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Sustainable Chemistry: There will be no industrial transition without a chemical transition

Table of contents

chimie durable transition

This is the stance of the collective of organizations brought together by Veolia since 2021, which just published a note in January 2024 in the form of a call to action. Comprising over 40 contributors, including chemists, major industrial companies, NGOs, financial actors, representatives of public authorities, and young citizens, this collective brings together a diversity of expertise, viewpoints, and interests to bring about sustainable and responsible chemistry.

Chemistry indeed holds a central place in human activities. Our food, transportation, constructions, and smartphones all rely on chemical processes. Yet companies overlook this in their ecological transition strategy. They focus solely on CO2. They don’t think systemically!

How could chemistry change the game and accelerate the ecological transition of numerous industrial sectors?

Sustainable chemistry, a pillar of the ecological transition

The design of most so-called sustainable products (recycled clothing, sustainable mobility, green energy, etc.) is primarily based on chemical components and processes.

At the European level, nearly 59% of the production of chemical products is supplied directly to other industrial sectors, particularly health, construction, automotive, electronics, and textiles.

chimie durable mobilité

So, without a transition in chemistry, there’s no ecological transition in the industrial sector!

Although chemistry plays a crucial role, it is often underestimated, presented only from the perspective of pollution, or even absent in the strategies of companies and public actors to achieve their ecological transition goals. These strategies focus primarily, if not exclusively, on the issue of decarbonization.

To meet the challenges of the ecological transition, it is essential to address environmental, industrial, and societal issues as a whole. And chemistry must necessarily be a part of it.

If conventional chemistry has been the driving force of the economic model based on the extraction of fossil fuels, a shift in chemistry will drag the entire value chains of industrial sectors towards a fairer and more sustainable model.

All actors that use chemistry are concerned: miners, chemists, factories, manufacturers, project managers, consumers, and even consumers!

transition chimie durable

The chemical transition: a new framework to foster sustainable chemistry

To accelerate this transition, it is crucial to create a structured approach involving various stakeholders. Although initiatives already exist, such as legal frameworks, political commitments, or investments in green technologies, it is necessary to effectively organize the existing resources and mechanisms to mobilize all players in the chemical industry around common goals. This note proposes:

  • a first definition of the chemical transition to establish a common vision of what sustainable chemistry is and how to develop it

  • a new model (SPC model for Supply, dePollution, Circularity) to facilitate the mapping of regulatory frameworks and existing solutions, without leaving gaps.

  • 10 concrete recommendations for taking action

This note aims to stimulate reflection and action from all those involved in the transition of chemistry.
chimie durable objectifs

Sustainable chemistry: 3 types of recommendations for the chemical transition

1. Adopt a global approach to chemistry: understanding chemistry in a systemic way, through a chemistry cycle approach, is a necessary preliminary step to address all societal issues and identify existing initiatives and solutions.

📌 One of the recommendations: Measure the impacts avoided or generated by the chemical sector through global financial and environmental indicators, allowing for the assessment of all impacts generated on the chemical value chain.

2. Define a common vision of the chemistry transition: What kind of chemistry do we want to implement today and in the future? To meet what needs? To develop what products? What common goals do we want to achieve? How to get there? What are the levers to get there? What challenges to work on collectively?

📌 One of the recommendations: Establish a periodic reference report, “The Economics of Chemical Change“, similar to the Stern and Dasgupta reports, to fully understand the economic models associated with the chemical sector.

3. Act multilaterally with a diversity of stakeholders from different sectors, with different challenges, expectations, values, and viewpoints. No single actor or small committee can undertake such a transition. Here too, it is necessary to think in terms of ecosystems and systemically.

📌 One of the recommendations: Launch small-scale pilots (region, country, economic zone), based on local priorities and needs, to develop first alliances with a diversity of actors. The evolution of practices towards more collaboration will pass through experimentation (test & learn approach and learning by doing).

For access to all the recommendations, download the note!

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