INSIGHT: Chemical industry lifts profile in EU sustainability debate

11 May 2012 15:33  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS)--Does the European chemical industry need to raise its game in its dealings with the EU?

Burdened by some of the highest costs globally and a tough regulatory environment, it seems so.

Life could get a lot worse, so the institutions that represent chemical players have been charged with taking the message more clearly to Brussels and Strasbourg, the seats of EU bureaucracy and the European parliament.

To chime with the EU’s sustainability ideals, trade federation Cefic this week launched the sector’s first ever Europe-wide sustainability report.

It is full of fine words and aspirations but importantly provides a set of accessible base-line data from which clear arguments about the contribution sector companies can make to sustainable development can be made.

“We have a good track record when it comes to sustainability, and remain committed to programmes like Responsible Care,” Cefic’s Sustainability Strategy Group chairman, Carl Van Camp, said.

“We are a partner in ensuring that the Reach chemicals legislation works and stand ready to have a lead role in EU-led public-private projects such as key enabling technologies.” The latter refers to the public-private partnerships that are seen by Brussels as the way to drive applications-oriented research and product development.

“The report serves as a starting point in developing a sustainability framework for the European chemicals industry, a project the Cefic board tasked its Sustainability Strategy Group to put forward this year,” the trade group said in a statement.  

“Sustainability is about a mindset change in the way we work and high tech products the chemicals industry makes,” Cefic president, Giorgio Squinzi said.

In Europe, chemical producers find themselves locked in to a higher tech future, not having the feedstock cost advantages or the market growth opportunities open to other regions.

Europe’s stagnant economies and pressured manufacturing industries hardly make it the best place to produce or sell chemicals but the region still commanded in 2010 21% of the global chemicals market by sales.

The trouble is that this standing continues to be diminished as producers in other parts of the world reap the benefits of feedstock and cost advantages and market growth. The Cefic data show that Europe's chemicals market share has slipped from 36.6% in 1991. Other regions have attracted an increasingly higher proportion of sector investment.

For years, chemical producers have sought to right-size European operations to fit market demand but it is performance that drives future investment.

“We can help ensure a sustainable future by working with stakeholders, having a well-trained workforce in place, and through strong business performance that attracts further investments,” Squinzi said.

“We are in no doubt that sustainability is not an option but an absolute necessity, not only for the European chemical industry, but for all businesses and society as a whole,” Cefic says in its report.

“We hope that this report will stimulate a genuine dialogue on what can be achieved if we leverage joint strengths in industry, academia, government and society at large.”

The big sustainability issues, which have to do with water, energy, raw materials and, as Cefic says, more broadly, resource efficiency, are directly relevant to chemical players.

The market and product opportunities that sustainable development represents are becoming much more widely recognised.

Persuading bureaucrats and politicians that chemical producers in Europe can be part of the solution to wide-reaching sustainability challenges rather than part of the problem is a key task for sector representatives.

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Nigel Davis
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