Author: Joanna Lubowiecka

Joanna Lubowiecka

Interview with Matteo Salabrina, speaker of the 12th PMI Switzerland PM Conference

Get ready to be inspired by Matteo Scalabrino, a distinguished speaker at the 12th PMI Conference who will take us into the journey of From engineering project management to environmental sustainability within manufacturing: description of a journeyand check out the insightful pre-conference interview with him.


Matteo Salabrina


1. How would you introduce yourself? How would you describe your personal and career achievements?

I am an industrial engineer, by training and by professional experience. I have oriented my career to the international level since the very beginning, in 1998, when I had the opportunity to complement my engineering degree from the Polytechnic School of Turin (Italy) with a master's degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Montpellier (France).

I had the opportunity to pursue my career by taking R&D roles in the USA and in France, and I was able to move to process development and engineering project management in 2005, when I participated in the construction and commissioning of a new plant in Germany. From there, I moved on to similar projects in Italy, Romania and China until 2011.

During the first half of my career, I had the opportunity to cumulate a significant experience in engineering project management within the fast-paced environment of startup companies: we had to fail quickly and learn fast, and we lacked the structure of a formal engineering project management process.

This is exactly what I found when I moved to Syngenta Switzerland at the end of 2011. Syngenta is a company that collected and merged the legacy of two major European chemical conglomerates of the 20th century: the Swiss CIBA and the British ICI. Part of this legacy was a very robust governance of capital expenditure, backed up by an equally robust engineering project management process. The quality of these processes was confirmed back in 2017 by a benchmark performed by IPA, "a benchmarking, research, and consulting organization devoted to the empirical research of capital projects and project systems".

For 10 years (from end of 2011 until end of 2021), I occupied roles with an increasing level of responsibility within the Syngenta EAME Capital Project Group: project engineer, project manager and eventually engineering manager. I directly managed a project portfolio of more than 90mUSD, and I have been involved in a number of cross-functional initiatives, both at regional and global level. This 10 years long experience allowed me to consolidate my competencies in the area of engineering project management, competencies that became key for successfully delivering two strategic and complex projects in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. What motivated you to choose the "From engineering project management to environmental sustainability within manufacturing: description of a journey”  topic for your workshops?

Across my whole career, I have been directly involved in projects dedicated to the development of technologies for environmental protection, in the frame of an evolving, but still well-known and somehow predictable regulatory environment.

But the beginning of this decade has brought up a set of overwhelming, urgent subjects: once the pandemic behind us, challenges such as climate change, energy crisis, geopolitical conflicts and (eventually) protection of biodiversity have increasingly influenced the agenda of globalized companies like Syngenta.

So far, environmental sustainability has been a subject of Freedom to Operate: companies have been influenced by external stakeholders, and until 2020 it was sufficient to declare carbon emission reduction targets validated by the SBTi, and therefore in line with the objectives of the Paris agreement. In this context, the subject was owned mainly by functions such as Business Sustainability and External Communication. But the external pressure has rapidly increased, and companies now have to demonstrate that they are capable of reaching such targets. So, when in 2021 the company created the new role of global manufacturing sustainability lead, I had the opportunity to steer my career in this direction, since the subject of climate change, and in particular the challenge of decreasing the carbon emissions of our industrial operations, was the one that captured most of my attention.

Indeed, as an engineering project manager, I was increasingly worried by the gap existing between the urgency (for instance) of the energy transition, and the current (and sometimes obsolete) engineering standards applied to the design and construction of new industrial assets. But what I quickly learnt is the complexity of climate change mitigation, the need of climate change adaptation, and the sheer difficulty associated with the decarbonization of the chemical industry. All these are formidable intellectual challenges, and I firmly believe they offer great development opportunities to the community of engineers and project managers.

3. What can the audience expect after these workshops?

My intention is to offer the audience the opportunity to:

  • Have a clear understanding of the concept of environmental sustainability, which "refers to the responsible use and management of natural resources in a way that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
  • Have the largest understanding of the most urgent element of the environmental sustainability (a stable, predictable climate is considered a natural resource), of the challenges associated with climate change mitigation and adaptation for industrial operations, and in particular for the chemical industry
  • Grasp the order of magnitude of the mutations and transformations required, and therefore of the need for the contribution of every actor within the industry
  • Understand how the engineering and project management communities can bring a contribution
  • Describe a process we have developed in Syngenta for introducing the variable of sustainability in the design of new industrial assets (the Project Sustainability Assessment)
  • Spark a discussion allowing the exchange of experiences from different industries, some of which are certainly more advanced than the chemical sector

4. How does your presentation fit the title of the Conference: «Innovative project management: power skills for the future?"

Meeting the targets set for carbon emissions reduction will require a fundamental transformation of all industrial sectors: the community of engineers and project managers are and will be actors of this transformation. The tools, models, metrics and performance indicators that have been applied so far need to be adapted to these new challenges. The business cases need to factor in the risks associated with the sustainability of an investment. All the above requires the development of a new set of competencies and skills in the areas, for instance, of corporate, asset and product carbon footprint assessment, Life Cycle Impact Assessment, energy transition.

5. Why did you decide to speak at the PMI conference?

I have been informed by Ethel Sato of the organization of the Swiss PMI Annual Conference, and after having discussed with her, she invited me to apply. Given the complexity of the issues associated with climate change mitigation and adaptation, I see this as an opportunity not only for reaching out and influencing a community beyond the Syngenta boundaries, but also for eventually benefitting from the experience of colleagues that are facing similar challenges.