“Safer Chemistry” Gains Ground

June 10, 2015
Report foresees strong growth but counsels a change in product development strategy

A recently issued report, “Making the Business & Economic Case for Safer Chemistry,” concludes that the worldwide market for safer chemicals will grow 24 times faster than that of chemicals in general from 2011–2020, with a wide variety of product sectors driving demand. Avoiding the potential financial downsides, e.g., loss of market share, accident costs and regulatory fines, of staying with conventional products will provide another strong incentive for a switch to making safer materials, the report adds.


The American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), Washington, D.C., and the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3), Lowell, Mass., commissioned a consulting firm that specializes in environmental economics, Trucost, London, to assess the potential business and economic value of “safer chemistry.” Such chemistry, note the groups, encompasses reducing the use and generation of hazardous substances, lowering the human-health and environmental impacts of processes and products, as well as creating safer products. The research included interviews with 17 industry experts at a diverse range of companies, e.g., chemical makers Akzo Nobel, Elevance Renewable Sciences, NatureWorks, Sigma-Aldrich and Solazyme, retailers Best Buy and Walmart, and health-services provider Kaiser Permanente, among others. It also involved review of literature and available data on the business and economic opportunities that safer chemistry affords as well as the risks posed by not adopting such chemistry. While the research focused on the situation in the U.S., the basic conclusions apply worldwide, the report stresses.

Overall, the research found that while adoption of safer chemistry is growing strongly, actions generally are reactive and relate to specific situations. The report urges companies to become proactive in research and substitution, and not to wait until legislation or public or shareholder activism forces such moves. In addition, it notes that specialty chemical makers, niche chemical formulators and small businesses potentially can play a key role in innovation.

The report offers six recommendations:

1. Companies that haven’t yet evaluated the individual business cases for safer chemistry in their product portfolios should do so.

2. Systematic and regular tracking and communicating of metrics related to business and economic opportunities and risk are needed to build public awareness and corporate uptake of safer chemistry. Government agencies should bolster their efforts to track and project job growth trends related to safer chemistry.

3. Quantifying and communicating to policymakers, investors and stakeholders the societal benefits, e.g., to health and the environment, at an industry-wide scale are necessary.

4. Safer chemistry initiatives should focus on product segments or industry sectors where chemicals provide a large portion of the overall market value. Companies, industry associations and government agencies should focus more attention on shared objectives through cooperative communications and research. Stakeholders should explore with investors opportunities and mechanisms to boost capital available for safer chemistry projects.

5. More consistent metrics and precise terminology are essential to avoid confusion about what safer chemistry is and the value it can provide. Companies should strive to quantify and monetize the value of safer chemistry in cross-sector communications, research and publications.

6. More specific market research on potential job growth and revenue opportunities for particular product segments, especially cosmetics and beauty, cleaning products and health care, and industry sectors is required. Measuring and reporting data on capital flows and job growth, both current and potential, could help spur industry change.

The entire report is downloadable at http://bit.ly/ASBCSaferChemicalsReport.

The ASBC and GC3 intend to use the research to make the case for safer chemistry to a variety of parties, including chemical companies and government policymakers.

MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can email him at [email protected].

About the Author

Mark Rosenzweig | Former Editor-in-Chief

Mark Rosenzweig is Chemical Processing's former editor-in-chief. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' magazine Chemical Engineering Progress. Before that, he held a variety of roles, including European editor and managing editor, at Chemical Engineering. He has received a prestigious Neal award from American Business Media. He earned a degree in chemical engineering from The Cooper Union. His collection of typewriters now exceeds 100, and he has driven a 1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk for more than 40 years.

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