AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS — Environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, founder and director of Forum for the Future, may seem like a person ``on the other side'' from a chemical industry's perspective.
But Porritt, a keynote speaker at the opening ceremonies of the Polyurethanes World Congress '97, actually said many things PU industry types wanted to hear.
Porritt said he was impressed by the industry's ``relative speed'' in replacing chlorofluorocarbon blowing agents to help cut down on ozone-depleting chemicals in the atmosphere.
He also praised them for working on renewable sources for polyols, a major component of PU, as well as their efforts to promote product stewardship.
But he urged the industry to be more forthcoming with its own information about PU's impact on the environment.
``We need full transparency,'' Porritt said, asking the industry to release environmental impact data in absolute terms, not just relative to other materials.
``Gains in relative efficiency are offset by huge gains in industry,'' he told those gathered for the PU congress, held Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Amsterdam.
Porritt also cautioned against following sometimes-misguided efforts to solve environmental problems.
Some environmental responses ``are not logical,'' he said, citing the impending switch from CFCs to alternative blowing agents, some of which are far from environmentally friendly.
But if those environmental challenges are met, PUs' ``opportunities outweigh the threats'' and their ``benefits outweigh their costs,'' Porritt concluded, noting their usefulness in energy-saving insulation and weight-reduction compared to metals.
``Polyurethanes have the prospect of being able to operate in a truly sustainable economy,'' he said.
``It is a huge competitive advantage compared with other materials.''
The reaction from the audience to Porritt's speech was one of pleasant surprise.
``I thought he gave a balanced presentation,'' said Jerry Fosnaugh, environmental health and safety product director for Dow Chemical Co.'s Midland, Mich.-based PU business. ``He talked about both the advantages and the challenges of polyurethane technology.''
Fosnaugh especially appreciated Porritt's stance of investigating the possible benefits of burning waste PU and other plastics as a heating fuel.
``It should be looked at thermodynamically, or, as we in the industry say, through life-cycle analysis, and not on just an automatic `burning is bad response,''' Fosnaugh said.
Fran Lichtenberg, executive director of the New York-based Polyurethane Division of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., said Porritt made several interesting points relevant to the industry.
``It is important to hear from people with a different perspective,'' she said.