Environmental, business and public health organizations, as well as some investor groups, have formed a new association that its founders hope will further the development of green chemicals and ecofriendly products.
The Business-NGO Working Group for Safer Chemicals and Sustainable Materials officially launched Oct. 29 as a project of Clean Production Action. CPA, a Spring Brook, N.Y., nonprofit environmental group with a similar mission as Business-NGO, will initially staff the new group.
Two years ago, 22 organizations began working on the association.
The group is stepping into a void in the marketplace. Just two months ago, citing the lack of federal policy and a similar void, California passed a law to develop a framework for identifying and regulating hazardous chemicals.
The Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative and Health Care Without Harm worked with Business-NGO to develop criteria for more sustainable bio-based plastics.
Already, 46 organizations have endorsed the chemicals policy principles, including Kaiser Permanente, Corporate Express, health-care product manufacturer Hospira Inc. and True Textiles Inc., an interior fabric manufacturer.
On the sustainability side, Business-NGO will focus first on the food-service sector because of interest in alternatives to expanded polystyrene takeout-containers because of bans in California.
``From the plastics side, we are addressing a lot of the life-cycle assessments,'' particularly with bio-based products, said Mark Rossi, a Medford, Mass.-based research director for CPA, in an Oct. 28 telephone interview.
``Just because something is bio-based, doesn't necessarily mean it is greener. With bio-based materials, you have to look at how the feedstock is grown, what are the hazardous characteristics of additives and what happens at the end of life,'' he said.
The group's goal is to develop criteria that will allow manufacturers to select materials that are sustainable during their creation, production and end of life cycles, said Rossi, who heads CPA's research efforts to identify safer alternatives to products of environmental concern.
Rossi also is on the steering committee of Health Care Without Harm, which has worked to urge health-care organizations to find substitutes for products that contain mercury, PVC and brominated flame retardants.
The working group hopes to form chemicals guidelines for companies in about 12 months, Rossi said.
``This will not be a `thou shall' list, but guidelines to show how different entities do it,'' he said.
In addition, Rossi said the working group will draft and post on its Web site ``biospecs criteria'' by year-end for review and publish final bio-specs criteria by the middle of 2010.
``There is demand for information on how to proceed in light of unsubstantiated and spurious green-marketing claims,'' he said.
One of the Business-NGO working group's concerns is the additives that are part of plastics products, Rossi said.
``One of the challenges for plastics manufacturers and bio-based manufacturers is whether their products contain any additives of high concern,'' he said. ``Many small companies are not aware of the additives tossed into their products to improve performance. Companies need to know the big picture and the chemicals of concern they should be moving away from in their own best interest.''