The Trend of Going Green

06 Jul 2013

Rajiv Parikh, Mumbai

Recent years have seen the general public become ever more conscious of the growing problem with pollution due to industrial by-products, runoff, and non-biodegradable consumer goods. Its side effects have also become increasingly visible in current times through disturbing scenes of overflowing landfills, population growth of animal pest species, and the rise in respiratory health problems among the young and the elderly – especially in urban or industrial locations where air quality suffers from a higher concentration of pollutants.

People across the globe are gradually learning to be aware of and fear these harmful chemicals which are now known to be found in almost everything they come in contact with in their daily lives – from the air they breathe, to the food they eat, to many of the necessities that supposedly make life better. This surge in awareness has led countless individuals to become more proactive in the fight against pollution by searching for “green” or environmentally friendly alternatives. They are also actively reducing their carbon footprint not only for its environmental implications but for its obvious health benefits as well. Although the causes of environmental issues remain debateable, it is undeniable that consumers have a growing interest in eco-friendly business practices and products [].  Consequently, going green has become an attractive business strategy and may ultimately be a beneficial move for existing industries.

Evidently, this change in consumer attitude and social behaviour has brought about an on the rise global trend of green industries. But what exactly does it mean for an industry to be or to go green?

Basically, a green industry is an environment-friendly industry. It is an industry that endeavours to make it so that every aspect, from its internal operations and processes to its external effects, products and services, leaves a minimal or possibly even beneficial impact on the environment. It aims to avoid the unnecessary use or waste of raw materials and energy by improving efficiency. It also tries to reduce the use and emission of harmful chemicals and by-products []. Overall, this industry strives to minimize or eliminate the use and production of environmentally-damaging and health-damaging substances.

Many start-up companies already understand the importance of this latest trend and make use of go-green business models with integrated corporate social responsibilities, while older, more established companies are rushing to make the move towards the development of more eco-friendly and safe products to cater to present demands. This development is especially important in the chemicals industry, where the synthesis and invention of new forms of constituents and materials for production originate.

Keeping this in regard, chemical industries are at the forefront of the green revolution. Green retailers are reliant on these chemical and manufacturing companies which produce the necessary components for making consumer goods eco-friendly. Using green chemistry and strategy, chemical industries have already been making progress and improvements.

On March 18, 2013, Showa Denko K.K. (SDK), an organic chemical company invested in sustainability, made Sinosteel Sichuan Carbon Co., Ltd. (Sichuan Carbon) its subsidiary. In doing so, SDK will be introducing its more efficient and eco-friendly steelmaking technology to Sichuan Carbon.

According to a release by Showa Denko K.K., its company makes use of graphite electrode manufacturing technology wherein the graphite electrodes are used for electric steel making. This process allows for iron resource recycling by melting scrap iron for reuse. Electric steelmaking is said to become more popular in the future due to its more environment-friendly traits. It makes use of recycled materials and has lower carbon dioxide emissions compared to the traditional blast-furnace technique [Showa Denko].

Late in 2012, the company also began the test release of Bionelle Starcla™, its latest version of biodegradable polyester.  The compound is starch-based and is completely biodegradable and compostable in wet settings, soil and sludge with microorganisms.  Following its release, SDK made an agreement with D&L Polymer and Colours Inc. (DLPC), the only company working on the production of biodegradable compounds in the Philippines, where nationwide bans on the use of plastic bags have been imposed [ABS-CBN News]. This particular instance is concrete proof that the trend is beneficial in terms of profit as demands for alternatives increase.  SDK has really shown an effort in the green revolution, gradually spreading its influence and sharing its technology and innovations around the world.

Another model of chemical industry leaders in green innovation is The Dow Chemical Company (Dow), which is a conglomerate that stands to be one of the largest manufacturers and suppliers of chemical products in the world. This company is now branching out, spreading their green practices. In their efforts to continue with their go-green projects, they have gotten a hold of some of the top scientists, and have acquired and partnered with other companies either to continue the production of green products, or to ensure that the manufacturing process itself is within environmental standards.

The Dow Chemical Company in recent years have developed many new green products and methods of manufacturing that have helped the environment by reducing carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions.

Since the 1990’s, Dow has been making green investments for which it had shelled out $2 billion, but it has also reaped $9 billion with a net profit of $7 billion from these same ventures.  This was made possible by the efficiency and sustainability achieved through green business models.  The green investments that they have made since 1994 have already saved 1.8 quadrillion British Thermal Units of energy []. 

One of the company’s projects is a tie-up with Solazyme (SZYM), wherein they have agreed to purchase millions of gallons of tailored oils that are made from algae.  These oils are safer to use, extremely efficient and ultimately improve the life and effectiveness of transformers [].

On another note, what we all know as Styrofoam, a product of Dow, is known to be hazardous to the environment. Even this product is being innovated to become environmentally friendly. The company has developed a new foaming agent solution for Styrofoam insulation production and has converted North American production facilities to use this new technology. Meeting all mandatory requirements, its new foaming agent results in zero ozone-depletion and contains no volatile organic compounds (VOC) [].

Lastly, one of the most recent developments in the company is the energy recovery in recycled plastics.  A pilot test in energy recovery was done to seek other end-of-life options for used plastics. In this test, the incineration of 578 pounds of plastic yielded a highly efficient recovery of 96% of the available energy.  According to Dow’s North American Plastics Sustainability Leader, Jeff Wooster, the rationale behind the experiment was to show that used plastics can be a valuable and innovative source of energy. The positive result may lead to a future with a lessened dependency on natural gases and fossil fuels. It also shows that there is more that can be done with used plastics instead of just disposing of them in landfills [].

These are not the only chemical companies that have ventured into green innovation. Among them are other leading companies in the chemical industry including Air Liquide, BASF, Bayer, DSM, AKZO, DuPont, Reliance, and Shell Chemicals [].

These are but a few of the many chemical industries following the green trend and gaining recognition for their environmentally sound business practices. Going green is certainly not a new concept. It is, however, one that has gained much popularity in recent years and is continuing to grow due to the increasing need to protect and conserve natural resources, and the shift in consumer demands. The green trend has proven to be not only efficient and environment-friendly but also incredibly profitable. For existing chemical companies or start up companies, it would be a beneficial business strategy to follow the examples of these magnates. Chemical industries worldwide should consider this venture into green innovation and see their companies not only be eco-friendly but make their desired profit at the same time.


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