Across homes, industries, and institutions, the demand for environmentally conscious, sustainable coatings products is accelerating, particularly in response to governments looking to organize more sustainable recoveries in the wake of the pandemic, and for general project demand, such as infrastructure improvement, given the need for long-lasting solutions. Coatings are vital to the world we live in, and are used and found in every aspect of life across the globe, from the shoes you walk in all day long to the paint on your walls, and at the same time, consumers are becoming more conscious of the societal and environmental impacts of companies and their products. 

Sustainability is more than a business strategy. It is an essential facet of operating at the intersection of science and technology to bring longer-lasting products with less impact on the world around them and solutions for a better world to communities, families, and the next generation of leaders. By setting clear and measurable sustainability goals, coatings producers, manufacturers, and distributors can push themselves to think differently and find better ways of doing business. Whether it’s a portfolio of products, services, practices, or technologies, powerful sustainable solutions come in many forms and can enhance the world around us. This is not a quantum leap, but rather an iterative process done with the knowledge we have coupled with the advancements of today. The practice of sustainability is not an all-or-nothing endeavor, but rather a growing process that steadily improves a bit more with each evolution of our capabilities. 

In the last several years, sustainability has rocketed to the top of the list of innovation drivers for coatings manufacturers, and their chemical and ingredient distributors, which has, in turn, opened many new avenues for growth. This growth is coming in three major areas: the deployment of environmentally conscious protocols and technologies, the re-engineering of processes to promote circularity and operational efficiency, and the development of more-sustainable products. To be an industry leader in the future, a business must excel in all these areas. However, for many, prioritizing efficiencies in the areas where you can make the greatest impact may be the more realistic course of action. Whether helping advance energy efficiency, extending the lifespan of maintenance coatings, providing infrastructure longevity, or recycling and reusing materials, it’s a careful balancing act weighing quality, efficacy, profitability, and productivity to drive more sustainable coating solutions.

Three Ways Coatings Suppliers Can Deliver on Sustainable Solutions

1. Extending the Life Span of Maintenance Coatings

The longevity of maintenance coatings isn’t always top-of-mind when it comes to environmental improvements, but it should be. Take, for example, metal bridges and general infrastructure. These structures must be coated to prevent rust and corrosion, and oftentimes for beautification and appearance standards in communities. Given the size and scale, coating these structures is a major undertaking requiring an enormous volume of chemicals, at a very high cost, using a lot of labor. Additionally, safety is a major factor given the heights and configurations involved. By developing direct-to-metal and other substrate maintenance coatings with longer life spans that are safe, effective, and environmentally conscious, we drastically reduce the impact of these key sustainability criteria.

2. Recycling, Resource Reuse, and Circularity in Packaging and Materials

Recycling, resource reuse, and circularity in packaging and materials comes to mind for many when they think about an eco-friendlier community, especially when we think about the exponential growth in usage since the birth of plastics. Plastics in general can present an opportunity for sustainability in packaging in many end-use products when it comes to development facets such as lightweighting. Although this can come with major challenges. Finding ways to create a circular economy when it comes to plastics or packaging is an initiative that many producers can take on. A straight-line life cycle for packaging is not beneficial to our planet. To aid in this process, plastic additives can be used, which act as compatibilizers and efficiency boosters when incorporating post-consumer and recycled plastic resin in new products and components.

3. Lightweighting Vehicles to Reduce Energy Consumption

Recently, the lightweighting of vehicles has gained a good amount of attention in the world of sustainability given its symbiotic relationship to the above issues of energy consumption and recycled content. Approximately 80% of the products that come from a barrel of oil go into fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Therefore, efforts are being made to improve fuel efficiency in transportation. Lightweighting vehicles through plastic additives in place of heavier and less-pliable materials plays a vital role in this efficiency endeavor. Similarly, demand continues to grow for composites such as fiberglass-reinforced plastics (FRP) and carbon fiber, used in all types of vehicles to reduce weight. Finally, coatings and adhesives are being used, to a greater degree, for lightweight, strong, and versatile connectivity. Mechanical fastening tends to be heavier and more rigid, whereas adhesives and coatings have a near endless degree of formulating potential and cover the spectrum of performance criteria. 

Today, virtually every market and every major company is focused on environmental and societal responsibility in some way, shape, or form. Across the coatings supply chain, industry leaders are looking at the composition and sourcing of raw materials, more-efficient production processes, and a variety of waste management system solutions to create an end-to-end sustainable experience, beyond just the product. Because while all the raw materials within a product or formulation may not be considered eco-friendly, bio-derived, or similar, innovative, and sustainable solutions that can still deliver on performance are possible. 

Just like any innovation, early phases of transitioning to sustainable solutions can seem daunting. However, sustainability is also creating new business opportunities worldwide, and leaders of sustainable innovation are likely to receive the largest rewards long-term. Although regulatory advances are driving some of the actions and progress around sustainable development and solutions, those who continue to produce unsustainable products risk losing out on higher profits, disruptor status, and more. At some time in the future, they will have to rely on others, distributors and/or suppliers, to guide them if they’re required to develop sustainable products. Working on sustainable solutions that also satisfy regulatory advances can result in exciting new product variations, innovative and longer-lasting solutions, and bring holistic benefits to society as a whole. No matter what the reason, I’m confident the coatings industry will continue to evolve its sustainability story to satisfy consumer expectations and regulatory demands.