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Why the green economy needs to pay more attention to SIN

The Green Economy is a big deal these days. Most forward-thinking companies realise that their future lies in being low carbon and resource efficient – and many also talk about the importance of nature, tropical forests for example.

Some companies are also actively trying to reduce the hazardous chemicals in their supply chains – for example the multinational electronics & textile companies being targeted by Greenpeace, or the US retailers Walmart & Target with their ‘Sustainability Summit‘.

However, despite these sectoral initiatives (often encouraged  by NGO action), the overall Green Economy/sustainability debate all too often ignores the chemicals used in products – and other pollution-related issues like air and water pollution.

Why does pollution so often fail to get a look in? Shouldn’t we be talking about ‘zero pollution’ along with ‘zero carbon’ ‘zero waste’ and ‘zero deforestation’?

  • Is it because it’s viewed as too complicated?
  • Or maybe the direct economic benefits are not as obvious as those gained by reducing energy or resource use?

The public does, however, view pollution as important. The latest Eurobarometer survey of the attitudes of EU citizens to the environment found that air pollution, water pollution and ‘the impact on health of chemicals used in everyday products’ were the top 3 environmental issues of concern.

How SIN can help

How can a company find out which chemicals it should be working to avoid?

There is a simple answer to this question – the International Chemical Secretariat has produced the “Substitute it Now” or SINList:

The SIN (Substitute It Now!) List is a concrete tool to speed up the transition to a world free from hazardous chemicals. The chemicals on the SIN List have been identified by ChemSec as Substances of Very High Concern based on the criteria established by the EU chemicals regulation REACH.

The aim of the SIN List is to spark innovation towards products without hazardous chemicals by speeding up legislative processes and giving guidance to companies and other stakeholders on which chemicals to start substituting.

Next week – on the 8th October – ChemSec will release an update of this list, adding new chemicals of concern & also a new tool which allows you to check if a chemical is similar to one on the list. Details of the launch event in Brussels – with high level speakers including the Director of the European Chemicals Agency ECHA, the Head of the Chemicals unit in the European Commission’s DG Environment and speakers from C&A and Skanska – are available here.

CHEM Trust is on the advisory group for the SIN list, and we think that this update will really help companies around the world as they decide which chemicals they should – and shouldn’t – be using.

By ensuring their products aren’t using chemicals on the SIN list, companies can reduce the risk of needing to re-design products to deal with future regulatory controls. Moving to less hazardous substances may also create direct savings within factories or with regard to waste management.

A more holistic approach to the Green Economy

It’s already well established that companies should look at reducing & managing Carbon Footprint and Water Footprint – while Land Footprint and Material Footprint are also becoming more widely used (also known as the ‘Four Footprints‘). Many are also look at different aspects of nature & biodiversity – for example impacts on forests.

In CHEM Trust’s view a sixth element should be added to this list – pollution, which includes:

  • The chemicals a company uses in its products, both their impacts on health and the environment
  • Pollution from production processes – wherever they are in the world, whether air, water or soil pollution
  • Air pollution from all the activities of the company, including e.g. sea shipping and vehicles
  • Exposure of workers to pollution, wherever they are in the supply chain.

The SIN list is an important tool in the effort to reduce pollution – though clearly companies will also need to look at other issues, notably transport, to fully address the issue.

Update, 8th October 2014

The updated SIN List has now been published by Chem Sec, and they’ve also launched a new on-line tool ‘SINimilarity’ to identify chemicals that are similar to those already on the SIN list.

SINimilarity is an important step forward, as all to often one problem chemical is replaced by another very similar chemical, which then turns out to have the same problematic properties. You might think that the chemical industry would know enough about chemistry to avoid this happening, but it seems not to – or it’s just more interested in continuing to make money out of its established technologies!

Update, 30th October

This post has been covered by mychemicalmonitoring.eu: How to turn the burden of chemical management into successful and profitable innovation