What is sustainability?
It is the “mega-trend” that everyone wanted to talk about at K 2010. There is no consensus on what it means, and everyone had their own take.
Enter what I call the “kosher rabbis” of the plastics business. These are the highly credentialed folks who tell us what is good and what isn’t. Their work is more subjective than the interpretation of the Kashrut dietary laws. In fact, they determine what the laws are.
At the K plastics fair in Düsseldorf, Germany, there was a tendency of CEOs to roll out the name of a “green” certification group to show that their approach was validated.
I noticed two in particular.
One is the GreenOrder, which had been adopted by GE, and is now followed by Sabic Innovative Plastics, the former GE Plastics. A Sustainable Product Scorecard, developed with GreenOrder, measures Sabic’s products’ environmental benefits as compared to conventional or alternative materials. Founded in 2000, GreenOrder is based in New York City. GM and BP are clients. In 2009, Fortune Magazine called GreenOrder “Green business’ go-to guys.”
Possibly an even bigger factor in the plastics’ business is the consulting duo of William McDonough, an architect, and Michael Braungart, a former Greenpeace activist in Germany, who jointly created the concept of “Cradle-to-Cradle“, which calls for ecologically intelligent design. In Cradle-to-Cradle, stuff gets reused, not buried or incinerated.
I wrote two years ago about the big role that McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry was playing at furniture maker Herman Miller. DSM, the Dutch-based plastics giant, announced at K 2010 that it was introducing Cradle-to-Cradle-certified grades of plastic, such as Akulon polyamide 6 for office furniture.
Fredric Petit, a sustainability officer at DSM, says: “DSM creates value for its customers by developing low or neutral carbon footprint materials, eliminating hazardous substances, introducing bio-performance polymers for critical technical applications and supporting recycling with the ultimate goal to achieve closed loops Cradle-to-Cradle solutions.” Sabic IP, Eastman Chemical, BASF, Ford, Alcoa and Dow Building Solutions are also listed as McDonough-Braungart clients.
The consultants seem to bring some science and management expertise to an area that has been pretty fuzzy.