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Sustainable Products and their Benefits
Sustainable products, in present time, are the first and foremost focus area for chemical manufacturers across the world. The onus is not only on manufacturers, but retailers, suppliers of goods along with government authorities, other organisations and end consumers also has a big role to play. Santhosh Jayaram, Technical Director, Advisory - Climate Change and Sustainability, KPMG in India, writes*.

Booming consumerism brings with it opportunities and threats which have far reaching impacts. The opportunities for businesses are resulting in a threat to the finite planet where we live. The present form of capitalism describes progress as ¬more things produced and sold . The Gross National Product (GNP), an important measure of economic growth, is the sum total of goods and services produced by a given society in a given year. While it is very difficult to change our consumption patterns, especially with products that have planned or perceived obsolescence, it will be necessary to do so to protect our planet. This change will require a wide cultural shift and we will have to be aware of the resulting economic shift that will go with it. If we do not address the impact associated with high level of consumerism, we might be stuck on a path of depleting resources from which we won t be able to return.

Increasing pressure is being felt by multiple stakeholders to reduce the impact associated with global consumption. While reducing consumption requires a large social and cultural change, planning the life cycle of products responsibly and producing goods in a more sustainable manner require action that is feasible and economical. Retailers, manufacturers and suppliers of goods along with Government authorities, other organisations and end consumers are all responsible for the sustainability of global product production, use and disposal.

Sustainable products provide environmental, social and economic benefits over their entire life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials to their reuse and until their final disposal. Today, more and more companies are making commitments to source raw materials that have been certified by voluntary standards systems according to social and environmental criteria. Retail chains are joining hands to promote sustainable products to their customers who in turn are responding by starting to purchase products with these labels.

The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), an organisation of participants from across the globe promotes responsible products and services and influences consumption pattern. They are involved in developing tools to measure and report on the sustainability of products and conduct surveys to study leading practices thereby influencing decision makers. They are looking into increasing the information available to the end consumers on topics such as life cycle assessments and sustainability of products. This partnership helps enhance supply network efficiency and cost/liability management. It helps consumers get access to a wider repertoire of products that are sustainable, will last longer and will be better for the planet. Some of their members are the American Chemistry Council, BASF, BAYER, Cargill, The Clorox Company, DOW, Monsanto and Unilever. The main aim of this consortium is to work together to develop an approach that drives better understanding, standardisation, and informed decision making.

REACH is the European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use (EC 1907/2006). It deals with the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances. Its aim is to improve the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the intrinsic properties of chemical substances and to promote innovation into safer products.

There are large number of substances that that are manufactured and marketed without much information on their effects and hazards to both our bodies and the planet. This forms one of the core reasons behind the formation of REACH. This might be a front runner for other regulations and Indian authorities may consider introducing more stringent checks in line with REACH on the chemical industry in the future.

The Chemical Industry sector plays an important role in making products sustainable as these products play an essential role in every walk of life. The industry has responded to stakeholder concerns by increasing the resource and energy efficiencies. Green chemistry reduces or eliminates the use or generation of hazardous substances from chemical products and processes. Green chemistry improves upon all types of chemical products and processes by reducing impacts on human health and the environment relative to competing technologies. Leaders in the field are focusing on innovation and new technologies to develop sustainable solutions for society as a whole, some examples of which are given below.

Dow aims to increase the percentage of sales for products which would highly benefit from sustainable chemistry by 2015. They aim to report on their overall annual assessment of the sustainable chemistry index and promote sustainable chemistry internationally through student prizes and Dow employee awards under ¬The Dow Sustainability Innovation Challenge Award  program. They also aim to publish product safety assessments for all products by 2015 covering topics such as basic hazards, use, risk and risk management.

BASF has in place an eco-efficiency analysis whose aim is to compare similar products or processes. A study of alternative solutions is undertaken to include total cost and ecological impacts over the entire life cycle in this analysis. This analysis helps BASF, BASF s customers, and customers  customers to decide which products are the best choice both ecologically and economically. Eco-efficiency analysis can also be used to identify ways to make improvements in terms of environmental impact and cost.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) also takes a lead in promoting green chemistry. The Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge was established to recognise and promote innovative chemical technologies that prevent pollution and have broad applicability in industry. It recognises chemical technologies that incorporate the principles of green chemistry into chemical design, manufacture, and use.

Individuals and NGO s are also affecting change to sustainable products through campaigns on social media directly influencing consumers. These organisations employ innovative means of communication geared at changing consumption patterns and informing end users through videos, messages and interactive web-pages. A popular web-site called the story of stuff provides consumers with information on a variety of products from cosmetics to electronics. The ¬story of stuff  has over 15 million views and is one of the most watched environmentalthemed online movies of all time.

A wide range of product standards exist or are under development and reflect different approaches to product assurance. They all aim to build trust on products but differ mainly in terms of scope. For the most part, their focus is on specific sustainability-related topics of interest to stakeholders. For example 100 per cent natural, carbon neutral, recycled, product from sustainable forest, fair treatment of suppliers/producers, no animal testing etc. Some of the product certification schemes that may be of interest to chemical industry will be Carbon Trust, GREENGAURD, Cradle to Cradle, GREEN SEAL, Energy Star, Water Sense etc.

India has an Eco Mark program which is a Government operated seal of approval for environmentally preferable consumer products. To increase consumer awareness, the Government of India launched the eco-labelling scheme which is known as 'Ecomark' in 1991 for easy identification of environmentally friendly products.

The criterion follows a cradle-to-grave approach, i.e. from raw material extraction, to manufacturing, and to disposal. The Ecomark label is awarded to consumer goods that meet the specified environmental criteria and the quality requirements of Indian Standards.

The Cradle to grave approach is the traditional life cycle assessment which assesses the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product s life. The destructive qualities of today s cradle-to-grave industrial system can be seen as the result of a fundamental design problem, not the inevitable outcome of consumption and economic activity.

Indeed, good design∑principled design based on the laws of nature∑can transform the making and consumption of things into a regenerative force.

Cradle-to-cradle design follows a biomimetic approach in which product design or human industry is modeled on nature s processes and materials as seen as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms. In the cradle-to-cradle model, all materials used in industrial or commercial processes∑such as metals, fibers, dyes∑fall into one of two categories:  technical  or  biological  nutrients. Both these types have their own benefits and ways of disposal in a regenerative economy and will benefit human health, resource depletion and costs. Within this framework we can create economies that purify air, land, and water, that rely on current solar income and generate no toxic waste, that use safe, healthful materials that replenish the earth or can be perpetually recycled, and that yield benefits that enhance all life. The cradle-to-cradle framework has evolved steadily from theory to practice and in the world of industry it is creating a new conception of materials and material flows.

As the global demand for natural and organic products continues to grow, making and marketing greener products is becoming imperative. The stereotype of green products  sub-par performance has been shattered as large multinational corporations prove that you can develop and win in the marketplace with an earth friendly product platform.

Higher sustainability performance can be a powerful differentiator of ¬Made in India  products, enhancing their reputation and success in sustainability conscious markets.