At the end of 2012, this sustainability blog was full of encouragement and optimism about the progress that the coatings industry would make in the following year. The focus of attention rested on novel chemistry applied to upstream resin synthesis based on bio-renewable sources of raw materials, the development of Life Cycle Analysis and its incorporation into product and process evaluation, together with a focus on maximising waste paint recycling.
By the end of 2013, many of these opportunities had been progressed. The way forward relied upon an acceptance that sustainability had to be integrated fully into the psyche of companies and not treated as a short-term bolt-on initiative. However, there was also a growing concern that society was not necessarily buying into the concept that future resources should be managed carefully and today’s waste minimised.
By the end of 2014, some parts of the coatings industry and its supplier base have made significant strides. Companies such as AkzoNobel, Sherwin Williams, Crown/Hempel and Beckers Industrial, together with suppliers DSM, Dow and Clariant, have been recognized with awards for their work in sustainability. Many other companies have contributed to the progress that the industry has made, along with the trade associations that represent them. However, what has been achieved could be seen as the ‘low hanging fruit’ and, without doubt, the way forward is going to be a lot trickier.
While some global consumer product manufacturers and retailers speak publically about the world being closer than ever to the ‘tipping point’ where consumer buying behaviour becomes dominated by concerns about the environment, others focus attention more on the worries about the future course of global economics and the opportunities for growth and increased consumption around the world supported by new sources of oil and gas.
2015 needs to be a year in which not only is the momentum behind sustainable development maintained, but we begin to see early signs of radical changes ahead. The coatings industry is unlikely to make further progress on the basis of existing technologies and processes, and new ways forward will be needed.
Here are some ideas to stimulate fresh initiatives in 2015 to progress sustainable innovation.
Adoption of Currently Available Innovations
Until now, we have seen the launch by the specialty chemical industry of many new additives and binders that offer viable routes to low- or zero-VOC paint systems often derived from bio-renewable raw materials. This blog hopes to see at least some of these exciting new ingredients featured in commercial-scale coatings products in 2015.
Pursue Radical Technology Options that are Potential Game Changers
·Nanotechnology presents technical development opportunities, providing health concerns can be addressed. Nanoparticles have the potential to enhance the functionality of coatings and, in the long term, may even be able to help create vibrant colours the way nature does without the use of inorganic chemicals. Now, there’s a thought!
·Replacing isocyanate chemistry in resin manufacture could make a major contribution to the enhancement of the environmental footprint of coatings.
Waste Paint Recycling
More nations should follow the Canadian model and organise country-wide systems for collecting, reconstituting and reselling waste waterborne paints. The USA, UK and Holland have made a good start.
Both vertical and horizontal collaboration will become a critical mechanism for innovation creation and delivery. So much depends on what happens throughout the lifecycle from cradle to grave that it is almost impossible to imagine new ideas coming forward and being accepted without companies in different parts of the supply chain getting together and sharing ideas and information. Examples exist today in the form of joint ventures such as BASF/Corbion Purac and AkzoNobel/Seymourpowell, and via alliances such as ‘Together for Sustainability’ and the World Business Council, but there need to be more.
Emphasis on the Social Pillar
Engagement with stakeholdersand understanding consumer trends are essential not only for getting the sustainability message across to society but also having enough market data to determine which products with improved environmental footprints will be well received. The Roundtable for Product Social Metrics is an alliance of companies including AkzoNobel, BASF and DSM, and has produced a handbook for product social impact assessment. Well worth a read in 2015.
2015 ought to be the year in which the coatings industry presses for the simplification of the overly complicated world of regulations, standards, databases and labels that only confuse and add cost unnecessarily. There has been inadequate global leadership in the industry to build the necessary consensuses to agree to single common standards. Even the introduction of Product Category Rules is being challenged by those who argue that to define areas of activity only constrains innovation outside those boundaries. The PEFCR program in Europe is best placed to deal with that challenge in 2015.
Whatever happens in 2015, it is up to the coatings industry to lead rather than be led by either upstream supply industries or downstream applicators and retailers when it comes to sustainability. We often say that in terms of carbon footprint, the split between upstream/coatings manufacture/downstream is 50/10/40. However in leadership terms, this blog argues that the ratio should be 10/80/10. The coatings industry interfaces both up-stream to the chemical industry and downstream to its customer industries. The industry is therefore in the best possible position to ‘see the wood for the trees’ and drive progress towards the long-term goal of sustainable development across the entire coatings life cycle.
2015 should be quite a year! Here’s wishing a more sustainable New Year to all.