On the occasion of the World Environment Day and the International Year of Chemistry international experts met on June 7th 2011 at a conference under the theme "Chemistry takes Responsibility”.

© m.kupka "Eco Counselling" Vienna

Over 200 (inter)national participants from the public and private sector, governmental and non-governmental organizations, science and politics attended the conference to exchange their views on the role and responsibility of chemistry.

In a video message, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner highlighted the work of the United Nations system on environmental issues. Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, also addressed the conference participants, pointing to the role of the European Union being the world’s second biggest producer of chemicals and its efforts to provide a framework for a sustainable chemical industry.

Chairman of Eco Counselling Austria, Christian Mokricky, outlined awareness raising campaigns undertaken by Eco Counselling Austria in view of the International Year of Chemistry. Harald Egerer, Head of UNEP Vienna which also serves the Interim Secretariat of the Carpathian Convention, highlighted UNEP’s work in identifying and reducing transboundary environmental risks from hazardous mining operations.

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Photo Speakers (left to right).: Magdalena Recheis – Coordinator ENVIRONMENT DAY Talks ´11 "Eco Counselling" Austria, Thomas Jakl – European Chemicals Agency ECHA, Debbie Raphael – San Francisco Department of the Environment, Albin Kälin – EPEA Switzerland, Christian Mokricky – Chairman "Eco Counselling" Austria

Then, renowned international speakers had the floor. René van Berkel, Head of the Cleaner and Sustainable Production Unit of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), referred to UNIDO’s contribution in the field of green chemistry and engineering. He introduced a programme which promotes technological innovation and financial incentive systems that is being conducted in 47 countries all over the world in order to reduce polluting emissions, waste and water consumption.

To demonstrate how successfully policy tools can be implemented to promote the responsible use of chemistry, Debbie Raphael, Toxics Reduction/Green Building Programme Manager of the San Francisco Department of Environment, introduced the Precautionary Principle Policy of San Francisco. A wide array of policy tools has been used to identify and promote the use of safer alternatives, such as chemical bans, incentive programmes, and information campaigns.

Thomas Jakl, Chair of the Management Board on the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), pointed to the European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use – REACH - which deals with registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemical substances. The REACH Regulation places greater responsibility on industry to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information on the substances. The Regulation also calls for the progressive substitution of the most dangerous chemicals when suitable alternatives have been identified.

A new paradigm for industrial production is also reflected in the Cradle to Cradle® design concept, which Albin Kälin, CEO of the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA) Switzerland GmbH, introduced. The choice and usage of specific materials and processes enables production processes that do not produce waste but keep resources in endless cycles.

Inspired by the speeches given in the morning, participants explored the issue of a responsible chemical industry at three parallel panel discussion forums on “Ecology and Chemical Industry – a Contradiction?”, “Ecolabels – Trend-Setter for Chemical Production?”, and “Sustainable Chemical Products – Cash-Cow or Flop?” in the afternoon session of the conference.

Best practice examples were presented by Johann Zimmermann of Natural Polymers (NaKu) and Andrea Promberger of Lenzing AG demonstrating the economic potential of sustainable and resource efficient products.

The results of the separate debates were shared in a closing panel discussion, taking the idea forward that in providing sustainable sources of clean water, food and energy and in maintaining a wholesome environment for the wellbeing of all people, the chemical industry’s creative and innovative approach of contributing to a transparent and green economy will be inevitable when addressing global environmental challenges.

Conference documents for download: