factors and work to increase closed-loop relationships with our customers. Our success is measured in our ability to make sustainability a competitive advantage.

The launch of Umicore’s Let’s Go For Zero strategy in June 2021 was an important milestone in our long sustainability journey. Let’s Go for Zero builds on our long-standing leadership in clean mobility materials and recycling and reaffirms our commitment to leverage our technological know-how, scientific expertise and corporate reach to be an industry leader in sustainability.

Minimizing the environmental impact of our operations is an important part of our Zero Harm ambition. Building on significant achievements over the last five years, Umicore will continue efforts to maximize the efficient use of resources, minimize emissions to air and water and commits to reduce diffuse metal emissions by 25% by 2025 compared to 2020. In the course of 2022, Umicore will also define a target for water use.

Because Climate change requires immediate and decisive action, we defined our ambition for Net zero Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 2035, with intermediate milestones of a 20% reduction by 2025 and a 50% reduction by 2030 (vs. 2019 baseline). Umicore will continue to improve energy and process efficiency and switch to renewables as fast as possible.

As meaningful impact on climate change means mobilizing our value chain, Umicore will work with suppliers to reduce scope 3 GHG emissions and in the course of 2022 will define a target aligned with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

In 2021, Umicore stated its support for the Taskforce on Climate related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), joined the Belgian Alliance for Climate Action (BACA) and formally committed to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) process for validation of our decarbonization targets.

For more on risks related to environmental impact, see the Climate & Environment risks section.

Resource Efficiency

Input materials mix


The ambition to address increasing global resource scarcity and achieve material efficiency is an important factor in our strategy. Umicore is a world leader in the eco-efficient recycling and refining of precious, special, secondary and base metals-bearing materials. Our eco-efficient process entails maximizing the physical recycling of materials while minimizing the associated environmental burden. We recover and sell these metals and our closed-loop business model maximizes re-use of materials.

In 2021, 54% of the materials were from secondary origin and 46% were of primary origin. Umicore revised the definitions of primary and secondary raw material in 2021. A comparison with previous years is therefore not fully applicable (see environmental statements ). In 2021, post-consumer raw materials represented approximately 37% of total secondary raw materials for the Group. As part of the annual third-party assurance of our Cobalt Framework, the share of cobalt from recycled origin is already reviewed. The share of cobalt from recycled origin was also reviewed as part of the assurance process and increased to 8%, up from 4% in 2020.

Over time, factors impacting secondary materials availability for Umicore’s input mix could be the rapid growth in demand for clean-mobility materials, linked to society’s shift to decarbonization, combined with long lead times between bringing material to the market and having material available for recycling.


Total WASTE1


  1. 1 Data from previous years is for indicative purposes only.

Umicore’s commitment to resource efficiency is at the heart of our closed loop business model. We maximize the use and reuse of the materials in our flows. Similarly, we monitor and seek to minimize the waste generated by our operations. In 2021, a more precise application of internal definitions impacted all waste KPIs andmainly the recycling percentage in hazardous waste. The corresponding data for previous years could not be retroactively restated. Therefore, a comparison of 2021 results with previous years is indicative, but not precise.

In 2021, a total of 94,619 tonnes of waste was generated of which 21,065 tonnesof non-hazardous waste and 73.554 tonnes of hazardous waste. The recycling rate of non-hazardous waste was 71% in 2021 and of hazardous waste 8%.




  1. 1 The data from 2017-2020 is ‘water use’ with a slightly different definition, see Environmental Statements

Umicore has tracked water withdrawal – until 2020 termed ‘water use’ – on Group level for many years. In 2021, we aspired to align with GRI definitions and to track water discharge and thus report water consumption as the balance between discharge and withdrawal. During analysis of the data reported for 2021, notable uncertainties were encountered in the water discharge figures reported at three of our industrial sites. These uncertainties could not be resolved due to data availability limitations and prevented us from presenting water discharge and consumption data in this report. Efforts are underway to improve the underlying data and arrive at audit-quality calculations of the water discharge and water consumption at the sites, which is expected to yield a dataset that is well aligned with GRI standards for 2022 and thereafter. This will form the basis of a future water objective as part of Let’s Go for Zero.

For 2021, we present the total water withdrawal to allow a rough comparison with the ‘water use’ reporting from previous years. Total water withdrawal in 2021 was 10,103 megaliters and total fresh water withdrawal was 9,764 megaliters. When discounting the withdrawn produced water, the groundwater withdrawn for remediation purposes and the cooling water withdrawn and returned to surface water from the total withdrawal, the result for 2021 is 8,369 megaliters. This 2021 figure is a 7% increase from the 7,813 megaliters of ‘water use’ reported in 2020, linked to increased activity in our Recycling and Energy & Surface Technology business groups.




Metal Emissions to Air & water1

Impact units

  1. 1 A different set of impact factors was used for the data from 2017-2019, see Environmental Statements


% impact of the 2020 baseline

  1. 1 Relative impact of diffuse emissions (Pb,As and Cd), averaged over 3 measuring posts and over full year.

Umicore has been systematically tracking metals emissions to water and air from point sources since 2011. Ambitious reduction targets have been achieved since then, and we strive to continuously reduce the impact that our metals emissions have on the environment. We focus on emissions that are relevant to the environment in terms of impact and that are affected by the metals present in Umicore’s material flow. We monitor and take steps to reduce the impact of emissions on the environment – to air, water and on the soil.

Different metals each have different and specific potential toxicity levels for the environment and human health. For this reason, we focus on reducing the impact of our emissions by applying an impact factor. In 2021, we reviewed the scientific basis behind this approach and revised the impact factor of several metals. This revision has been applied to 2021 reporting and to recalculate 2020 values for comparability.

The SOx emissions for the Group reduced by 4% from 389 tonnes in 2020 to 372 tonnes in 2021. The NOx emissions remained at similar levels, with 240 tonnes in 2021 compared to 239 tonnes in 2020.

Metal emissions to air in 2021 were 70,084 impact units, up by 1% from 69,371 in 2020. The corresponding loads of metals to air also increased by 1% year-on year, from 984 kg in 2020 to 994 kg in 2021. Metal emissions to water in 2021 decreased 12% to 190,464 impact units, from 216,739 in 2020. This can be mainly attributed to a decrease in production activities at Cobalt and Specialty Materials at our site in Olen (Belgium). The corresponding load of metals to water for the Group increased by 28% year-on year, from 2,695 kg in 2020 to 3,440 kg in 2021. This means that the bulk of the increase in load occurred for metals with a low environmental impact, and that we managed to further decrease the load of metals with a high impact on the environment.

Building on robust operation of the wastewater treatment plant and stepwise improvement of air emissions abatement systems, Umicore’s site in Olen (Belgium) reached record low outputs of metals to water and air. Improvement to treatment at the milling step of raw materials for the Nickel plant in Olen was one of the impactful improvements in 2021.

As opposed to the ‘guided’ emissions described above, from a point source such as a chimney, diffuse emissions originate from a non-point source, such as from dust when handling raw materials. Achieving our Group-wide target of a 25% reduction from the 2020 baseline will mean defining targets for each site identified as contributing to Umicore’s impact in terms of diffuse metal emissions. While this screening is ongoing, in 2021, we are reporting our performance of diffuse metal emissions reduction from our production site in Hoboken (Belgium) where this ambition was translated into the operations at the end of 2020. As a result, compared to the site’s 2020 baseline, diffuse metal emissions at the end of 2021 were reduced by 35.2%. More on how the Hoboken site is managing its diffuse emissions performance can be read here.


Energy Consumption (absolute)


Energy by source


renewable energy in purchased electricity


Umicore has a long history of prioritizing energy and process efficiency across its operations. In the context of our Let’s Go for Zero strategy, efficiency remains a priority to help us achieve our ambitions of net zero GHG emissions by 2035. Energy consumption continues to be monitored and reported at all sites, including energy efficiency projects. Several Umicore sites have implemented the ISO 50001 energy efficiency standard, and the 2 largest sites in Belgium have been part of the energy efficiency covenant with the Flemish government since 2004.

In 2021, 26 sites accounted for more than 95% of the Group’s energy consumption with a total of 35 energy efficiency projects implemented over the course of the year. This year, we are sharing 2 energy efficiency project outcomes from 2 different locations and business units, both operating out of Korea:

  • In 2021, our Rechargeable Battery Material sites in Cheonan, which together form an important part of our production of cathode materials for rechargeable batteries, sought to minimize energy loss from compressor air as part of their energy efficiency projects. Leak points were identified using an ultrasonic scanner, and immediate actions could be taken to reduce air loss, and subsequently, leakage points were eliminated during regular maintenance activities. This project at the 2 Cheonan sites saved approximately 723 MWh in the first 12 months after implementation.

  • Our Automotive Catalysts site in Songdo , which produces catalytic converters for the automotive market in Asia, identified water pumps, an integral element of their cooling water system, as a main energy consumer at the site. The site team discovered that there were significant pump control inefficiencies. A smarter way of operating the pumps was developed and implemented, which led to savings of almost 661 MWh in the first 12 months after implementation.

Total energy consumption
in 2021 was 8,308 TJ compared with 7,591 TJ in 2020, an increase of 9%. This increase in energy consumption can be mainly attributed to an increase in activity in our Recycling and Energy & Surface Technology business groups. In 2021, direct energy consumption was 3,782 TJ, or 45% of the total energy consumption for the Group, and indirect energy consumption for industrial sites and office buildings was 4,526 TJ, or 55% of the total energy consumption for the Group.

In recent years, as part of our commitment to sustainable operations, we began examining the share of renewable energy in our purchased energy mix. 2019 marked the first year we systematically collected information from our sites and could report the result. Since then, our ambition to reach net zero GHG by 2035 has increased our focus on decarbonizing the energy we use. Decarbonizing energy used to fuel our processes will require innovations in process and technology.

While choosing the share of renewables in our purchased energy mix is a challenge in some of the regions where we are most active, Umicore is actively pursuing an increase in the share of renewables in our purchased energy mix. In 2021, the share of renewable energies for purchased electricity was 17%, up from 15% in 2020. For more on our efforts to secure long-term renewable energy contracts, see our PPA announcements.

In 2021, Umicore also completed additional on-site renewable electricity installations, including solar installations at our sites in Americana (Brazil), Jiangmen (China) and Brussels (Belgium).

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

scope 1 emissions

Tonnes CO2e

scope 2 emissions - markeT based

Tonnes CO2e

scope 1+2 GHG emissions - MARKET BASED

Tonnes CO2e

Umicore has set a target for net zero Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 2035, with intermediate milestones of a 20% reduction by 2025 and a 50% reduction by 2030. These milestones are set against our 2019 GHG emissions baseline: 791,896 tonnes CO2e total scope 1 + 2 emissions. scope 1 emissions are direct GHG emissions from owned or controlled processes and scope 2 emissions are indirect GHG emissions from the generation of purchased energy.

Total market-based emissions in 2021 increased 16% to 846,437 tonnes CO2e , from 732,545 tonnes CO2e in 2020, due to an increase in activity in our Recycling and Energy & Surface Technology business groups. Despite this increase in activity and absolute emissions, our commitment to process efficiency is reflected in the decrease in Umicore’s GHG intensity in 2021, with a ratio of .000213, compared to the 2020 GHG intensity ratio of .000226.

Total location-based emissions were 791,687 tonnes CO2e. The difference between the location- and market-based total indicates that on aggregate for all countries where we operate industrial installations, the average grid mixes in the countries/regions lead to lower CO2e emissions than the specific electricity contracts that we have in place. Umicore is working with energy suppliers to conclude power purchase agreements (PPA) to significantly reduce the market-based CO2-emissions by increasing the share of purchased carbon-free and low-carbon electricity. For more on our efforts to secure long-term renewable energy contracts, see our PPA announcements.

In 2021, scope 1 emissions were 372,699 tonnes CO2e, while market-based scope 2 emissions were 473,738 tonnes CO2e, a 44/56%-split between scope 1 and scope 2 (market based) emissions. scope 1 emissions increased by 13% year-on-year, compared with 330,619 tonnes CO2e in 2020. scope 2 emissions increased by 18% year-on-year, compared with 401,926 tonnes CO2e in 2020.

Upstream scope 3, by type1

Tonnes CO2e

  1. 1 From a preliminary 2018 study, see Environmental statements

Umicore conducted a preliminary study on our 2018 upstream scope 3 footprint, specifically considering purchased goods and services, capital goods, fuel and energy related activities, upstream distribution, waste generated and employee commuting. The resulting scope 3 amounted to 5.2 million tonnes CO2e, a footprint multiple times larger than Umicore’s scope 1 and 2 combined, and 87% of the total scope 1+2+3 upstream emissions for 2018. The vast majority of the scope 3 emissions (more than 90%) are related to the upstream emissions linked to purchased goods. In our case, a high share of the impacts comes from the metals linked to clean mobility applications, in particular platinum, palladium, and rhodium for automotive catalysts. The second largest contributing category is upstream distribution.

As part of our commitment to the Science Based Target initiative , Umicore is updating its scope 3 inventory for the year 2019. The running update includes all the relevant categories upstream and downstream.

For avoided emissions, also referred to as “scope 4”, see Sustainable Products & Services and the Environmental statements.

Regulatory compliance & management system

In 2021, some 58,000 environmental measurements were carried out at all Umicore’s industrial sites, compared to some54,000 the year before. The number of measurements that did not meet the regulatory or permit requirements is very low at 0.10% for the Group, compared to 0.15% in 2020.

Of the 54 consolidated industrial sites, 51 have put in place an environmental management system certified against ISO 14001. Two of the remaining 3 sites are acquisitions/new sites that joined Umicore reporting in 2018 and 2021, these sites are planning the implementation of an environmental management system during 2022. The other remaining site closed down at the end of 2021 and did not undergo recertification in 2021.

In total, 104 environmental complaints were received in 2021, the large majority of which was related to noise and odor. 73 of the complaints are ongoing.

Managing impact from historical activities

In the mid-1990s, Umicore began divesting any mining rights remaining from its historical predecessor companies. Mine closures and restitution of concessions to state authorities are consistently carried out in collaboration with the competent authorities and local stakeholders. Remediation projects for smelting and refining installations are developed in close consultation to ensure any risks are reduced to levels acceptable to the authorities.

Umicore’s proactive program for assessing and, where necessary, remediating soil and groundwater contamination is defined in the Umicore Way. The following paragraphs illustrate the progress made in the main ongoing programs during 2021.


Our oldest predecessor company, Vieille Montagne, was granted a mining concession by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1805, with five more concessions added over time. Mining activities ceased in the 1950s, and extensive rehabilitation work was carried out in close consultation with the competent authorities. Four concessions were officially retroceded to the Government, with the remainder ongoing.

Historical non-ferrous metals production in Hoboken, Olen, Balen and Overpelt impacted soil and groundwater on the industrial sites and on neighboring land. In 1997, Umicore concluded a voluntary Covenant with the Flemish Region to deal with this historical contamination, signing an addendum in 2004 with the regional waste authorities (OVAM) and the Flemish Regional Minister of the Environment. We committed to spend 62 million over 15 years for historical pollution remediation on four sites, including two sites in Balen and Overpelt which were divested by Umicore in 2007 and now belong to Nyrstar. OVAM and Umicore also joined forces to remediate historic pollution in the 9km perimeter surrounding the industrial sites, over 10 years, both contributing €15 million to a new remediation fund. Remedial efforts on Umicore sites will continue as necessary.

The precious metals recycling plant in Hoboken was originally a lead and silver refinery. Over the years, Umicore has replaced heavily contaminated topsoil and remediated historical contamination in the adjacent residential area. In 2022 a next phase in the groundwater remediation will be initiated.

In Olen, pollution in and around the site results from historical production activities of mainly copper and cobalt. An on-site groundwater remediation program started in 2007 is ongoing. In 2020, contaminated soil and buried waste were further excavated at various locations where infrastructure work was needed.

Between 1922 and 1980, radium and uranium were also produced in Olen, including radium used in experiments by Marie Curie. The radium production plant was demolished during the 1970s and the production waste was confined to a temporary but long-term aboveground storage facility, according to contemporary standards. In 2020, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control issued guiding principles for the permanent remediation and storage of this legacy radioactive material. Joint working groups, including government agencies such as NIRAS/ONDRAF, OVAM, FANC and Umicore, are describing the steps towards a permanent storage solution. Developing and implementing this detailed roadmap is expected to take several years. Meanwhile Umicore continues risk monitoring.


During an environmental assessment following the acquisition in 2003 by Umicore of industrial units in Americana (SP), Guarulhos (SP) and Manaus (AM) in Brazil, pre-existing groundwater pollution was detected at the Guarulhos site. Umicore installed a hydraulic barrier in 2011 to stop the spread of this contamination. Targeted extraction systems were put in place on site to speed up the remediation. Closure and the partial demolition of the industrial buildings in Guarulhos, with the industrial activities having moved to Americana during 2020 and 2021, will enable improved treatment of the core contamination. State-of-the art remedial techniques were evaluated during 2021, for implementation which is expected to start in 2022.


Umicore’s predecessor companies operated mines in the south of France from the mid-1800s. The last mining activities were terminated by the early 1970s and extensive rehabilitation work was carried out during the 1990s. All former mining concessions in France have been returned to the French government, with the last confirmed by ministerial decree in 2005.

Zinc mining in Saint-Félix-de-Pallières began in the 19th century. The concession was closed in 1971 in full compliance with legislation and was waived in 2004 by the French authorities. Umicore remains in the area and regularly monitors a landfill containing flotation residues, which remains Umicore’s property. To guarantee its long-term safety and stability, Umicore carried out and completed extensive refurbishment work in 2021, including remodeling the land surface, installing engineered stability layers, planting vegetation and improving the drainage system.

In Viviez, pollution in and around the site results from historical zinc production activities started in 1855. Umicore invested 40 million in a large-scale remediation program from 2011 to the end of 2016 and has transferred post-remedial obligations to a third party. Together with other partners, Umicore joined a voluntary program in 2017 to address soil contamination in private gardens around the Viviez site. Data were collected in 2017 and 2018 and measures were defined by a dedicated expert panel established by the competent authorities. Umicore is currently preparing for execution of the work, and a detailed roadmap is being finalised.


In 1980, Umicore’s predecessor company acquired an abandoned silver-gold mine at Platoro in a nature recreation area in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Subsequent exploration was unsuccessful and further exploitation of the mine was stopped. In the 1990s a water treatment plant was installed, which was replaced by a new modern facility in 2018 with a view to further decreasing metal concentration in the discharge and the volume of solid waste. A proposal received by Umicore/Union Gold in 2019 for a new effluent permit was immediately contested by Union Gold, arguing against the technical feasibility of the very stringent limits for arsenic to be attained in 2024. The competent authorities accepted these arguments and recommended applying for a less stringent permit modification. Meanwhile, Union Gold tested additional treatment steps in the wastewater treatment plant. Continuous improvement work on the water treatment plant at the site has been undertaken throughout 2021 and will continue in the coming years.

At the cobalt-producing facility operated by Umicore in Maxton, North Carolina from 1980 to 2010, soil and groundwater contamination were identified after closure and demolition of the plant. Umicore entered a voluntary program with the authorities and has put in place comprehensive groundwater remediation to address the issue fully by 2033. In 2021, the land owned by Umicore was divested. The forecast groundwater remediation plan over the coming years has been refined with a view to further improving the long-term management of the groundwater resource.

Environmental key figures








CO2e emissions (scope1)








CO2e emissions (scope2) - Market based








CO2e emissions (scope2) - Location based1








Energy consumption








Renewable electricity








Metal emissions to water (load)








Metal emissions to water1

impact units







Metal emissions to air (load)








Metal emissions to air1

impact units







Diffuse metal emissions






SOx emissions








NOx emissions








Water withdrawal

thousand m3







Fresh water withdrawal

thousand m3



Total waste produced








Hazardous waste1








of which recycled1








Non hazardous waste1








of which recycled1








Compliance excess rate








Environmental complaints







Sites ISO 14001 certified








  1. 1 Some definitions of KPIs have changed over time. A direct comparison over all years is therefore not fully applicable. See the respective topics in this section [the Environmental Statements section] for further information.