I don’t want to sound alarmist, but I was deeply disturbed by the recent pronouncements from the IPCC. This learned international organisation concluded that the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has grown to levels not seen for 3 million years, and that about half of cumulative anthropogenic CO2 emissions between 1750 and 2010 have occurred in the last 40 years. It also reported that the majority of the CO2comes from the burning of fossil fuels, that any reduction in the annual emissions of the gas into the atmosphere caused by the recent global recession has now been erased, and that the concentration of CO2in the atmosphere continues to increase!
The language of the IPCC has turned from one of finding a corrective solution to one of problem mitigation. We are going to have to adapt to live with the consequences of climate change in terms of increased air and sea temperatures, and perhaps more variable weather patterns too. However, we can impact the degree to which our lives and those of future generations will be altered from current levels. This is where sustainable development has a key role to play.
With mitigation in mind, I immediately think of two groups of actions that will have implications for the coatings industry. The first is conservation and the second, which may come as a surprise, is the preservation of diversity. Both were underlined by a recent visit I made to the Galapagos Islands.
The Galapagos is a group of about 140 islands off the coast of Ecuador that have developed independently of one other as a result of their isolation and different ecosystems. Many islands lack fresh water and are very hot, given that they are on the equator, and yet life is evident in profusion. The islands have become a national park in which conservation is key, and human beings are infrequent and controlled guests. The animals, fish, birds and plants are therefore allowed to develop and evolve in their own way. No wonder these islands prompted Charles Darwin to develop his Theory of Evolution. Getting back to the IPCC report, it looks as if mankind is in for a period of evolution due to climate change.
The theme of conservation is exemplified in the way the islands are now managed and controlled. Not only is it illegal to interfere in the life cycle of the wildlife on the islands, but where human beings are permitted, actions have been taken to minimise their impact. This is best seen at Baltra airport where the majority of Galapagos tourists arrive.
The local government in the Galapagos has realised that air travel can pollute, and has taken mitigation steps in the way the airport has been designed. Displayed proudly around the walls of the terminal are a series of posters that describe elements of the airport design that not only exemplify sustainable development at work but also offer opportunities to create demand for the coatings industry. They are as follows:
·Metallic columns built from petroleum exploration pipes recovered from the Ecuadorian jungle leading to the efficient use of raw materials, reduced usage of energy and reduced contamination of the jungle.
- The use of new solar panels to generate the electrical energy required to run the airport.
- Furnishings with environmental declarations based on their sustainable and eco-friendly manufacturing using certified sources of wood or recycled materials.
- Floors made of concrete using local materials such as gravel and sand, coloured gray to absorb less heat than other floor colours to avoid what they call the ‘heat island effect’.
- Terminal buildings that have been designed with wide areas and tall ceilings to allow ventilation and natural light entry.
- Industrial fans that help air circulation and mechanical louvers that work automatically through both temperature and CO2sensors to extract air once temperatures begin to rise.
- The relocation of plants that are endemic to the island to areas recovered around the terminal that once formed part of a U.S. Air Force base there in the 1940s.
- The selection of ecological stainless steel and eco-solving inks printed on vinyl for signs around the airport.
These actions echo the many initiatives that are being developed and exploited today across the globe and require support from the coatings industry. Enhanced functionality of coatings, increased longevity and substrate protection, use of non-toxic materials and waste paint recovery schemes all contribute to the conservation theme.
Then there is diversity. The concept of diversity recognises that, as the world changes, only those that can adapt will survive. The stunning statistic for me is that the Galapagos has retained 90% of its diversity of animals and plants, while Hawaii, a similar group of islands to the North have lost 90% of their diversity. One assumes that human beings have had a hand in that change.
So, how does diversity relate to the coatings industry? At the recent ACS show and conference in Atlanta, an opinion poll was taken in which participants were asked whether they saw a future for renewable raw materials. Nearly 90% of respondents believed that renewable resources would replace 20% or less of the supply slate over the next five years.
This blog argues that the coatings industry needs to plan now for a more diverse set of raw material sources. To rely on petrochemical feedstocks and other finite sources of raw materials alone leaves the industry open to both shortages in the long term and strong criticism by society in the shorter term as CO2levels in the atmosphere continue to rise.
I have heard it said that it takes a crisis to deliver significant change and improvement. The recent report from the IPCC indicates to me that a crisis is not far away, and that the coatings industry has a leading role to play in mitigation to help the world avoid the most potentially serious scenarios described by climate change experts.
We have been warned!