In the last few weeks in particular, the news media across the world have been bombarding us with discussion and comments about climate change. The President’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Change agreement shocked the rest of the world and, to quote one European journalist, ‘needlessly harms America’s reputation’. The recent meeting of the G20 only emphasised the gulf between the U.S. and the rest of the world on this topic, with the other 19 at the table confirming in the final communiqué their support for the ‘international effort to slow dangerous global warming’.
Deploring the President’s decision is not the sole preserve of countries and organisations outside the United States. There has been a strong response from U.S.-based companies, universities and indeed city and State governments declaring their support for the goals of the Paris agreement. It has been reported that “a grand total of 1,219 governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges and universities from across the U.S. or with significant operations in the U.S., representing the broadest cross section of the American economy yet assembled in pursuit of climate action, have declared their intent to continue to ensure the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions.” This kind of reaction has been typified by the Mayor of Austin, Texas when he said “Austin will not stop fighting climate change. Worldwide, cities will lead in achieving climate treaty goals because so much of what’s required happens at the local level. Regardless of what happens around us, we're still Austin, Texas.”
The President is evidently negotiating on a number of fronts to reduce the economic cost at home of the USA’s role in the world, and climate change is one aspect of his strategy. Scott Pruitt, the new head of the EPA, has made the point that the US “is leading with respect to carbon dioxide reduction.” As of now, the U.S. is ahead of its Paris commitment to reduce green house gases, having achieved approximately a 12%-15% reduction from 2005 levels. One foreign journalist wrote recently that “thanks to the fracking energy revolution and ever more efficient cars and machinery, the per capita carbon emissions in the U.S. are now at levels not seen since the 1960s. The work may have been done by basic consumer demand rather than government ‘diktats’, but the U.S. is doing rather well with marrying economic growth and decarbonisation.”
How is the Coatings Industry Responding?
The coatings industry is neither energy intensive nor a major emitter of green house gases. Nevertheless, the industry has been public about its support for sustainability and the underlying need for good stewardship.
While many American corporations have signed onto challenging the recent stance on climate change by the Trump Administration, there has been little or no response from paint manufacturing companies in the USA. In a way they do not need to. Many of these companies have formal sustainability policies and commitments and are unlikely to change course. Indeed, the sector has already contributed to decarbonisation by switching architectural paints from solvent to water-based systems. There have been manufacturing efficiency improvements and there is also growing support for the PaintCare programme organised by the American Coatings Association for the recycling of waste paint.
Where we go next is anyone’s guess, but pressures from the market place, innovation and economics rather than government ‘diktats’ are likely to define the way forward. The continuing favourable economics of natural gas versus coal, and rapid technology developments and positive consumer reaction to electric–powered cars provide a clear sense of general direction.
AkzoNobel’s global sustainability manager, David Cornish, was recently quoted as saying that businesses should focus on the performance quality of a sustainable product, rather than rely on consumers to display an instinctive preference for products with resource-efficient properties. From past experience, he underlined the need to sell the benefits, rather than the problem. “The events of the last year on the wider global scale show that people do not like being preached at by people they consider to be remote from their everyday lives and it ends up being very counter-productive. You have to take people on a journey and let them experience it themselves, to prove through their own experience that you can solve what they thought the problem was with the product, and then stress the advantage. Then, people will make the change.”
The coatings industry has a praiseworthy report card when it comes to sustainability and has the capabilities to continue to move forward along a path that not only reduces its own green house gas emissions but also contributes to the continuing sustainable development of the downstream industries and consumers that it serves.
As they say, keep on trucking!!