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The changing US political landscape: what it means for green chemistry

Untitled Chemical Watch

Global Business Briefing, April 2017 / Green chemistry, New TSCA/LCSA

The goal of the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3) is to make green chemistry mainstream practice. To achieve this we need to spur federal leadership into providing funding and incentives that lead to increased innovation and adoption of new green chemistry products and processes.

The 2016 elections represent in some ways a transformation in the US political landscape. The US has moved from an openly pro-environmental, science-driven administration to one that appears to question climate change and the value of regulation and public science funding.

While the current administration’s agenda is still evolving, early indications suggest the focus will be on jobs and business. Supporting US-based companies will be highly valued, with an approach that is deregulatory in nature and based on voluntary incentives. What then does this mean for green chemistry at the federal and state levels?

Experts from industry and state and federal government will explore these questions in a panel discussion that will kick off the GC3’s annual Innovators Roundtable from April 25-27, at Steelcase Inc, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Roundtable is the GC3’s primary event for learning, networking and developing new collaborative projects.

Green chemistry has not been a priority of the Executive Branch or Congress during the past ten years. Congress has yet to pass a federal green chemistry research and development act. However, a sustainable chemistry research programme was established at the National Science Foundation as part of the America COMPETES Jobs bill in 2010.

The Obama Administration undertook significant initiatives around climate change and water quality. But little was done to advance green chemistry, with the exception of efforts to reform the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA) and strengthen the EPA’s Safer Choice programme, which recognises products made with safer chemistry.

And while there was significant investment during the prior Administration in renewable energy and bio-based materials, federal investment or leadership in green chemistry remained elusive. Meanwhile, US states, such as Michigan, California, Washington and Minnesota have initiated economic development programmes specifically designed to support green chemistry in industry.

Green chemistry drivers

The drivers in the US have not primarily come from the federal government, but rather the marketplace and from state and international policies (such as in Europe). Scientific, consumer, and marketplace concerns about the health and ecological impacts of chemicals are not going away and as such these drivers will continue. We have reached an important tipping point where investment in safer chemistry is the norm for forward looking, consumer facing companies.

As such, the changing political context provides some interesting opportunities for building momentum in green chemistry. For example, the Trump Administration’s ‘business-friendly’ approach should provide an opportunity to reframe green chemistry in different terms – as an economic development, innovation and jobs creating activity that will strengthen US manufacturing.

The new Congress and White House bring new opportunities for constructive policy, be it in tax policy or “greener” infrastructure.  The passage of TSCA reform in a Republican Congress and the establishment of new House and Senate chemistry caucuses show attention to issues of chemistry. The growing market demand for better chemistry, both domestically and internationally, and the policy focus on US manufacturing and jobs, provide a sound basis for the country to take the lead in innovation and production of new chemistries to meet this growing global demand. Collaborative initiatives undertaken by the GC3, such as the Collaborative Preservatives Innovation Challenge, designed to identify and bring to market innovative safe and effective preservatives for consumer products and the GC3 Green & Biobased Startup Network, focus on building partnerships between innovative green chemistry startups, larger firms and investors and provide examples that might gain traction in the political environment.

The Innovators Roundtable panel and subsequent group discussions will explore these trends, as well as how to effectively communicate the benefits and needs for green chemistry. Based on the outcomes, the GC3 will explore opportunities to partner with other organisations to educate and engage the Administration and Congress to further its goal of making green chemistry mainstream.

 The GC3

The Green Chemistry and Commerce Council is a business to business network of some 100 companies and other organisations dedicated to accelerating the research, development, adoption, and scale of green chemistry solutions across the value chain. Members range from major chemical manufacturers, to retailers, brands, formulators, and innovative green and biobased chemistry startups.

Michele Jalbert of Effective Advocates, Michael Parr of Parr Policy Group and Amy Perlmutter of Perlmutter Associates contributed to this article.

 

 

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