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Sunday, 27 September 2020

Sustainability Development in the Coatings Industry

Thursday, 6 September 2012 | Posted by: Tony Mash, TMA Consulting Inc.

"The world was not given to you by your parents; it was lent to you by your children."  Kenyan proverb.

A great quote which echoes the definition of Sustainable Development  proposed by the Brundtland Commission in 1987 which strongly influenced the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992 and has now been embodied in many company and trade association Sustainability statements today.

20 years on, the Rio+20 conference has come and gone. Many had hoped to see the conference secure renewed high level commitment to Sustainable Development. The final statement from the conference called for, and I quote from the UN itself: 

‘a wide range of actions, such as beginning the process to establish sustainable development goals; detailing how the green economy can be used as a tool to achieve sustainable development; strengthening the UN Environment Programme (UNEP); promoting corporate sustainability reporting measures; taking steps to go beyond gross domestic product to assess the well-being of a country; developing a strategy for sustainable development financing; and, adopting a framework for tackling sustainable consumption and production’. 

The Blog takes the view that what came out of the conference was aspirational not concrete. The final conference report lacked a sense of urgency at the political level. However, it was fascinating that much of the leadership that came out of the conference was driven from the corporate sector with companies such as Unilever leading the way forward. For example, 86 private companies joined forces with some national governments to support the move to factor the value of natural assets like clean air, clean water, forests and other ecosystems into business decision-making and countries systems of national accounting. 

In 2007, the UK retailer Marks and Spencer ( ) launched its Plan A for Sustainable Development and coined the phrase ‘We don’t think there is a Plan B for the one planet we have’. The company committed itself to a long term journey of change to become a fully sustainable company and provided a glowing example for others to follow. So, where do we stand in the Coatings Industry on our long-term journey? 

Like many industries, the Coatings Industry has made a good start, and the language of Sustainability is used widely in the annual reports and press statements of companies across the world. AkzoNobel is a corporation that has made a very public commitment to Sustainability, and vies with DSM as to which company leads the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index for chemicals ( ). 

The shortages of raw materials in 2008-2010 were a wake-up call for many, emphasised the finite nature of the world’s resources and forced all companies in the Coatings Industry to review their raw material purchasing strategies and consider renewable sources. Several very large downstream customers, particularly in the Architectural Coatings sector, have insisted that the products they purchase demonstrate improved sustainability properties and characteristics.  In Europe, there is increasing momentum behind legislation in this area with a requirement coming ever closer to develop and publish Environmental Product Declarations  (EPDs) on chemicals to communicate with downstream users.    

Actions, however, speak louder than words, and this Blog intends to track the progress of the Coatings Industry on its own Sustainability journey, raise issues for debate and recognise successes in delivering practical improvements and innovations that move the industry forward on its journey. 

If you feel that the Blog has underrated the progress made at Rio+20, or would like to see recognition for other sustainable innovations and developments that have taken place in the Coatings Industry, please write to the Blog and share your views and any good news you may have!

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