19 November 2008

Business NGO to Promote Safer Chemicals in Consumer Products

Working towards a definition for sustainable bioplastics

In October 2008, the US Business-NGO Working Group for Safer Chemicals and Sustainable Materials was publicly launched after two years of behind-the-scenes planning. Spearheaded by the nonprofit environmental organization Clean Production Action, the group consists of business and NGO leaders who are creating a roadmap to the widespread use of safer chemicals in consumer products. The aims of the Working Group include the establishment of a definition of more sustainable plastics, especially bioplastics, which are made from renewable resources. Its objectives also include crafting a “transition agenda” for moving away from petro-based materials to sustainable biobased/bioderived materials.

As a first step the Working Group has released a joint statement entitled Guiding Principles for Chemicals Policy,” which outlines a path for businesses to implement greener and safer chemicals. This came in response to the increasing demand from consumers, investors and governments for chemicals that have low to no toxicity and degrade into innocuous substances in the environment. Leading businesses are seeking to capture these emerging market opportunities by redesigning their products and catalyzing change in their supply chains.

The group’s objectives include:

  • Modeling a new type and degree of collaboration between NGOs and businesses working together to accelerate the transition to a safer, healthy economy.
  • Crafting a “transition agenda” for moving away from petro-based materials to sustainable biobased/bioderived materials.
  • Developing tools and continuous improvement criteria for moving to safer chemicals and sustainable materials.
  • Advancing policy initiatives that accelerate the development and use of safer chemicals and sustainable materials.
  • Transforming markets to safer chemicals and sustainable markets by, for example, aligning purchasing criteria across sectors.

In the field of sustainable materials, the Working Group’s goal is to develop consistent and robust criteria that allow product manufacturers to identify and select materials that are sustainable during their creation (growing the feedstock), production, use and end of life cycles. The Working Group is collaborating with Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and the Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative (SBC) to develop criteria for more sustainable biobased plastics. Building from the SBC’s Sustainable Bioplastic Guidelines and HCWH’s Choosing Environmentally Preferable Food Service Ware factsheet, the Working Group has launched an initiative to gather more data on the current environmental profile of biobased materials used in the food service ware sector.

“For too long it has been assumed that environmental organizations and businesses work in opposition to each other,” said Mark Rossi, Research Director for Clean Production Action. “The Guiding Principles for Chemicals Policy prove that businesses and NGOs can collaborate in developing a visionary agenda.”

Twenty two organizations from the environmental community and the electronics, health care, building and retail sectors launched the Working Group in October 2006 in Boston. The Working Group’s mission is: To promote the creation and adoption of safer chemicals and sustainable materials in a way that supports market transitions to a healthy economy, healthy environment, and healthy people.

Further information

Source: Business-NGO Working Group for Safer Chemicals and Sustainable Materials, press release and website, 2008-10-29.

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