Expectations about what the concept of “Safe and Sustainable-by-Design” (SSBD) can bring about are high. “It combines steering innovation, substituting or minimising the production and use of substances of concern, minimising the impact on climate and the environment, as well as enabling change throughout research and innovation processes” explained Jürgen Tiedje, Head of the Industrial Transformation Unit, DG RTD, European Commission at the Helsinki Chemicals Forum on 8 June 2022.
Frida Hök, Deputy Director, ChemSec sees SSbD as a possibility that gives industries direction for their work. “It is a carrot rather than a stick. By providing companies with a label or certificate, we could incentivise companies to apply SSbD”.
Ann Dierckx, Cefic’s Sustainability Director agrees that the SSbD concept can truly accelerate the journey towards meeting the EU Green Deal goals. “The Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS) and its SSbD framework and criteria will guide and direct innovation. It will help industry identify where we need alternatives”.
Conditions for a successful SSbD framework
Speaking about the importance of setting criteria, Ann Dierckx said: “We need to know what is expected of designers [of Safe and Sustainable-by-Design chemicals] to design towards”, she continued. “To make the transition to SSbD, we need to consider the whole value chain, not just focus on the chemical industry” added Christopher Blum, Sustainable Chemistry Scientific Officer at the German Federal Environment Agency. “Criteria need to make it to product level, and products should also be used sustainably” he added.
The EU Green Deal and Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability will help Europe become the global sustainability frontrunner. What is still needed is a predictive framework, common R&D language and tools, and incentives for placing SSbD products or goods on the market. “There is also a strong need for international collaboration, to avoid putting European companies at a disadvantage”, said Joel Tickner, Professor and Executive Director, Lowell University and Green Chemistry and Commerce Council.
Applying sustainability criteria
“We innovate to go beyond the regulatory requirements of today” said Dierckx. “For almost a decade, a methodology for assessing the portfolio sustainability has been applied, steering the innovation process”. A group of chemical manufacturers under the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has recently agreed to also include and integrate further the Green Deal aspects.
The next steps in the development of the SSbD framework are Commission Recommendations, a third SSbD Workshop, a feedback loop to refine the SSbD framework, the Joint Research Centre’s work on case studies, and more testing of the framework as well as the development of tools.