In my first blog, I introduced the concept of sustainable development and explained some of the reasons why it is so important for the future of our economy, our society and our planet.
Many of you may have already seen a copy of a great brochure that was recently published by the American Coatings Association (ACA) under its Sustainability banner entitled “Coatings Protect, Preserve and Provide”. It can be found at http://www.paint.org/about-our-industry/sustainability.html.
It has often been said that the coatings industry is not only the most looked at but also the most overlooked, and this brochure reminds us all, whether we are paint manufacturers, applicators or consumers, just what a key role coatings play in our society and our economy. As one of my industry colleagues once said, “But for a pot of paint, our economy would grind to a halt pretty quickly.”
Coatings in decorative applications add colour, style and fashion to our lives. In industrial applications, they can also protect other materials such as wood or metals and extend the service life time of finished articles. Some coatings are specifically designed to offer more than decoration and/or protection, and many of these are described in the ACA’s brochure. This extended functionality enhances the benefits of coatings downstream of the paint industry and can add significantly to the sustainability of the industries that are using or consuming the coatings.
The impact of coatings downstream underlines the importance of considering the whole life cycle of materials to make sure that all those involved in the manufacture, application, use and disposal of coatings are collectively making a positive contribution to sustainability development.
When evaluating a new product, we need to understand not only how the paint was made and how it performs in its chosen application, but also how the constituent raw materials were selected and produced. We also have to consider how the coating is going to be disposed of at the end of its life. Put another way, we need to look at a coatings product from ‘soup to nuts’ or, as they say, from cradle to grave. Evaluating the sustainability of a supply chain from manufacturer’s gate to customer’s gate just won’t wash!
There are a number of very eminent organisations around the world that are currently endeavouring to find balanced ways of evaluating product supply chains from cradle to gate or cradle to grave. If they can find a way of analysing whole life cycles in a consistent way, then it should be possible to identify the environmental ‘hotspots’ which, through some form of innovation, could and should be eradicated.
On the basis of published work to date, there is a general rule of thumb that 80% of the cradle to gate (coatings manufacturers’ finished goods despatch) environmental footprint of a coating is determined by the raw materials in its formulation. Taking this into account, it is clear that the coatings industry is reliant on the chemical and plastics industries for much of its future technical innovation delivery.
It has also been reported that somewhere between 20% and 40% of the cradle to grave footprint lies downstream of the coatings manufacturer’s gate. To improve gate to grave sustainability of a coatings product, it is critical to understand what happens to a formulation once it leaves its place of manufacture.
The goal of sustainable development brings fresh challenges to all the participants in the coatings life cycle. Innovation is never easy, although the chemicals, plastics and coatings industries have excellent records in this regard. The route to improvement demands fresh thinking, which can come from the coatings industry itself, its suppliers and/or its distributors.
However, silo thinking won’t work here. We don’t want to fall into the trap of making improvements at one point in the chain, only to create huge problems up or downstream. Sustainable development requires integrated research and development right along the supply chain, from ‘soup to nuts’ to make sure that society’s needs for sustainability development are delivered in a timely manner.
The link between sustainability and innovation is a critical one, and this blog is on the look-out for sustainable innovations that really make a difference. In the last blog, the U.S. EPA’s Presidential Green Chemistry Award for Sherwin-Williams' water-based paint made from recycled bottles and soybeans was mentioned. Hopefully, this is the first such award of many for the industries involved in the coatings life cycle.
We live in interesting times!
-Tony Mash, President, TMA Consulting Inc.