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Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs
forward that is sustainable—which allows humanity to meet current environmental, economic, and societal needs without compromising the progress and success of future generations.2 As the feedstock industry for modern economies, the chemical industry plays a major role in advancing the sciences and applications to support this—to work toward the design, creation, processing, use, and disposal of substances that better support the goals of sustainability.
SUSTAINABILITY AND CHEMICALS
According to the American Chemistry Council,3 “the business of chemistry [in the United States] is a $450 billion enterprise [about 26 percent of the global chemical production] and is a key element of the nation’s economy. It is the nation’s largest exporter, accounting for ten cents out of every dollar in U.S. exports. Chemistry companies invest more in research and development than any other business sector.” As a result of trends in fossil fuel supplies, as well as compliance with chemical regulatory policies, business drivers for the chemical industry have evolved significantly over the past 50 years. There is an increasingly competitive landscape. Once a major net exporter, the U.S. chemical industry is now essentially a net importer (trade went negative in 2000–2001).4 These forces combined with transparency requirements, liability risks, and health indicators make sustainability goals, along with innovation, increasingly integral components of a company’s ability to compete in the marketplace.5 Go to the web site of any global top 50 chemical companies6—from the top three, Dow Chemical, BASF, and DuPont who each have 2004 sales in the $30-40 billion range, to number 45 on the list Lyondell Chemical with 2004 sales of about $6 billion—and there will be a statement of commitment to achieving sustainability goals. For example, the following statement appears on the Lyondell web site:
We aim to achieve excellence in every aspect of our economic, social, and environmental performance. We are committed to operating our world-
World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our Common Future (The “Brundtland” Report). Oxford: Oxford University Press. National Research Council. 1999. Our Common Journey: A Transition Toward Sustainability. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Storck, W. J. 2005. “UNITED STATES: Last Year Was Kind to the U.S. Chemical Industry; 2005 Should Provide Further Growth.” Chemical and Engineering News 83(2):16–18.
Bakshi, B. R., and J. Fiksel. 2003. The Quest for Sustainability: Challenges for Process Systems Engineering. AIChE Journal 49(6):1350–1358.
Short, P. L. 2005. Global Top 50. Chemical and Engineering News 83(29):20-23.