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29. Apr 2015 |

Examples of eco-efficiency and, occasionally, eco-effectiveness at the European Coatings SHOW and CONGRESS

Tony Mash

The recent European Coatings SHOW(ECS) was well attended, reflecting continued confidence of both coatings manufacturers and suppliers that this is an important industry with above average growth prospects for the future.

The technical focus of the ECS reflected consolidation of some of the recent scientific breakthroughs plus incremental improvements in performance and functionality across all types of formulation ingredient. BASF, one of the leading companies in the world when it comes to embracing the principles underlying Sustainability, summed up the message of ECS when it offered in its promotional material ‘a closer look at low VOC, efficiency and extended lifespan’.

Doing things right vs. doing the right things

Professor Michael Braungart, a leading advocate of Sustainable Development and the Regenerative Circular Economy, is on record advising industries and governments to focus on eco-effectiveness (doing the right things) rather than eco-efficiency (doing things right). His challenge to industries such as the Coatings sector is to resist the temptation to focus solely on incremental improvements to existing supply chains from cradle to grave, but take a step back and reshape the ways goods are created and disposed of. At the ECS, DSM underlined the importance of ‘doing the right things’. With its theme ‘Shaping a Sustainable Coatings Industry, Together’, the company invited collaboration up and downstream to gather ideas from all sources and thereby develop ways forward that deliver the most sustainable outcomes in the long term.

A potent route to sustainable development is via the recycle of valuable nutrients in ways that safeguard the environmental, economic and social interests of the world. Many companies claimed ‘green’ credentials through their use of bio-renewable and recycled raw materials in their production processes. This trend was exemplified by Bayer which promoted its new platform for isocyanate manufacture using a corn raw material base which gives it a 70% renewable content. Concerns expressed at the ECS Congress about the variability of recycled raw materials only underlined the need for creativity not only in the selection of suitable technologies but also in rigorous management of supply chains from cradle to grave and back to cradle again.

An eco-effective rather than an eco-efficient development

The potential to cross the boundary into eco-effectiveness was addressed by the keynote speaker, Professor Rolf Mülhaupt of the University of Freiburg. He applauded the growing body of work that is demonstrating how to incorporate carbon dioxide into polymerisation processes, with the potential to produce binders of interest to the Coatings Industry. He also referred to the work announced separately by Nuplex and Dow to develop and commercialise isocyanate-free routes to polyurethane manufacture. Nuplex won the 2015 European Coatings Award for its work which had been prompted by the need for new systems with ‘increased productivity coupled with environmental, health and safety friendliness’. This represented one of the few examples on display at ECS which bordered on radical change and, in my view, has the strongest credentials to be considered as an eco-effective rather than an eco-efficient development.

Finally, I detected a growing expectation that Sustainability is going to be the basis for the next wave of legislation not only in Europe but worldwide. Currently we have little or no agreed measures of Sustainability that are universally accepted, but programmes in Europe and elsewhere are looking into this in some depth.  Should this expectation ever be realised, Sustainable Development will become a major battle ground and the source of competition for Coatings companies and their suppliers.

The ECS in 2017 should be interesting!

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