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The goal is to achieve sustainability through innovative chemistry by 2050.
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According to an old German saying, better is the enemy of good. But in most cases it’s really the other way around. It’s very hard to replace a long-established solution with a better one. Far too often, inertia wins out. That also applies to technologies that are already mature enough to make our daily lives much more resource-efficient and sustainable. However, a joint initiative of leading chemical companies is about to change all that. Reaching Full Potential (RFP) is the name of their initiative, which is led by Evonik Industries together with AkzoNobel, DSM, and Solvay. The working group includes eight other chemical companies as well as the European and international sector associations. All of these entities are members of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the most important global industrial organization of its Kind.
The "full potential" aimed at by the initiative refers to the sustainability that can be achieved with the toolkit of the chemical industry—and the specialty chemicals segment in particular. The goal is to get downstream industries on board so that the market launch of innovations can be speeded up. Where should this initiative begin? The partner companies want to start with themselves. In an initial step, they have developed common standards for making their own impacts on the climate and the environment transparent and comparable.
What emissions are generated along our value chain, and where? Which environmental factors do our products affect directly, which ones indirectly? All of these questions and more have to be answered if a company wants to honestly represent and convincingly market an innovation’s utility for people and the environment. A new set of guidelines developed jointly by the RFP partners is helping companies with these efforts.
After a company has calculated its own environmental performance, it has to publicize the arguments concerning its own products’ advantages for the climate and the environment. This is where two other RFP guidelines come into play. How should one measure the prevention—in other words, the absence—of CO2 emissions? What assumptions are appropriate? A house that is insulated with state-of-the-art materials from Evonik saves on heating energy and thus lowers its CO2 emissions. But is it fair to compare this house with an uninsulated house from the 1950s? Or with a moderately insulated house from the 1970s? There are RFP guidelines for that as well. For example, the objects to be compared must correspond to an average that is customary in the trade and they must be currently available on the market. And here too, their effects are observed across the entire lifetime of the product—from the extraction of the raw materials to the product’s disposal or recycling. RFP's next guideline will also make the social effects of products and technologies measurable and comparable—and thus provide further arguments to help "better" win out over "good" in the end.