Safe & Sustainable Chemicals Series
Eco-Efficient Chemical Processes
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Published: September 2007
This report describes the development of sustainability in the chemical industry. Sustainable development has been defined as "that which meets the needs of the present without jeopardizing the needs of future generations." This report describes the development of sustainability in the chemical industry. Sustainable development has been defined as "that which meets the needs of the present without jeopardizing the needs of future generations."
Thus, economic growth must:
- Not deplete irreplaceable resources
- Not destroy ecological systems
- Help reduce some of the world's worst social imbalances
In recent years, sustainability has become a key corporate consideration, as nearly every company has intensified its environmental activities to meet ever-more-stringent regulations and to enhance its corporate image. Many companies find that their customers as well as suppliers expect them to be environmentally proactive.
The drive toward sustainability has advanced faster in Western Europe than elsewhere in the world. Environmental awareness and accountability will be advanced even further with the REACH legislation (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals), which requires toxicity evaluations on thousands of substances. All chemicals sold in volumes of at least 100 tons per year are subject to toxicity assessment by national authorities. An authorization is required for an estimated 2,500 substances that pose threats as carcinogens, mutagens, reprotoxics, bioaccumulating materials, or endocrine disrupters. Producers may be required to develop safer alternatives where feasible. If alternatives do not exist, the substance and all relevant applications could be banned in the European Union.
Sustainability can be measured in several different ways. Cost-benefit analysis compares the economic efficiency of alternative actions, and is probably most useful in public policy decisions. Life cycle analysis (LCA) is the assessment of the environmental impact of a given product or service throughout its lifespan. Life cycle assessments (LC Assessments) are the second stage in the process, when the data are interpreted and value judgments are made. Industry has tended to combine LCA with economic analysis to produce "eco-efficiency" assessments. The Business Council for Sustainable Development defined the concept as "The delivery of competitively priced goods or services that satisfy human needs and bring quality of life while progressively reducing ecological impacts and resource intensity throughout the entire life cycle to a level at least in line with the Earth's estimated carrying capacity."
In short, eco-efficiency has the broad goal of creating more value with less impact. Eco-efficiency can be computed by dividing the economic gain by the environmental impact. Eco-efficiency has three specific objectives:
- Reduction of the consumption of resources by minimizing the use of energy, materials, water and land, improving recycling and product durability.
- Reduction of the impact on nature by continuously trying to reduce air emissions, water discharges, waste disposal and the dispersal of toxic substances. By using renewable raw materials the impact on nature is further decreased.
- Increase of product or service value, which can be linked to proper management of a product or service by improving the functionality, flexibility and modularity, thereby providing more benefits to the customer.
A number of companies have reported economic as well as environmental benefits since implementing eco-efficiency decisions. Two of the leading proponents of eco-efficiency in the chemical industry are BASF and Akzo Nobel. BASF has applied the methodology to over 300 products and processes, conducted by a group that provides eco-efficiency analyses for internal and external use. Besides the consideration of economic and environmental factors, BASF also includes societal implications in its analyses.
For instance, BASF determines eco-efficiency by first defining the customer benefit, which is at the heart of the analysis. All products or processes studied must meet the same customer benefit. Next, economic and ecological assessments must be made. The economic analysis calculates the total cost from the customer viewpoint. The ecological lifecycle assessment is made using the rules of ISO 14040ff, and considers the following factors:
Energy consumption, including that for raw material and product manufacture, energy generation, transportation.
Land use, which assumes that land is a scarce resource and use should be minimized.
- Raw materials consumption, including the production of sources of energy.
- Risk potential, which should be minimized for worker, consumer and general societal consideration.
- Toxicity potential, which covers toxic effects to humans. Eco-toxicity effects can be evaluated as well.
- Emissions, including global warming potential.
This Safe & Sustainable Chemicals report presents 40 case studies taken from major chemical industry areas—automotive, coatings, construction, packaging, plastics, and many others—that compare alternative chemicals or chemical derivatives that can be used in a particular process or product. We present the environmental impact and the economic evaluation of the alternatives with some coverage of the technologies and/or marketing impact. The methodologies for calculating the product or service value and the environmental influence are clearly presented. In nearly every case, there is an "eco-efficient" solution, meaning that the choice is attractive from both an environmental and economic standpoint, leading to a "win-win" solution.