15 December 2003 13:38 [Source: ICIS news]
Connecting consumers to chemicals in a positive way is perhaps the real prize for companies making and selling chemicals.
Producers are exposed as never before to scrutiny of not just what they do but what they make and the potential impact of those materials on human health and wellbeing and on the environment.
And this exposure generates an image question: one that cuts to the heart of what it is that drives a company to make chemicals and a profit in the first place.
Ultimately, it will be the consumer who decides whether he or she wants to continue to buy a product, or products that contain substances that have not only been shown to be harmful but also present a measurable risk. The chemicals exposure/risk debate is really only just being joined but it is central to the future of large parts of the sector.
Mike Barry, sustainable development manager at UK-based retailer Marks & Spencer, raises these critical issues in the first edition of Green Chemistry and the Consumer, the newsletter of the UK’s Green Chemistry Network*. Barry is a strong advocate for change in chemicals and progress on key sustainability issues. But working for a big name company on the European high street he knows better than most what drives retailers to demand more of chemicals and of the companies that produce them.
A major challenge, he suggests, is ensuring that the lack of trust in chemicals exhibited by society is not transferred to consumers. Herein lies real danger for the sector.
Consumers still have a confidence in chemicals, or rather perhaps do not associate them with the products they buy but Barry asks whether this disconnect will continue.
It will not if the status quo is maintained. “All of us should fear the day that consumers distrust chemicals in the same way that society does,” Barry says.
Barry acknowledges that so much of the future innovation retailers want to unlock depends on chemistry. Indeed, one of Marks & Spencer’s five high priority sustainability issues is the responsible use of technologies and chemicals.
Good chemistry drives profits for the retailer and its sustainability commitment drives the vitally important connections it sees between decisions made in the high street and at the laboratory bench.
As chemical companies seek to drive growth through a greater focus on customers and on innovation they need to be even more mindful of what consumers want – performance, value and better products.
Barry talks about “great products that are also trusted and engaging”. Good chemistry (which is green chemistry anyway) can link science with consumers and the retailers that act as gatekeepers to them and has an important role to play in the future of the sector.
*The Chemistry Network is based at the University of York in the UK. E-mail Louise Summerton for further details: email@example.com
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