IHS Chemical Week


Asking Questions About Sustainability: Vinyl 2010 Sustainable Development Initiative Inspires Unprecedented Response


Faced with a food and energy crisis, how can society improve its well-being?’ is not an easy question to answer, especially in only a thousand words. Yet more than a 1,000 young people registered their keenness to rise to the challenge by signing up for Vinyl 2010’s second Essay Competition. When the registration period closed at the end of January, more than 200 individuals had submitted essays, which gave them to possibility of winning up to €5,000.

This is the second Sustainable Development Essay Competition organised by Vinyl 2010, following the success of the first Essay Competition, which ran in 2007-08. The Vinyl 2010 Essay Competition is clear evidence of the European PVC industry’s commitment to sustainability beyond process and products as the industry engages in dialogue, education and an active exchange of views.

The competition is supported by a partnership of a number of European Universities, NGO’s, student organisations and new media outlets and this year for the first time was open to 18-30 year olds not just from Europe but from around the globe with one prize winner first hearing about the competition while studying in Kenya.   

Winner of the European-area prize, Jon Elms, stresses the importance of this initiative: ‘A competition like this can really make a difference. It is a great way to get people who would not necessarily be dwelling on these issues to think about, and explain, their ideas on sustainable development. Without the competition, this would not have taken place.’

Other winning essays approached the subject from the perspective of ‘building community and developing organisational relations across sectors, supply chains and nations’, as well as moving ‘towards a more efficient and less wasteful society.'

Second-prize winner from Europe, Fiona Wright ‘found the question intriguing, in that it addresses both what we want and the constraints that limit us’.  She believes ‘that the question inspires creativity, which also appealed to me.'  

Third- prize winner Rob McSweeney was particularly attracted to the Essay Competition’s potential to inspire creative thinking. He says the Essay Competition ‘certainly got people’s imagination going, which is great. The quality of the essays hopefully points us to a better future, if some of these people can get into positions of power, where they will be able to implement their ideas. Many of the ideas were particularly innovative.'

In fact, all of the prize winners are convinced that initiatives like the Vinyl 2010 Essay Competition can make a difference in the wider world. Fiona Wright insists: ‘It is good to be asking these questions, thinking about these important issues. The younger generation, the next generation down, are better at thinking outside the box. If their ideas can be communicated to the older generation, the decision makers, then initiatives like this can definitely make a difference. It is important for mainstream players in society to engage with youth on these crucial questions. They need to be engaged in a concrete way and not just be seen as being on the fringes of environmental debates.’

Elms’ winning essay challenges the ability of centralised institutions and production methods to deal with these problems and adapt. He notes: ‘You have to remember that a centralised approach to food production and distribution is relatively new, its 100 years old at the most. Prior to this we did not have a problem.’

Both participants and organisations admit to being thrilled by the unprecedented success of the Vinyl 2010 Essay Competition on Sustainable Development. Secretary General of Vinyl 2010 Jean-Pierre de Grève noted: ‘The interest shown by so many contestants in this year’s competition is simply overwhelming. We are delighted to see the willingness of this age group to offer solutions to some of the most important issues facing our world.’

Once the essays were received, they were assessed by a preliminary and a final judging panel. The final judging panel for both the European and for the global prizes was chaired by Nadine Gouzée, Head of the Sustainable Development Task Force, Federal Planning Bureau, Belgium. The panel was made up of sustainable development experts from government, NGO’s, academia and the media. The Special Industry Prize category was judged by representatives from Vinyl 2010 and sustainable development experts from the European PVC Industry.

According to the judging panel chair Nadine Gouzée, this year’s essays were ‘more action- and activity-orientated. The young people seemed more motivated, more involved with the specific questions.’

‘There is a better selection of good essays, with a wider range of positions and approaches,’ affirms Gouzée.

Ole Grøndhal Hansen, Chair of the special industry prize, concurs: ‘Many of the essays taught me a lot about the interrelation and connection between energy and food shortages.'

‘It was important to have a special industry prize,’ Hansen continues. ‘The industry judges were more interested in essays that explored the scientific and technical solutions, rather than the social responses. We felt it was important to make the point that industry can contribute to solving the problems of sustainability, rather than being perceived as part of the problem.’

Undoubtedly, the Essay Competition generated a great deal of activity in the virtual communications world. ‘The Vinyl 2010 Essay Competition is a great forum for vital and creative debate on how society needs to address sustainable development issues. It is inspiring to see how engaged and enthusiastic young people can be when discussing our future and the kind of future we seek,’ notes Gouzée.

Even after the Essay Competition reached its conclusion, there is still ongoing online dialogue on the many aspects of sustainable development raised by the essayists.

It is clearly not a case of young people visiting the website once and then dictating their solutions. There is clear evidence that individuals came back again and again to either explain a position or to set out the reasons behind their arguments.

According to Hansen, ‘All the essays appear to take a global approach to the problem, recognising globalisation as the nature of the world we live in. They have a global consciousness and they all agree that the problem is mainly about inequality, in that some societies have much less than they need and others clearly have more than enough.’

Gouzée notes that those essayists ‘who took a more local approach envisaged change being achieved through the actions of citizens in their local communities, with the emphasis on local solutions. Technological and macro-economic solutions were largely offered by those seeking global, large-scale approaches to tackle these issues’.

‘It is important to listen to what young people have to say,' concludes Hansen. ‘They are the new generation, the future, so it is important to hear what they think about the current situation, to see how they see the world.'

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