In a world facing challenges from a fast-growing population and dwindling natural resources, vinyl's got answers.
The versatile material delivers drinking water as pipes that can last a century, keeps food fresh as shrink wrap, saves lives as intravenous fluid bags, contributes to energy efficient windows, insulates wires for electronics. The list could go on.
As sustainability becomes a bigger factor in driving decisions related to infrastructure, construction, safety, and conservation of water, food and energy, vinyl has the opportunity to be a material of choice.
Business leaders are gathering Nov. 8-10 for Vinyl360 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to learn how the fragmented industry can work together on implementing best practices.
Sponsored by the Vinyl Institute, the event features Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, who left the organization following its campaign to ban chlorine, as the keynote speaker as well as an update on a materiality analysis that will show what activities and achievements are important to stakeholders.
"This is a call to action," Susan Wade, the Vinyl Institute's vice president of marketing and communications, said in a phone interview. "This is an opportunity for people up and down the PVC supply chain to get involved and have a voice. We're taking into consideration gains to date and what we need to do."
While the Washington-based trade organization represents mostly resin producers and compounders, the institute is taking a lead role in organizing the dozen or so trade associations whose members offer vinyl products. Sustainability efforts are bringing together the Vinyl Siding Institute; Resilient Floor Covering Institute; American Architectural Manufacturers Association, which represents window and door producers; Flexible Vinyl Association, which covers medical and automotive markets; Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association, which represents large-diameter pipe makers; and the Plastic Pipe & Fittings Association, which represents small-diameter pipe producers.
"The Vinyl Institute views its role as a galvanizing force," Wade said.
The effort began in earnest in 2015 when the group hired Cristian Barcan, an 18-year BASF Corp. employee. Barcan was named the institute's vice president of sustainability and industry affairs and was tasked with overseeing the vinyl industry's sustainability commitment and progress.
"The main issue at hand is we will have 10 billion people on the planet by 2050 and we need to be better stewards in terms of resources," Barcan said in a phone interview. "Certain commodities are depleting fast and we need to play a role in addressing those needs."
Last year, the Vinyl Institute also created the Vinyl Business and Sustainability Council to focus on a sustainable path for the industry and put Barcan in charge as executive director.
"We're at about 7.5 million people today and if you look at available resources in terms of minerals, heavy metals, rare metals, water and land — everything we use as provided by the planet — we're basically overall using about a planet and a half of resources today. We're borrowing resources from the next generation at this current pace."
At Vinyl360, VI will share results of its materiality assessment, which involved gathering opinions of customers, retailers, and non-government organizations about the importance of environmental, social and economic issues. The data can be factored into how businesses approach risk management, operations, product development and marketing.
The process identified dozens of categories where the vinyl supply chain could have a bigger impact on sustainability.
"We'll create goals and key performance indicators on those and create a program where companies that follow and perform well on those hot spots will be recognized and awarded either via marketing tools or sustainability awards," Barcan said.
The program could be running as soon as May. In the meantime, Barcan expects good attendance at the November event.
"This is it for the industry. This is how you are going to measure sustainability," he said.
Later in the process, the vinyl industry plans to "go deeper" and show the relationship between its goals and sustainability efforts of the United Nations.
"We'll be able to say, look, our goals ties into these goals and without the vinyl industry they would be impossible to achieve," Barcan said.