Sustainability Sustains Momentum

Sept. 24, 2014
Drivers for use of renewable materials differ markedly between producers and users

The quest to improve the sustainability of chemical manufacturing takes many forms. Indeed, our recent cover story “Sustainability Gets the Spotlight,” highlighted some novel approaches. Now, a new survey underscores that chemical makers and their customers continue to move toward more sustainable products. Among its key findings: 72% of manufacturers already offer more sustainable versions of chemicals or plan to do so within two years; 80% of their customers show the same or higher interest in sustainable chemicals compared to a year ago; and 75% of chemicals users have started to market products made with more sustainable chemicals or expect to within two years.
Commissioned by Genomatica, San Diego, a company that develops and licenses bio-based processes to produce chemicals, and conducted by ICIS, London, the survey, published in September, is the third such one since 2009. It drew 958 responses, the largest number ever — in fact, 30% more than the last survey, in 2012. Inputs came both from chemical manufacturers and their customers. More than half of the respondents (53%) held senior positions such as CEO, vice president or general manager. Europe accounted for 24% of respondents and North America 22%, compared to 40% and 27%, respectively, in the last survey. In contrast, a higher level of respondents came from South East Asia (17% versus 10% in 2012) and the Middle East (10% versus 5%).

The most common sustainability initiative is process improvement, e.g., reducing energy use or waste, which was cited by 71% of respondents. It was followed by initiatives for reducing or eliminating toxic chemicals (noted by 42%), using or boosting the level of recycled raw materials (40%) and including or increasing renewables’ content in materials (37%).

People at chemical manufacturers accounted for 39% of respondents — 13% were at specialty chemical makers, 12% at commodity chemical producers, 10% at polymer manufacturers, and 4% at fine chemical and intermediate makers — compared to 55% in 2012.

Key factors when considering renewables-based production are customer demand, which was cited by 96% of respondents from chemical makers as very important (68%) or moderately important (28%), safer operations (68%/26%), minimal impact on downstream products and customers (64%/32%) and reduced operating cash cost of production (61%/34%).

Less than half of the respondents at chemical makers (43%) foresee a long-term economic advantage in switching to renewable feedstocks; 29% don’t know whether there will be an advantage.

In contrast, the main factors that consumers of chemicals said affect their consideration of using renewable-based chemicals are minimal impact on product performance or characteristics, which was cited by 96% as very important or moderately important (74%/22%), ability to differentiate products in the marketplace (92% — 61%/31%), customer demand (91% — 60%/31%), potential performance advantage (94% — 55%/39%), minimal impact on processes and facilities (94% — 53%/41%), comparable costs to currently used materials (95% — 52%/43%) and smaller environmental footprint (90% — 46%/44%).

Interest of users in sourcing renewable versions was most pronounced for specialty chemicals (cited by 52%) and polymers (48%).

When asked which developers of technology for sustainable chemicals came to mind, more respondents (32%) picked BASF, followed by Dow (25%), DuPont (21%), Bayer (12%), Genomatica (6%), Shell (5%) and ExxonMobil (5%).

BASF also topped the list of producers of sustainable chemicals that came to mind, cited by 33% of respondents, followed by Dow (28%), DuPont (20%), Bayer (13%), Sabic (6%) and Shell (6%).

BASF also drew the highest ranking when respondents were queried about their overall impression of companies with regard to sustainability. It got very positive marks from 44% of respondents and fairly positive marks from 47%. DuPont came in second (40% and 45%, respectively), closely followed by Genomatica (37%/50%). Dow received very positive ratings from 37% and fairly positive from 43% but also tallied the highest number of negative marks (17% fairly negative and 4% very negative). Bayer got very positive ratings from 36% and fairly positive ratings from 53%.

MARK ROSENZWEIG, Editor in Chief of Chemical Processing, can be e-mailed at [email protected].

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