The Chemical Strategy for Sustainability, explained

The Chemical Strategy for Sustainability, explained

Chemicals are all around us and play an essential role in our daily lives. They’re in the food we eat, the medicines we take, the buildings where we live and work, and more. Without them, we couldn’t enjoy the comforts, conveniences, and high living standards of modern society.

However, some chemicals have hazardous properties which can harm human health. They can, for example, irritate the skin, cause allergic reactions, and even damage our DNA. Furthermore, the production and use of chemicals can have a negative impact on the environment, for example because the chemicals do not break down over time. The chemicals industry is also the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the EU, behind only the cement and iron/steel industries. 

Nevertheless, the chemicals sector has an important role in the European economy. The European Union is the second largest chemicals producer in the world, with EUR 499 billion in sales in 2020. The industry directly employs 1.2 million highly skilled workers and supports 3.6 million jobs indirectly.

Clearly, we need to strike a balance between the economic benefits of chemicals and the risks. The EU already has the world’s most ambitious and comprehensive regulatory framework for chemicals, for example the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals) legislation enacted in 2007. To further protect human health and reduce pollution from chemicals, the EU has adopted the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS).

The Chemical Strategy for Sustainability, explained
The Chemical Strategy for Sustainability, explained

What is the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability? Why is it needed and what are its goals?

The European Commission published the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability on October 14, 2020. It is part of the EU’s Zero Pollution Action Plan, which is a key component of the European Green Deal. The Commission states that the CSS “strives for a toxic-free environment, where chemicals are produced and used in a way that maximizes their contribution to society, including achieving the green and digital transition, while avoiding harm to the planet and to current and future generations.”

The CSS aims to better protect citizens and the environment as well as to boost innovation for safe and sustainable chemicals. Some concrete actions it recommends include:

  • Banning the most harmful chemicals in consumer products, allowing their use only where essential

  • Phasing out the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the EU, unless their use is essential

  • Establishing a simpler “one substance, one assessment” process for the risk assessment of chemicals

The CSS also identifies initiatives to support the green and digital transition, including the promotion of toxic-free material cycles and “clean” recycling to ensure that substances of concern in products and recycled materials are minimized. 


What will happen as a result of CSS?

The Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability will address five major topics:

  1. It will introduce the Safe and Sustainable by Design concept and encourage industry to innovate towards non-toxic materials and innovative processes.   

  2. It will introduce a stronger EU legal framework to address environmental and health concerns. 

  3. It will simplify and consolidate the current legal framework by introducing the “one substance, one assessment” concept as well as a zero tolerance for non-compliance principle. 

  4. It will develop a comprehensive knowledge base on chemicals with specific information requirements across the value chain. 

  5. It will play a leading role globally by championing and promoting high chemical safety standards and not exporting chemicals banned in the EU.

To deliver these changes, the REACH and CLP (Classification, Labeling, and Packaging) regulations will be revised. These revisions will make it easier for EU authorities to evaluate and restrict larger groups of chemicals that do not meet the EU’s standards for acceptable risk, which are based on the precautionary principle approach

Accordingly, chemicals of concern, such as endocrine-disrupting, persistent, mobile, and bioaccumulative substances, will likely face restrictions following the revision of REACH and CLP. 


What are we doing to accommodate CSS now?

Discussions around how the CSS will be implemented are complex and ongoing. This makes it challenging for companies that are ready to start implementing internal changes, like Avery Dennison, to adapt to forthcoming requirements and deliver safe and sustainable solutions to the market.  

To track the progress of CSS, we rely on our Government Affairs function, which closely follows discussions in Brussels between stakeholders from European industry, professional associations, NGOs, and national authorities on how the CSS can be made a success, while also safeguarding competitiveness.

Relevant developments are swiftly communicated to our internal functions. This ensures that key functions, such as R&D, have all the information they need to make strategic decisions about our innovation efforts. Meanwhile, our Global Compliance team regularly provides updates and guidance to our customers to ensure they are on top of the latest developments.


How are we preparing for the future?

Despite the above challenges, because we are committed to our ambitious sustainability goals, we are taking a proactive approach to CSS. Our general approach is to phase out chemicals of concern from our product portfolio prior to deadlines specified by the legislation.

When it comes to the development and design of all of our new products, we apply EcoDesign principles and follow a close auditing process related to CSS. We have also implemented a go-no go principle. This means that we only work with chemicals slated for potential regulation through CSS on an exceptional basis, and if no alternative is available, we need to develop a future project which accommodates the ban of the chemical.

To effectively and thoroughly address the impact of CSS, we have created an interdisciplinary and interdepartmental CSS team. They are working together to identify all chemicals we use in our products, create road maps to substitute chemicals of concern, and develop alternative products. 

We are also taking the needs of our global teams into account - and driving positive change in our operations outside of Europe - via our Global Compliance team.


The Chemical Strategy for Sustainability, explained

Driving change across the value chain

The European chemicals value chain is typically made up of chemicals producers, mixture manufacturers, and producers of articles. Each of these players has a role to play in making the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability a success. However, none of us are operating in isolation, and as we see it, our role goes beyond meeting our minimum requirements to comply with regulations. 

When it comes to our suppliers, our goal is to push them to have alternatives in the market even before a specific chemical is banned. We will also push for safer alternatives to chemicals that are not used to make our products but are used in our production facilities, for example for cleaning or testing.

When it comes to our customers, we aim to develop compliant and safer alternative products, educate them on legislation as well as the benefits of our alternatives, and also create value propositions that help them join us in our commitment to avoid chemicals of concern. 


Creating a more sustainable future, together

The Chemical Strategy for Sustainability is essential to better protect citizens and the environment as well as boost innovation within Europe. We are committed to doing our part by developing more sustainable solutions and by working with our customers, suppliers, and ecosystem partners to help them find ways to contribute to the Strategy’s success.

To better understand the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability, contact our team of compliance experts.