27 September 2005 15:54 [Source: ICIS news]
By Nigel Davis
VIENNA (ICIS news)--Chemical producers, no matter how far upstream, cannot avoid the critical issues of industry reputation and awareness.
A refreshingly open and wide ranging debate at the European Petrochemical Association (EPCA) meeting in Vienna on Tuesday opened more avenues for thought for delegates willing or able because of their meeting schedules to stay the course. The talk was of chemicals and who needs them. The answers were hardly trite.
Society needs chemicals but at the same time chemical producers have to engage. There is good and bad in this business as there is elsewhere. Chemical companies may rail against greater command and control of their sector but looming over the horizon is the need for better mechanisms for chemicals control. Such mechanisms were discussed at the international level at the United Nations's SAICM (Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management) meeting last week. The world needs good chemicals but not bad. A deeper understanding of the risks posed by some these substances is vitally important.
In a competitive, multi-trade environment, control mechanisms ideally would be economically and technically mobile. The industry understands as much and needs to be proactive in ensuring as far as possible that they are.
In this widespread arena, that embraces the environmental, health and safety aspects of chemicals production and use, companies benefit from saying more, not less. Particularly, they need to speak out, not so much in defence of the status quo, but to raise awareness of what might be.
Chemistry and the chemical industry have helped shape our daily lives. They will continue to do so. The clarion call is for development in a more sustainable and environmentally benign way.
We hear this message time and again and companies are doing a great deal to address key concerns about products, processes, emissions and energy use. The point is, however, that they have to do more. It is more than disconcerting that the members of SOCMA (the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association) agreed this month to step away from the chemical industry’s flagship Responsible Care programme. The message here is that the sector probably needs something new through which to advance its thinking on sustainable development.
One of the impressive panel of EPCA speakers today said he couldn’t understand why the industry is not much more into substitution. He believes a narrow interpretation of costs is the enemy.
Indeed, isn’t it about time that more work was done on the environmental footprint of the sector? Just what is it extracting from this planet, for what purposes and at what cost? Industry funds, channelled through the regional chemical associations and their global counterpart, would be well spent promoting greater awareness of just what it is the chemical industry does and what its benefits to society are.
If the sector supports innovation, as so many of its member companies say it does, then new ways have to be found to open up the great chemicals debate. Putting the industry firmly on the map as a provider of essential products is a step in the right direction. Beyond that, so much more needs to be done to engage with supporters and detractors alike and to try to determine what needs to be done to develop more sustainable chemistries.
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