The world faces a daunting challenge in meeting the needs of a growing population and encouraging opportunity for all with fewer resources. The chemical industry, through its ability to develop new and innovative products and processes, is a key solutions provider for sustainable development in such sectors as alternative energy, transportation, communications, building and construction, and health and medicine.
Rio+20 Business Day
Global chemical industry leaders highlighted our industry’s contributions to sustainable development at the Rio+20 Business Day on June 19. A panel organized by the International Council of Chemical Associations addressed current and future global challenges, and the role of chemistry in providing the innovative products and technologies to address those challenges.
At the panel, ICCA also launched a report highlighting the chemical industry’s contributions to sustainability. A key feature of both the report and the panel discussion was the vital role of innovation in providing the solutions to the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Chaired by Arab Hoballah, Chief of the Sustainable Consumption and Production Branch at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the panel included Carlos Fadigas, CEO of Braskem; Francis Sherman, President of Akzo Nobel North America; and senior executives from Dow and BASF. Stakeholder representatives on the panel were Herman Mulder, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Global Reporting Initiative; and Nilton Freitas from the Brazil Chemical Workers Union.
Policies that Promote Innovation
Akzo Nobel’s Francis Sherman noted that governments have a key role to play in developing policy and regulatory frameworks that promote, rather than stifle, private sector innovation. Sherman added that the industry also has a responsibility to collaborate more closely with the supply chain to build trust and increase public confidence that chemicals are managed safely throughout the product lifecycle.
Good work is being done through industry-led initiatives such as Responsible Care and the Global Product Strategy to integrate sustainability throughout the industry’s operations. But more needs to be done.
Public Understanding of Science
Braskem’s Carlos Fadigas highlighted the need for industry to address negative public perceptions and also stressed the need to correct the misunderstanding that the world would be more ‘sustainable’ with fewer chemicals. The reality is, a world with less chemicals would mean less medicine and clean water, shorter lifespans and a lower standard of living, he said.
GRI’s Herman Mulder said that chemical industry companies had increased sustainability reporting by a larger amount than any other sector in recent years. But that is not enough — industry must lead governments and consumers to be more sustainable, for example by transparent pricing of externalities throughout the product lifecycle.
International Chemicals Management
Several speakers drew attention to the important role of multi-stakeholder frameworks, such as the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), in promoting the sound management of chemicals internationally.
Nilton Freitas noted that SAICM had helped to build trust and facilitate partnerships between stakeholders. Examples mentioned during the panel included ICCA’s Memorandum of Understanding with UNEP, and expanded partnerships between business and workers at the national and local levels.
Summing up the discussion, Arab Hoballah said that the industry had made significant efforts toward improving the sound management of chemicals around the world. Nonetheless, significant problems remain, and Hoballah called on industry to strengthen its leadership of international efforts to address current and future challenges – challenges that industry representatives on the panel confirmed that the chemical industry is committed to address.