Blog: Sustainable Chemistry as a Route to New Partnerships
10:07 AM MDT | May 6, 2010 | By ALEX SCOTT
SusChem, a sustainable technology program being jointly managed and funded by the European chemical industry and the European commission, announced this week that it is broadening its focus from research only to include innovation associated with the use of chemistry. The shift may sound like a subtle one but potentially it will provide industry with an additional and well-funded route out of the laboratory and closer to the delivery of solutions for some of the world’s biggest problems such as the provision of potable water, food and energy. Interestingly, it could also be a pathway for the chemical industry to move closer to its customers and at the same time gain positive exposure with consumers.
SusChem already is seeking out pilot projects to identify areas where chemistry and the chemical industry could play a key role in delivering these big issue solutions. One pilot in South Africa, named Project Splash, has been developed by Unilever and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC; London). The project aims to identify how waste detergent water—also known as grey water—could be reused for food crops. Unilever is interested in gaining understanding on how pressure on the supply of potable water in Africa will affect its personal care and home care products of the future, while RSC’s goal has been to demonstrate how chemical sciences can provide innovative, cost-effective and sustainable solutions.
SusChem announced its change of strategy at the group’s 8th Annual stakeholder meeting in Lyon, France. The organization gathered some big hitters for this event including Pierre-Jean Brochand, president of Dow Chemical France and member of UIC’s executive committee, and Herbert von Bose director/industrial technologies for European Commission’s Research unit.
Von Bose made it very clear at the meeting that he is in favor of SusChem’s proposed shift in emphasis to deliver innovative solutions. The commission already is pressing other industries to do the same. One example where it is doing so is in the field of sustainable construction where the commission has agreed to put up half of the €1 billion ($1.3 billion) for a joint program with the construction sector.
Von Bose asked how Suschem was going to be able to deliver on its promise to deliver innovative solutions to the consumer when much of the chemical industry’s activities end far upstream of the final product. Producing chemicals that can be used directly by the consumer-such as in the consumption of pharmaceuticals-is not the common model, he says. Von Bose’s suggestion is that -if SusChem is to truly succeed with its new approach that the chemical industry should establish relationships with downstream sectors
Rodney Townsend, SusChem’s chairman, who is also director of science and technology for the RSC, was right on the money when he told delegates at the meeting that if SusChem is to succeed in its new approach it may need to adopt a new way of thinking based around partnerships and based around looking at the whole value chain. Arguably, this is not just a tweaking of strategy but a quest to change an established culture.
A key issue that emerged during the debate was that to engage more fully with downstream partners, chemical firms may first have to become more transparent. “We need openness and good communications,” says Michael Matlosz, director of the École Nationale Supérieure des Industries Chimiques (ENSIC; Nancy, France), an institute focused on Chemical Engineering, and one of the members of the panel. A dialogue of openness should be established from an individual basis right up to the chemical industry as a sector, Matlosz says.
Townsend: Looking along the whole value chain.
Given the hundreds of millions of dollars on offer from the Commission, and with potential profits also to be made from innovations that are developed within SusChem, not to mention the potential to show consumers that the chemical industry is in reality a force for good, there may not be a better time for chemical companies to get out there, become more transparent and make some new friends.
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