A business case for sustainability

Matias LöyttyniemiA panel discussion on the business of sustainability was held at the Helsinki Chemicals Forum, June 8-9 in Helsinki, Finland. The panel, comprised of experts from around the world, discussed what efforts are underway in their countries to support sustainability relating to the use of chemicals.

Ricardo Barra, Dean with the University of Conception, in Chile, provided a snapshot of the situation in his country. The environment there is changing rapidly, at the same time poverty is decreasing rapidly. Emerging issues relating to sustainability include electronic waste, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), plastics in the environment, open burning of waste, and nanomaterials, to name a few. Chemical and waste production has been growing rapidly in Chile, outstripping the government’s ability to register the chemicals.

Qian Cheng, Deputy Head of Greenpeace East Asia in China, presented the results of tests that Greenpeace conducted near an industrial park in China, which showed the magnitude of the chemical pollution problem in China. In the study, they found a large number of hazardous chemicals (224 in all), of which 26% were subject to permit. The scale of chemical industrial production in the country is huge. For example, 18,208 of 25,000 chemical enterprises are registered to produce hazardous chemicals. Of 45,643 chemical substances registered in China, only 2,828 are being monitored. Therefore, a high proportion of chemical releases cannot be readily identified in environmental samples. And further, it makes it extremely difficult to assess the precise health and safety impact of these substances.

Timo Unger, Manager of Environmental Affairrs with Hyundai Europe, discussed how European manufacturers have reduced the environmental impact of car production over the past decade. He also outlined the challenges manufacturers face as downstream users trying to develop substitutions for hazardous substances, which can take from 3-5 years between development and testing. A project his company has started, called Global Regulatory Monitoring Project, will provide a global overview of all regulatory information. However, he commented that it would be beneficial if international organizations, such as the OECD or WTO, UN Environment or even ECHA, would assist in such projects.

Finally, Hartvig Wendt, Executive Director, Head Policy Centre Sustainability with CEFIC in Belgium, pointed to Europe’s declining importance in the global chemicals industry, and asked if after 10 years of REACH, a purely regulating scheme is the best path for the future. He summed up by pointing to a potential for Europe to put more emphasis on innovation, possibly through an incentive scheme rather than a regulatory scheme, as a means of achieving the goal of chemical safety.

Posted by Leslie Burt

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