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Wednesday, 15 July 2020

No management without measurement: an imperative for those committed to sustainable development

Thursday, 6 March 2014 | Posted by: Tony Mash, TMA Consulting Inc.

We have yet to see many of the sustainable development ideas available to the Coatings Industry actively commercialised. That may seem a rather harsh statement which does not recognise what may be going on under the surface (sorry for the pun). The Sustainable Innovation Award organised by the British Coatings Federation signals the industry’s progress to date and provides some directions for future action and investment.  

Reading about the latest innovations in sustainable development by the chemical and allied industries, it occurs to me that we don’t yet see many of these emerging technologies readily commercialised by the Coatings Industry. What may be going on under the surface has yet to gain the attention of the coatings market place.

Competing in sustainable innovation

Perception is one thing, but what is reality? To address this question, my attention has been drawn to the British Coatings Federation (BCF), the only coatings trade association in the world I am aware of, which runs a competition each year to identify and recognize the company that has made the greatest contribution to sustainable innovation. Last November, the BCF announced the results of the 2013 coveted BCF Sustainable Innovation Award competition which was contested by 12 very different projects.

Four of the competition entries described gate to gate efficiency improvements backed up by capital investment in new formulation plant and machinery. While recognised as an essential first step in any sustainable development process, one might well describe such developments as ‘business as usual’.

Four entrants addressed the recycling of paint containers and waste paint which required coatings companies to reach out beyond their factory gates and work with third parties up and/or downstream. To quote the judges, ‘although these different submissions described how a variety of problems are being addressed, they show in common the necessity of persistent effort over many years; the reality that progress comes from the addition of many small initiatives, and the importance of an informed dialogue with the end-users. There is a real benefit to be won here.’

One company, Crown Paints (part of Hempel), reported that it had progressed its overarching social engagement programme to ensure that staff, customers, local communities and government officials (including the UK Prime Minister) are aware of their sustainability vision and targets. This kind of initiative is being pursued across a widening range of industries and economic sectors around the world.

Enhance your customer's sustainability profile, instead of only sharpening the competiveness of the companies’ offering

The other four entrants had focused on new product developments designed not only to sharpen the competiveness of the companies’ offering but also enhance the sustainability profile of its customers. Two of these four had focused on new ways of meeting current or anticipated regulations. The other two had developed ways of reducing energy usage downstream.  

The award winner in 2013 was Beckers Industrial Coatings with its BeckryTherm coatings system that offers high solar reflectivity and high emissivity coatings for the exterior of large buildings together with an interior coating system that delivers very low emissivity and improved thermal barrier properties within the building envelope. The economic benefit comes in significantly reduced costs for air conditioning and heating buildings and, in terms of the environment, reduced CO₂ emissions.

The BCF’s independent judges explained that they were, and I quote, ‘impressed by the size of the achieved energy savings described in this submission (some 20% energy savings claimed). Dedicated R & D for the product development, coupled with the use of dynamic thermal simulation modelling of structures, had produced a technology that is finding increasing application around the globe.  The Company had persevered in solving a multitude of technical issues to produce a portfolio of solutions, and combined them with clear and compelling communications to the market place.  There is reason to believe that these first steps will open up a broad range of opportunities for extensions of this current generation of products.’ Praise indeed!

Raw material impact could counterbalance sustainability benefits downstream

My one note of caution is that, as far as product development is concerned, one is left in the dark concerning the constituents of new coatings products. We do not know whether raw materials with high environmental impacts have been used in the new formulations which could counterbalance the sustainability benefits downstream. This brings me back to the essentiality of the kind of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) that CEPE has been instrumental in promoting, supported by its database and LCA software designed specifically for the Coatings Industry. Put another way, when it comes to Sustainability as with most improvement processes, you can’t manage if you can’t measure.

We are still a distance away from assessing these products from cradle to grave but, without doubt, the Beckers system represents an exciting step in the right direction.  It demonstrates how to expand the sustainability envelope beyond the factory gates; an example worth emulating in other applications across the Coatings Industry.    

Tony Mash

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