Renewable Materials Support UN Sustainability Goals
In September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The core of this Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goas (also known as SDGs), which focus on treating all people equally, without discrimination. However, there is also a strong sustainability and health, safety and environment theme in the SDGs that are increasingly important to key stakeholders and corporate strategy.
Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being
Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Goal 13: Climate Action
As a result of the Paris Agreement (COP21 UN Climate Change Conference December 2015) responsible manufacturers have made strong initiatives to reduce the use of fossil fuels, migrating to renewable raw materials and clean energy sources. The goal is to become net-zero greenhouse gas emitters. The chemical industry has escalated awareness for climate change, resulting in their participation in reducing the release of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. There is also a drive toward a more circular economy with the use of renewable and recycled raw materials.
How can the chemical industry contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
1. Increase the use of bio-renewable materials
The replacement of fossil-based materials with plant-based materials has great impact on each of these SDGs. The development of biotechnology over the past decade enables the industry to explore direct replacements for biobased mono and diacids, in addition to ecofriendly solvents and biobased resins. Many of these are made from sugar, corn or other by-products and can be used as drop-in replacements. There are many biobased solvents, surfactants, defoamers, plasticizers and other resins available on the market, many of which are also biodegradable or compostable.
2. Replacement of harmful materials
Regulations including REACH, TSCA and other regulations strive to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks posed by chemicals. The focus of these regulations is to increase the restricted use of more hazardous substance, lowering volatile organic compounds, and encourage substitution and the development of less harmful replacements. Many of these materials are based on plant-based feedstocks.
3. Reduction of energy usage in manufacturing
Many industries, especially those related to infrastructure, require high temperature or energy intensive manufacturing. Radiation cure systems increase speed of cure and productivity. The coatings industry has been a leader in developing materials that use LED lamps for radiation curing and low temperature powder coating systems. Even new infrared-reflective pigments reduce building temperatures by reflecting more the sun’s radiation, lowering energy bills. All these alight with UN SDGs. Renewable energy sources including those based on biofuels, greatly improve our carbon footprint.
4. Less waste
Sustainability initiatives also include reduction, reuse and recycling of materials or upcycling them into higher value products. Manufacturing materials to extend the product life-cycle also results in less waste, reserving or natural resources and reducing energy.
In conclusion, the chemical industry has already made tremendous progress toward developing products that reduce the impact on health and the environment. Future products will be highly focused on renewable raw materials and fuels. The scientist developing new biobased materials will face several barriers including fundamental research, applications development, piloting and scale-up. As many companies aspire to become net-zero by 2030, we will witness some of the greatest industry development of our time.