Industry Trends Quo Vadis Chemical Industry? Top Executives Met in London

Author / Editor: Charles Butcher / Dr. Jörg Kempf

The European chemical industry has a better-than-expected public reputation, claims Cefic – but can it really talk of sustainability in a future constrained to carry on using fossil fuels for decades? PROCESS was present at CEFIC’s annual general assembly on September 27-29 in London and reports on the discussion.

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Sustainability vs. carbon dependence — highlight topic at the annual CEFIC meeting in London. From left: Hubert Mandery (Cefic Director General); Dr Kurt Bock (new Cefic president, and BASF Chairman); Georgio Squinzi (Cefic outgoing President, Confindustria President and Chief Executive of the Mapei Group)
Sustainability vs. carbon dependence — highlight topic at the annual CEFIC meeting in London. From left: Hubert Mandery (Cefic Director General); Dr Kurt Bock (new Cefic president, and BASF Chairman); Georgio Squinzi (Cefic outgoing President, Confindustria President and Chief Executive of the Mapei Group)
(Pictures: PROCESS)

A new survey shows that both citizens and politicians in Europe appreciate the chemical industry’s contributions to daily life and prosperity, claims Cefic, the trade body representing chemical manufacturers across the EU: The industry’s “reputation index” scored 56 percent on average across 10 European countries, and 60 percent among people who make or influence EU policy — the “Brussels bubble”.

Talking About My Reputation

“I am reasonably positively surprised,” said Ben van Beurden, Executive Vice President, Shell Chemicals, at a press conference in London in September. “A reputation index above 50 is a good starting point.” The survey carried out by opinion research firm Apco Insight found that across Europe the industry’s reputation with the general public ranged from 51 percent (Italy) to 64 percent (UK).

Gallery

Regular newspaper readers mostly voted a few percentage points higher, except in France and the Netherlands, where the positions were reversed. In Brussels, the highest ratings came from EU policymakers (MEPs, Commission staff and regulators) and those thought to influence policy, such as NGOs, lobbyists and journalists.

Chemical Industry “Essential to Quality of Life”

The idea that the chemical industry is essential to the quality of life as we know it was well received, van Beurden said, and the industry’s strength in innovation scored well with those in power. But environmental topics such as waste disposal, emissions and the use of natural resources scored worse, he added, though energy efficiency was a strong point. Respondents generally wanted stronger regulation, van Beurden said, but they also appreciated that this could harm jobs and innovation...

Cefic announced the survey results at the Global Chemical Industry European Convention, which took place in London on 26–29 September. Other events included the annual general assemblies of the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) and the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA).

“Responsible Capitalism” Deemed Essential – Also for Chemical industry

The public part of the Cefic general assembly concentrated on issues of ethics, reputation and sustainability. Sir Roger Carr, president of the Confederation of British Industry and chairman of the British energy company Centrica, believes that responsible capitalism was essential: “We will lose the bedrock of society if we don’t behave.” Behavior and business performance are increasingly becoming inseparable, he said, and reputations can be quickly lost – with examples of recent poor practice from the UK being the banking sector and the mass media. “Further separation between business and society will happen unless we work hard to prevent it,” Sir Roger concluded.

A panel discussion on sustainability brought together chemical industry representatives, EU environment commissioner Janez Potočnik and environmentalist Tony Long, director of the WWF’s European policy office. “Even in times of economic problems, not thinking about sustainability is a luxury we can’t afford,” Potočnik said. “Environmental, social and economic policies are deeply linked, and we need to pay more attention to resource productivity as opposed to labour productivity. I’m not questioning growth or the jobs agenda. We just need the right kind of growth, and sustainable jobs.”

Chemical Industry: “India Could Not Cope With REACH”

The EU’s REACH legislation on chemical toxicity aims to enhance competitiveness, Potočnik claimed. Having frequently argued the opposite, the industry may now agree: Tony Long pointed out that Cefic had advised India not to adopt similar laws. “The infrastructure in developing countries won’t be available to support Reach. We’re having a hard enough time making it work in Europe,” said Cefic director general Hubert Mandery. “I have a problem understanding this in the context of the argument for a level playing field, but we in Europe should lead by example,” Potočnik retorted...

Tony Long said that Cefic’s recently published Towards Sustainability report does not address the need to replace toxic and bioaccumulative chemicals such as endocrine disruptors with safer alternatives. He was also skeptical of the industry’s ability to communicate chemical hazards adequately to end users in developing countries.

Praising the industry’s performance in energy efficiency, Potočnik said: “We can’t get away from fossil fuels because we don’t have adequate replacements. So energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit.” Asked about shale gas and renewable energy, he said: “My only requirement is that you look at it in the round: total environmental impact. Shale gas needs a predictable environment for exploitation. It’s potentially promising, but we need to be sure of the consequences, and we don’t yet know.”

* The author works as a freelance journalist.

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