Driving Sustainable Chemistry: Overcoming Challenges and Harnessing Opportunities in the Chemical Industry

Driving Sustainable Chemistry: Overcoming Challenges and Harnessing Opportunities in the Chemical Industry

Speaker Interview with Joel Tickner from Change Chemistry


Joel Tickner, Executive Director, Change Chemistry

CIEX: Without giving too much away – what is the core message of your talk and what would you like delegates to remember?

Joel: Commercialization and adoption of sustainable chemistry are challenging given the incumbency of existing chemicals that are integrated into global supply chains, capitalized and whose uses have been optimized over decades. Add to this the fact that R&D and manufacturing CAPEX costs are high and value chains are reluctant to absorb the higher cost of more sustainable options.  Notwithstanding this, manufacturing value chains MUST transition to safer and sustainable chemistry – our very future depends on this.  We will discuss the investments, incentives, coordination, and collaboration needed to incentivize this transition and accelerate the market uptake of safer and sustainable chemistry.


CIEX: What motivates you to join CIEX this year?

Joel: There is a seismic shift happening in the chemicals sector right now driven by global environmental challenges such as climate change, chemical and plastics pollution and resource depletion as well as supply chain and feedstock disruptions post-pandemic.  These present unique opportunities to reshape the trajectory of this industry and the sectors that depend on it.  Progress against every dimension of sustainability – GHG reduction, circularity, plastics pollution, biodiversity protection, elimination of toxic substances and environmental justice – depends on the availability of safer and sustainable alternative chemistries that perform, are available at scale and are cost-competitive. Understanding the challenges the industry faces to reshape itself in the next decades as well as key levers and enablers for change will provide critical insights into the types of programs, incentives, and collaborations necessary for this transformation.


CIEX: With deglobalization, circularity and the energy transition as key trends currently shaping the chemical industry, what are the challenges to overcome and opportunities to harness?

Joel: Circularity is certainly a key trend shaping the future of the chemical industry.  Importantly, this industry’s ambitious and necessary circularity goals will require unprecedented levels of R&D spending to fuel innovation and public and private sector investment to build out novel manufacturing capabilities.  However, this can be at odds with this industry’s relatively low levels of R&D spending and investment when compared to the pharma and high-tech sectors.  For progress to be made, governments and the finance sector will need to be willing to take risks and invest in new safer, more sustainable chemical processes and products available at scale.  It is also important that we move forward on our efforts to de-fossilize this industry and address the toxicity of many incumbent chemistries, the vast majority of which were designed for cost and performance, not health and safety.  This is a critical issue, particularly in the US where environmental justice is an increasingly important Administration priority.

Circularity, deglobalization, de-fossilization and toxics reduction will require new frameworks to increase value chain collaboration, new funding programs to enhance innovation,  public-private sector partnerships to deploy risk capital along the various stages of technology commercialization and incentivizing policy frameworks that facilitate market entry of safer and sustainable chemistry technologies.


CIEX: What is one project or initiative in the industry, outside of your own company and associations that really inspired you recently, and why?

Joel: The US EPA Safer Choice program is a critical driver in the development and incorporation of safer chemicals into consumer goods.  I see this program as an opportunity for everyone from chemical manufacturers to formulators and brand owners to be recognized for their commitment to sustainable innovation and to benefit from their Safer Choice-branded products being distinguished within their competitive peer group.  Safer Choice imparts economic value to sustainability. In parallel, the SCIL list provides a clear recognition of safer chemistries for specific functional uses.

Sector-wide efforts, such as the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) and Clean Electronics Production Network (CEPN), are demonstrating that downstream sectors are willing to collaborate to create unified demand signals that change chemistry.  These closer-to-consumer and brand-conscious companies can create the demand or pull that engages the chemicals sector more effectively in developing solutions.  As those solutions often require significant investment, organizations like Change Chemistry can help to understand the barriers at a sectoral and systems level and drive the investments and collaborations necessary to effect change.


CIEX: If the future of the chemical industry is high-tech, low carbon – what are 3 essential elements needed today, to realize this?

Joel: The future of the chemical industry is not just high-tech and low-carbon, it also has to be low toxicity.  Three essential elements needed today include:

  • Investment in demonstration, deployment and adoption of safer, more sustainable chemistries – reducing the “green premium” for these products.  Chemical suppliers can make safer, more sustainable chemistries but if they aren’t purchased and there is no market, then they can’t grow.  We have seen in certain sectors – consumer products for example, that there is an appetite for sustainable chemistry and consumers are willing to pay more to protect their families and communities.
  • Greater government coordination and public-private collaboration to drive growth in sustainable chemistry. Change Chemistry built a coalition to advance the passage of the US Sustainable Chemistry R&D Act that established an interagency strategy team and requires the development of a strategic roadmap to coordinate sustainable chemistry R&D and investments across the federal government.  The soon-to-be-released strategic roadmap needs to create clear directions for future coordination and investment.
  • Greater supply chain coordination to advance sustainable chemistry.  We have found through 18 years of Change Chemistry that there is often a disconnect between actors in the value chain and collaboration is key to accelerating innovation and addressing barriers.  Change Chemistry’s first-of-its-kind Collaborative Innovation Challenge for Safe and Effective Preservatives in Consumer Products, which engaged 11 brands, 2 retailers and 6 chemical suppliers demonstrated the value of “collaborative innovation” to drive solutions in a pre-competitive space. The effort not only reshaped R&D in preservatives, it also accelerated the development of more sustainable solutions. 

CIEX: Thank you so much, Joel!

The 10th Annual Chemical Innovation Exchange Summit (CIEX) is created for C-level R&D, Innovation and Sustainability experts from the consumer, industrial and speciality chemical sectors.  This intimate event is about creating value – bringing the right people together, creating synergies, and actively connecting with potential partners.  CIEX will take place in Indianapolis on October 23-24. Among attending companies: Hexion, Lubrizol, Monument Chemical, Celanese, US DOE, BASF, ACS, Advansix, The Heritage Group, and many more.

Secure your spot at the CIEX Summit! Connect with industry leaders and innovate together. Register today!

Driving Sustainable Chemistry: Overcoming Challenges and Harnessing Opportunities in the Chemical Industry