The press may howl the politicians take stands and the consumers wonder but the chemistry needed for life isn’t going away.

The chemical market from the raw material producer to the end user all have a need for standards, the way things are described and disclosed so decisions can be made.

Chemical companies and manufacturers want to be able to select greener starting materials and use cleaner chemical processes to make environmentally preferred products. But there are no authoritative marketplace criteria to identify green, greener, or greenest. And for those who think they are green, there’s uncertainty over the best way to communicate the supporting information.

The answer is a comprehensive voluntary industry standard that enables everyone from raw material suppliers and manufacturers to retail consumers and policymakers to exchange common information in a standard format on the environmental performance of chemical products and processes.

Neil Hawkins, Dow Chemical’s vice president of sustainability and environmental health and safety puts it this way quoted in Chemical Engineering News, “There is a hunger in the marketplace for reliable, consistent, compelling information on which to base greener, more sustainable choices. Chemical companies need a life-cycle view – greenhouse gases, water, energy, renewables, waste reduction, recyclability – that encompasses all parts of the supply chain. A standard is needed that provides guidance on the different types of data required, who should be publishing the data, in what form, and in what quality, so that you end up with a robust decision-making apparatus that will allow businesses and consumers to make fair comparisons and better choices.”

Standards already exist in many chemical fields and the most likely a consumer will see is a product ecolable or warning.  There might even be a recycled content label.  But the task across the whole chemistry field isn’t complete.

To that end, the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute (GCI) is spearheading an effort to create the Greener Chemical Products & Processes Standard. This standard will provide data to allow anyone to evaluate the relative environmental performance of chemical products and their manufacturing technologies.

GCI Director Robert Peoples says, “We are building a multiattribute, consensus-based standard with third-party verification that a company can certify against to say that it has a greener product or manufacturing process than a competing product or a technology that it aims to replace.”

Nearly 60 participants, including stakeholders from chemical companies, academia, trade groups, federal and state agencies, and nongovernmental organizations, are providing a balance of opinions to help establish the standard, Peoples adds.

NSF International, a global expert in standards development, is administering the process. The end goal is to have the standard issued by the American National Standards Institute. A draft of the standard is nearly complete and is expected to be released for public comment over the summer. The plan is to have final approval by the end of the year.

The basis for the strategy of “informed substitution” is based on selecting chemical products that are fully assessed, have low hazard, and provide life-cycle benefits. The effort to develop the standard comes from green chemistry initiatives already in place. A primary example is the Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program, which encourages collaborative efforts between companies and environmental groups to screen chemicals and promote use of safer materials.

The EPA’s staff develops DfE protocols for conducting screens of alternative chemicals based on threshold values for human and aquatic toxicity, bioaccumulation, persistence, and other parameters. Products that contain ingredients posing the least concern among chemicals in their class earn DfE certification and the right to use the DfE logo on the product label.

The point of “informed substitution” is to move away from using the most hazardous chemicals.  Inherent in this model is an allowance for continual improvement by obtaining more data and a better understanding of what is greener and more sustainable over time.

Stephen K. Ritter writing in Chemical & Engineering News, a journal of the American Chemical Society has a much longer version of this post available. For those of you with interest in the issues, as this writer is in sustainability, recyclability, and contaminates that will always be issues life on Earth is going to have to stay abreast of, Ritter’s article is a great place to start.  Its link rich for getting the deeper details.

Its fair to say the standards, like it or not, are coming.  One might also hope that imports would also be subject to the standard as lead paint on kid’s toys is something that never ever should happen.

Fuels are going to migrate to more bio content.  As we’re seeing now some interesting compounds would blend and substitute fossil oil.  Many products for energy gathering an storage will use chemicals in manufacturing that should be well marked.  Human ingenuity is getting so sophisticated that some form of map about the components involved needs to be available.

The American chemical industry needs lauded for the effort and the result.  Manmade chemical compounds can be nasty, as can biological compounds.  But when industrial scale is involved the volumes and concentrations become a concern.  The safer chemical product production can get – the better.  Over time perhaps man can do better than biology.

Knowledge makes doing better possible and standards go far to spreading the knowledge and making it useable for more people to do more things.


3 Comments so far

  1. Angel Baluyut on May 21, 2010 4:41 AM

    Well at least this chemical companies are thinking of ways to become a little bit like those green companies are

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