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.