Interpreting the true meaning of “green” is going to be an industry-wide challenge.
Communication is essential for a better understanding of what green means today and in the future.
Consumers are often the primary drivers for product innovation and new product offerings. In today’s marketplace, the adhesive and sealant industry has witnessed a substantial increase in consumer demand for “green” products, which, in turn, has affected the entire supply chain.
The concept of sustainability is a reality for the adhesive and sealant industry, yet a member survey recently conducted by The Adhesive and Sealant Council, Inc. (ASC) indicates that members are looking for more ways to measure success. Across all of the market segments in which members are active, green is defined through a variety of ways, including scorecards, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and lifecycle assessments (LCAs). Nevertheless, the number of organizations looking to “define success” is growing and includes all aspects of the supply chain, except one: the adhesive and sealant supplier. As green continues to evolve and affect our industry, it will become increasingly important for ASC members to actively participate in defining success.
Over the past few months, the ASC has examined the way it supports its members with respect to green and narrowed its focus to three areas: Defining Green, Exploring Future Trends, and Exchanging Information. The council began these efforts in order to assist the supply chain in understanding who and what will define green chemistries in the marketplace.
Developing a Definition
In defining green, the ASC is examining how organizations, government agencies, and other trade associations define sustainability and green in the adhesive and sealant market. To begin, the ASC conducted desktop research to evaluate existing resources and information. It was discovered that certain market segments-like building construction-have certification programs (e.g., LEED) to define what makes an overall product sustainable; however, a clear definition gap exists when it comes to specific guidelines for the adhesives and sealants that go into these final products.
In the second phase of defining green, the ASC sought the opinions of its members and implemented two quantitative surveys. The first survey was sent to a group of sealant manufacturers, which included both ASC members and nonmembers. The second survey was sent to adhesive manufacturers, suppliers and distributors that are ASC members. The purpose of the surveys was to better understand the drivers of green, as well as the perceptions of VOCs in the marketplace, and to identify who should be defining green for the adhesive and sealant industry.
Some highlights of the sealant manufacturers survey responses include:
- 88% of respondents believe that green is a lasting trend that helps drive purchasing decisions.
- 62% of respondents have products positioned as green in their portfolios.
- 52% of respondents felt that an LCA on sealants would help position products, create value across industry and enhance sustainability.
- 60% of respondents felt that VOCs are not the only metric to define green.
- 71% of respondents want additional performance-related documents for green product positioning.
- 46% of respondents felt that ASTM C24, ASTM E60 or the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) should define green as related to sealants, and that the council should play an active role in developing definitions.
- 75% of respondents were in favor of the ASC forming a committee to specifically work with ASTM (or another stakeholder group) to define green metrics.
- 88% felt there was a medium-to-high value for green definitions to be categorized by market segments.
The adhesive manufacturers, suppliers and distributors survey returned interesting responses as well:
- 86% of respondents believe that green is a lasting trend that helps drive purchasing decisions.
- 68% of respondents have products positioned as green in their portfolios.
- 52% of respondents felt that an LCA on adhesives would help position products, create value across industry and enhance sustainability.
- 57% of respondents felt that VOCs are not the only metric to define green.
- 65% of respondents want additional performance-related documents for green product positioning.
- 67% of respondents felt that ASTM C24 or ASTM E60 should define green as related to adhesives, and that the council should play an active role in developing definitions.
- 85% of respondents were in favor of the ASC forming a committee to specifically work with ASTM (or another stakeholder group) to define green metrics.
- 92% felt there was a medium-to-high value for green definitions to be categorized by market segments.
While the survey findings require further research to validate the opinions expressed, the results indicate a consensus among sealant and adhesive respondents on several items: green is here to stay; companies have already begun to position their products as having green attributes; an existing organization, such as ASTM, should define green technical specifications, but the ASC should work closely with that organization to best represent industry concerns; and publishing green definitions by market segment would be desired. This is encouraging data that may help define where the ASC should focus its energies.
In addition, survey results contradicted the long-accepted criterion of solely using the level of VOCs present in a product to define green. If VOCs aren’t the standard, it then bears asking the question: “What is?”
When examining future trends, the ASC continually seeks to identify leaders and experts in the area of sustainability whom the industry can partner with to better understand what green means today and in the future. An important facet of this concept is a strategy to seek out leaders in the area of green chemistries who can help educate companies on how to make products greener.
One of the ways the ASC is facilitating the sharing of sustainability trends is to enhance its educational programming. A stronger focus on sustainability was evident at the fall convention held in October. In the Sustainability and Green Technology education track, 15 customers, industry leaders and outside experts shared their thoughts and visions on sustainability and how green applies to our industry. In addition, two keynote sessions addressed the concept of sustainability and its effects on the adhesive and sealant industry. The education program intentionally included a stronger representation of the end-use customer; organizations that presented included Procter & Gamble, Owens Corning, UL Environmental, Fletcher-Thompson Inc., United Soybean Board, and GlaxoSmithKline.
Through efforts to connect the adhesive and sealant supply chain with sustainability thought leaders via education, the ASC hopes to further facilitate the global discourse about green.
In addition to educating the industry about future trends, a third and equally critical piece of any sustainability initiative involves communication. It is essential to communicate and promote how ASC members and the industry at large are actively addressing the emerging trend of sustainability.
To facilitate the exchange of information on this important topic, the ASC is in the early stages of developing a Sustainability Summit. This event would gather industry stakeholders together in 2011 to open a dialogue about the question, “What defines green?” and begin to examine and define metrics. It will take an industry-wide effort to find answers to that question and position the industry for future growth. One possible outcome of this meeting might be a directive for the ASC to partner with consensus-based organizations that publish performance-based standards and best practices to develop technical specifications that further define green.
A United Effort
Sustainability is a continually emerging trend in the adhesive and sealant industry. It is important for organizations to work together to further define what sustainability and green mean for the industry and what advancements are on the horizon. The ASC stands ready to guide and support the industry it serves on the issue of sustainability, but it will take the collective efforts of many individuals to come together to fully define what green means for the entire adhesive and sealant supply chain.For additional information regarding the ASC’s sustainability initiative, contact the author by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.