The blog has been in the USA this week, speaking at the bi-annual Global Coatings Summit. Coatings sales are worth $75bn globally, and are a key market for chemicals.
Interestingly, much of the discussion centred around sustainability. In spite of the downturn, it is clear that consumers are now very focused on carbon footprint as an issue, and have moved beyond simple compliance issues, such as the removal of lead, solvent-free coatings etc.
Sherwin-Williams CEO, Chris Connor, highlighted major problems in the USA of “over-leveraged consumers and businesses” and “unsustainable government spending“. Whilst Akzo Nobel CEO, Hans Wijers, noted that the world is currently consuming at a rate of 1.4 times the plant’s replacement ability. He suggested this represented a major opportunity, as well as a challenge, for the industry, and outlined a number of potential new types of ‘offerings’, including:
• Seasonally-responsive coatings, to reduce energy consumption in buildings
• Self-repairing coatings, that would reduce the need to repaint
• Increasing recycle rates by developing ‘release on command’ molecules
• Solar energy conversion products for roofing and glazing
These would build on successes in the marine and aviation coatings field, where current paints reduce energy consumption by 5-10% in ships and planes.
Wijers added that it was “easy to talk about these ideas, but difficult to do them“. He suggested a move towards global standards, monitored by a body such as the WTO (World Trade Organisation), would help to build momentum.
His points were reinforced by Dow Advanced Materials CEO, Jerome Peribere, who argued that “sustainability is the biggest single challenge ever presented to the global chemical industry“. Noting Dow’s development of a binder to remove formaldehyde from air, he suggested there was a $20bn market opportunity for “clean and sustainable innovations” in the coatings field.
Overall, the Summit made clear that companies are now moving beyond their historical focus on products that provide ‘protection’. In the New Normal, the winners will be those who can most contribute towards towards ‘positive enhancement’ of the environment.