Dr Gernot Klotz is executive director of research and innovation at chemicals industry body Cefic.
What is the chemical industry doing to promote sustainability?
Sustainability is at the core of business policy throughout the chemical industry. But sustainability is not a static concept. It is a process, which we are moving forward, helped by innovation as a catalyst and guided by initiatives like Responsible Care, the Long-range Research Initiative (LRI) and the EU Technology Platform for Sustainable Chemistry – SusChem.
Industry is responding to the need for sustainability by adjusting feedstock materials, introducing lifecycle thinking and developing products and technologies that, for example, help save energy (insulation or smart materials).
Are chemical factories being revamped to make them greener? How can chemical products help the environment?
The chemical industry has an impressive track record on increasing production volume for the amount of energy used. But we always strive to improve our efficiency and sustainability, which is why continuously improving production processes is an imperative.
One example is the 'F3 Factory' (future, fast, flexible) being developed through the SusChem platform. The F3 Factory is the chemical factory of the future, designed to be low-impact, efficient and flexible, as well as needing fewer materials.
Given the scarcity of resources, promoting more sustainable approaches makes business sense. In addition, chemical products are constantly being developed to help improve the environment, contributing to clean water or clean air, and improving the performance of cars by making them lighter and more efficient.
In your position paper on innovation, you call for 'a level playing field in the enforcement of existing regulations'. What problems have you identified in the current regulatory framework?
I would say that the current regulatory framework is sufficient, but we still have problems with the harmonised enforcement of legislation, which leads to a significant amount of free-riders. We also face challenges caused by imports of manufactured products which in several cases do not meet the correct standards. The challenge is not to create new legislation, but to use existing regulation to do what it set out to do and protect the environment.
You have also sought 'positive signals' to support a strong manufacturing base in Europe. What precisely would you like to see or hear from the Commission on this?
The EU's High-Level Group on the Competitiveness of the Chemical Industry clearly recognised the importance of the European chemical industry as a solution provider for growth and jobs, as well as Europe's position on the global market.
The competitiveness of Europe cannot only be based on services. The service and manufacturing industries should go hand in hand. EU policy should be targeted at infrastructure, education, HR, secure energy supply and so on.
Given the economic downturn, together with other manufacturing industries grouped in the Alliance for a Competitive European Industry, we have called on the Commission not to increase the regulatory burden and to strive to prevent protectionism in Europe.
How can the time to market be reduced for innovative chemicals companies?
The necessary elements for innovation in Europe are there. But they are not adjusted to realistic timelines from research to innovation. As an example, to facilitate ideas being carried forward from research to innovation, we would like it to be easier to set up PPPs (public private partnerships), easier implementation of IPR, improvement of the role of procurement, as well as fewer institutional barriers between the EU and member states on regulation and the interpretation of the regulation.
How can Europe get better value from its investment in R&D in terms of turning science into sustainable products and technologies?
I would make the point that innovation is more than research. Research needs to be complemented by other elements in order to really become innovation. Innovation or 'turning good ideas into competitive solutions for society' is an investment which only competitive industries are able to accommodate. This investment requires payback for society in houses, workplaces, etc.
To really benefit from investment, we would need to see easier access to public funding, more entrepreneurship and risk-taking from public bodies as well as an acceptance from the EU that innovation is a positive aspect but one which also implies change. We need to keep the sustainability triangle alive and not overlook that there are three pillars to sustainable development - economic, social and environmental.
The High Level Group on the Chemicals Industry refers to strengthening networks and clusters to achieve efficient innovation. Are there any clusters of industry that provide a good example of this?
We are working with the European Chemical Regions Network (ECRN) to identify best practice as a follow-up for the HLG recommendations on clusters.
You are involved in the FramingNano project. Is it fair to say industry would prefer to incorporate nanomaterials into existing regulation, rather than drawing up new regulations specifically for nanotechnology?
The current regulatory framework is sufficient to cover the safety of nanomaterials. On this subject, we are in agreement with the European Commission position. However we also recognise that in certain cases, the test methods to implement these regulations may need to be adapted to respond to new robust scientific knowledge. One of the key parts of our Long-range Research Initiative (LRI) programme is to develop our contribution to the OECD's work and try to fill knowledge gaps in the testing and assessment of nanomaterials.
Are you in favour of labelling all products which contain nanomaterials, and would such labels be meaningful for consumers?
We do not favour specific labelling on nanomaterials, because we do not feel that this would be helpful for consumers. Too many labels would even lead to confusion and information overkill. We have to strengthen the implementation of regulation to ensure the marketing of safe products. If anything, it could undermine extensive risk and safety labelling schemes.
Can the chemical industry learn anything from the experiences of the biotechnology industry in how genetically modified organisms were handled?
It is crucial for the nano discussion that we frame the challenges and the open questions, as lumping them all together in one pot does not help us to find solutions. As an example, different nanomaterials would differ in their toxicology profiles and in their use in products.
The impact of nanomaterials in coatings for cars is not the same as for medicine. The exposure is also different. We have to sort them in a logical and more effective way in order to make progress. Looking at nano from the safety side must be complemented by looking at it from the 'use/benefit' side.
The precautionary principle in this discussion has to be interpreted along the lines given by the EU Commission's communication of 2000.
On the issue of 'social dialogue' or 'stakeholder dialogue', you have expressed a degree of frustration that these processes do not always achieve concrete progress. What can be done to get more value from dialogue between industry, NGOs and policymakers?
The stakeholder dialogue as practised today in the EU, due to all political pressures of transparency, has no value in itself – it only serves a purpose as a tool.
What most stakeholder dialogues are missing, including the debate on nano, is to be complementary, to ask the right questions, to frame the debate and to lead to some concrete conclusions.
In addition, the current stakeholder has to built on previous discussions, and not start from scratch every single time. Stakeholder dialogue should be designed not as an exchange of statements but allowing room for negotiations. That can only be done through smaller discussion rounds, in smaller fora.