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Sustainability goes mainstream in chemical industry

The results of the latest, most extensive sustainability survey conducted to date are in.  The survey, the third that biotechnology company Genomatica and ICIS, one of the world's leading chemical and energy market information providers, have undertaken together since 2009, drew almost 1,000 respondents, 53% of which at the level of vice president, general manager or above.

The results of the latest, most extensive sustainability survey conducted to date are in.  The survey, the third that biotechnology company Genomatica and ICIS, one of the world's leading chemical and energy market information providers, have undertaken together since 2009, drew almost 1,000 respondents, 53% of which at the level of vice president, general manager or above. It provides a striking picture of the strides taken by chemical producers and distributors in this area in just a few short years - prodded by increasing demands from downstream users and final customers for more sustainable products.

Among the key findings of the survey were that fully 69% of the respondent reported their company has a sustainability policy in place or are currently developing one, while 67% described their company's top business priority in sustainability as either promoting or marketing sustainable products, taking an active lead on sustainability issues, or engaging customers on a business level.

About 81% of producers responded that it is very or moderately important to be a front-runner in sustainable chemicals.

Renewable feedstocks are another area where producers are becoming increasingly active, with 35% already investing in R&D in renewable feedstocks and 31% reporting having a strategic commitment to their use. For 68% of the producers responding, customer demand was a 'very important factor' when considering renewable-based production. Packaging was the main application in which customers are asking for increased renewable content. And when asked about whether they thought there would be a long-term economic advantage to switching chemical manufacturing process inputs to renewable feedstocks, like sugars, starches or biomass, 43% of producers said they thought there would be; 51% said they should reduce exposure to the petroleum market.

If the interest in and plans to offer sustainable chemicals and products reported in the survey responses are anything to go by, product value chains would appear to be moving in synch toward greater sustainability. To wit: a majority of producers (72%) now offer more sustainable versions of chemicals or said they planned to do so within two years. Producers indicated that 80% of their customers are showing the same or higher interest in sustainable chemicals than just one year ago, with a sizable segment showing much greater interest.

Among chemical users/producers of finished chemical products and chemical distributors, 75% either already offer products made with more sustainable chemicals or expect to do so within two years. They are taking action to make products that they plan to differentiate based on sustainability, to meet growing demand.

When survey respondents were asked to name the companies they considered 'technology developers for sustainable chemicals,' BASF headed the list, followed by Dow, DuPont and Bayer, in that order. Genomatica came in fifth, up from ninth in 2012.

Survey respondents also rated their overall impressions of numerous companies with regards to sustainability. The three companies viewed with the highest 'very positive' ratings were BASF, DuPont and Genomatica.

"We're delighted to see that our message and results are being noticed," said Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling.

 "We're proud to support the industry by showing how and where biotechnology can be harnessed to develop new, better processes for the advantaged production of major chemicals using alternative feedstocks," he added.

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