Earth Day should make us feel good about the planet where we live. It should make us feel bad about some of the things we do to it. But, most importantly, this day should inspire us about the need to find common ground.
The need is urgent. The world’s 5.8 billion population is expected to double over the next 30 years. Meanwhile, the human race is rapidly depleting the earth’s natural resources.
All of us - environmentalists, community members, government leaders and business people - must work together to make the best decisions about how we will sustain ourselves and our planet well into the future.
Industry - with its tremendous capacity to develop and apply new technologies - has a vitally important role to play.
Technology can lead us to the answers for many of the questions that the world’s future sustainability poses. How can we feed our increasing populations? How can we purify our water supply? How can we develop motor vehicles that save fuel and produce fewer emissions?
Industry knows how to look for the answers to those questions. We understand technology and innovation. We know how to draw the facts out of proposed theories. We understand the need to operate efficiently. And we are ready to play our part.
Industry knows that doing right by the environment is not only the right thing to do: It also makes good business sense. We waste money when our plants pump effluents into the air or truck away tons of waste to a landfill. We make more money when we reduce waste and operate more efficiently.
The American chemical industry has been a world leader in developing innovative technologies and processes to reduce pollution and conserve the world’s resources. It long ago discovered that sustainability is all about managing our resources better by operating more efficiently.
Let me cite a few examples.
At our Philadelphia plant, we make a weedkiller called Goal. Until a few years ago, the manufacturing process required the use of a solvent that is thought to be harmful to the Earth’s ozone layer when released in air emissions. So we stopped using it and redesigned the process. Now, the solvent we use is acetic acid - essentially vinegar - which has no adverse effects on the ozone. This change also reduced our air emissions by 15,000 pounds a year.
At our company’s plant in Landskrona, Sweden, we’ve figured out how to recapture a valuable product from our waste stream. What was once waste to be landfilled has become a new paint ingredient that we now offer for sale.
A chemical company named Nalco makes water-absorbing polymers at a plant in Louisiana. Recently, they found a way to re-work their manufacturing process and turned a waste product into a raw material. The change eliminates the equivalent of about 90 truckloads of waste a year that would otherwise have to be landfilled.
Akzo Nobel and Dunlop Tire recently developed a new radial tire that has an aramid fiber belt rather than the conventional steel belt. The new tire is 30 percent lighter, which improves gas mileage and reduces emissions. It gets better traction. It is also much easier to recycle.
There are thousands of such examples and cumulatively they are making a big difference - not just in this country, but worldwide. In Indonesia, for example, DuPont has built an agricultural products facility designed for zero waste and zero emissions. The only thing that leaves the site is the herbicide product and one small bag of ash per week. Even the air is thoroughly filtered before release.
In 1988, the chemical industry launched an initiative called Responsible Care, which requires all companies belonging to the Chemical Manufacturers Association to implement practices to improve safety, health and environmental performance. It has worked well. It has become the most comprehensive voluntary environmental effort ever undertaken by industry. The initiative, which began in Canada, is now being copied in 42 countries around the world.
Doing the right thing for the environment is not always easy. It takes talented and dedicated people in research, engineering, production and other areas. It also takes time and money to develop new, creative approaches to minimize waste. Without the enormous technological advances that we have seen in the last 20 to 30 years, we simply would not have been able to accomplish nearly as much as we have since the first Earth Day. But the progress has been truly astounding. And you can be sure that industry’s commitment will continue. There is no other way.
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