Surviving the economic recession is the top priority for plastics manufacturers. But if they lose sight of the importance of sustainability and climate change, their survival may only be short term.
The reason: Sustainability and climate change have become imbedded in the general population, both young and old alike. The pressure is no longer coming just from the retail community or a small minority of environmental activists.
For those who doubt that, the reaction of an audience to the March 14 premiere of a new environmental film, focused on the release of carbon-dioxide emissions into ocean waters, should change their minds.
A standing room only crowd of nearly 650 people of all ages applauded nonstop for several minutes after A Sea Change ended and then gave a standing ovation for more than three minutes to the producer when she was introduced.
What prompted that audience reaction?
A Sea Change points out that 40 billion pounds of carbon dioxide are absorbed into the oceans each day. What's more, 43 percent of that carbon-dioxide uptake has occurred just in the last 20 years, according to Christopher Sabine, an oceanographer with the Seattle-based Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The result: higher pH levels in the ocean, which scientists say damages coral reefs, fish and the entire marine food chain which then has a boomerang effect on the human race.
Since the world began burning fossil fuels 200 years ago, ocean acidity has increased 30 percent half of that in the last 30 years making the increases in ocean pH levels 100 times faster than any recorded natural change, according to NOAA. Already, the amount of plankton, the base of the marine food chain, has been reduced by one-third.
In addition, A Sea Change mentions companies that have taken a sustainable approach to the use of natural resources.
Driven by hydroelectric power, the Solstrand Hotel in Osoyro, Norway, has net zero carbon emissions. Solar panels on the roof of Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., produce enough electricity for approximately 1,000 California homes or 30 percent of Google's peak electricity demand.
Andrew Beebe, a solar heating expert, noted that for $410 billion less than half of the annual U.S. defense budget the U.S. could install enough solar panels to provide electricity for everyone in the U.S. Beebe is the founder of 9-year-old EI Solutions in San Rafael, Calif., which last fall became Suntech Energy Solutions when it was purchased by the Chinese firm Suntech Power.
The messages of the film were clear, told in an understandable fashion, and warmly embraced by the audience: People and businesses need to rethink how they use natural resources, that we need to reduce our collective carbon footprint, and that the implications of doing nothing are dire. Manufacturers, including the plastics industry, will clearly be in the eye of the storm.
Nothing in the film, shown at the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., as part of the city's 17th annual Environmental Film Fest, chastised the plastics industry specifically. But the industry didn't escape criticism in other films shown during the 12-day festival.
The Canadian embassy showed Addicted to Plastics, a 2008 film about all of the plastics debris floating in the Pacific Ocean and potential solutions to the problem, including biodegradability, plant-based plastics and opportunities for recycling.
The Croatian embassy screened an 18-minute film, The Life of a Plastic Bag, which talked about the uncontrolled production and use of a product that has become a symbol of people's careless attitudes toward waste.
The undercurrent in all this? People want answers. They also want businesses to be stewards of the environment and to provide solutions that are sustainable and reduce carbon emissions.
Verespej is a Plastics News staff reporter based in Washington.