Factors in the future of sustainability. Will the future work?

Tomorrow afternoon, I shall be participating in a panel at the Ecochemex conference. It will probe the future of sustainability in the chemical industry. This has led me to ponder not so much what will happen, but what is really necessary to advance a real sustainability agenda.

I see four factors that are very necessary to the future. Do you agree with them and do you think that they will be achievable in a reasonable timeframe, say, 20 years:

– We have to start costing all inputs and outputs to our processes and products. We have to cost our GHG emissions, our water consumption . . . everything. Without costing inputs and outputs, our commitment to sustainability will be scattered and largely lip-service. Our chemical companies need to start doing e-P/Ls, and soon.

– We need a technological leap. Chemicals are the enabler of a greener future, but no matter how much your chemicals reduce the impact of other people’s products on the environment and your society, you need also to reduce your own environmental impact. Current available technology is not capable of reducing, say, greenhouse gas emissions from the chemical industry, if reasonable consumption growth rates are maintained. Technological breakthroughs, many of them potentially based on new catalysts, are urgently needed. The amount of turnover invested by the leading companies needs to rise.

– License to operate will depend more heavily on taking a fair share of fresh water for the chemical industry, and on better water stewardship than now. It has to: Humankind relies on water availability. Industry has to provide solutions in a hurry to its insatiable demands.

– Renewables have to play a bigger part in the future. And that means renewable energy and renewable chemicals. I think that we shall look back in 20 years and be shocked at the percentage of “renewable” sources in our energy and chemical mix. Relying for too much longer on renewables being a single-digit percentage of the future is a mistake.

Send me your views. What do you think are the must-haves of a sustainable future? what will sustainability be in 2033?