Sustainability: Companies are engaged

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It’s interesting to watch the progress chemical and other firms are making in developing “greener” products and processes while Congress is going backwards in doing something about carbon emissions and reducing our dependency on fossil fuels. While any government action on a carbon tax or cap-and-trade agreement seems far away, and some politicians deny that greenhouse gases are even harmful, many companies  are well along on programs relating to “sustainability”.

Wikipedia definition: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This requires “the reconciliation of environmental, social and economic demands – the ‘three pillars of sustainability'”.

A recent cover story in Chemical Week (October 24/31, 2011 Pp. 29-33) covers a number of actions a group of chemical firms are taking to develop sustainability-advantaged products. Interestingly, the driving forces are consumer attitudes and demands on the one hand coupled with the fact that there are frequently no economic penalties to make “green” products that have little or no disadvantages in use relative to conventional  products made from hydrocarbons.

Companies are also reducing the “carbon footprint” of their operations, setting targets (often very substantial) for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Life cycle analysis (LCA) is now broadly used to track and understand the total carbon balance of manufacturing processes. Some companies, such as Mohawk Paper claim that some of their products are now actually carbon neutral, a combination, for example, of using biomass raw materials and wind turbines for power needs.  Here are some other examples taken from the Chemweek article:

–   Procter & Gamble in 2010 achieved, between 2007 and 2010, a reduction of 16% in energy consumjption, 57% in waste generation, 12% in CO2 emissions and 22% in water usage
–   Dupont products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated $ 1.6 billion in sales in 2010. In that year, the firm also generated $ 7.7 billion in sales of products made from renewable resources.
–   DSM claims that about 87% of new products launched in the first half of 2011 had superior environmental performance and competitive edge over existing products and services.

Companies are also working closely with their customers to help them improve their operations in the name of sustainability – again leading to better economics and “greener” manufacturing operations.

I will be doing more posts on biofuels and carbon capture in the near future.

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3 Responses to Sustainability: Companies are engaged

  1. Nigel Davis says:

    This from BASF’s new strategy report, released this week:
    “Growth opportunities for the chemical industry come from sustainability. We will increase resource efficiency in our production processes and also offer products and solutions to help our customers reduce their use of resources. The same applies for renewables as raw materials. The chemical industry will use them where it makes ecological and economic sense. We will also offer products that help to make use of renewables possible in other industries. And we will continue to expand our dialogue with our stakeholders.”
    There are real opportunities here for cost (and resource) reduction and for the development of new businesses.
    BASF reckons that sustainability combined with innovation is the growth driver for much of its business.
    The challenge is to turn sustainability concepts into a business plan, its CEO Kurt Bock said.

  2. Andrew says:

    As a junior majoring in chemical engineering, from my perspective it still seems like the vast majority of companies are looking into “greener” products or production methods simply for the public image aspect. While this will always be a large contributing factor for many years, I feel like we need to continue to focus on making these greener techniques not simply equal in cost, but significantly lower to the point that companies see significant financial gains by switching from their old ways. I believe that it will only be at this point that drastic changes can and will take place across the board in all sectors of production.

  3. Peter Spitz says:

    Three points: A number of companies (Dow, DuPont, DSM, etc.) have publicly stated goals to manufacture a certain percentage of products from renewable raw materials by a certain date. This seems to be happening. Secondly, the public seems to be willing to pay a bit more for “green” products, because it makes them feel good. Thirdly, companies are finding that with crude oil prices high (over $ 100/barrel) renewable raw materials can provide a less expensive product to make. Huntsman makes fatty-acid-based polyols, detergent alcohols from coconut oil or palm kernel oil are now less expensive than lauric alcohols made from hydrocarbon-based ethylene.

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