October 11, 2022
President & CEO, American Chemistry Council
From recycling initiatives to spearheading climate change initiatives, there are multiple ways businesses can work together to create a more sustainable future. During the Sustainability and Circular Economy Summit 2022, Chris Jahn, the President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), discussed the various ways the chemistry industry is responding to the world’s greatest sustainability challenges and building consumer trust as a sustainability leader.
Many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Are Reliant on Chemistry
According to Jahn, “chemistry is the science behind sustainability.” To demonstrate this point, Jahn spoke specifically about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Out of 17 of those SDGs, 13 of them are directly impacted by chemistry-enabled products … [such as] solar panels [and] solar cells … enabled by silicon inks that our members make,” Jahn explained. “Or if you are looking at high capacity battery technology powers [including] electric vehicles … you need lithium metal oxides to make that work.”
“For a wind turbine, there's 10 tons of polymer in a wind turbine, you need chlorine chemistry and epoxy resins to build that,” continued Jahn. “If you want to insulate your home, you need polyurethanes.”
Advancements in Chemistry Can Work to Address Climate Change
Jahn noted that the field of chemistry is working to build sustainable measures in the face of climate change through everyday engineering efforts, and leaders are addressing their own emissions.
“Just in the last four years, we have reduced our greenhouse gas intensity by over 12%,” he said. “We use technologies like combined heat and power, [and] not only do we use that technology to manufacture, we can actually throw... energy [back] to the grid. Our members are investing billions of dollars in carbon capture utilization and storage — a game-changing technology … to address climate change.”
Certain products manufactured by ACC members can even reduce carbon emissions, said Jahn.
“If you replaced every house in America … with spray foam insulation, you'd get eight times the greenhouse gas benefits from making that one little change,” he explained. “That will be the equivalent of pulling over 30 million cars off the road for a year.”
The ACC Has Set a Goal for Recyclable Plastic Packaging by 2040
Even though plastics “are at least two and a half times better from a greenhouse gas standpoint than alternative materials,” there are simply too many in our environment, said Jahn.
“What we need to do as an industry ... [is] work with all consumers to make sure that we keep plastic in the economy and out of the environment,” he noted. “We use something called advanced recycling to do that. We take a basic plastic that's been used, goes in the recycle bin, and we break it down using a chemical process to its basic molecular structure. And then we use that to produce new virgin quality material, reusing all of the product.”
Jahn said the ACC has invested $6 billion in this method of advanced recycling “to close the loop [and] create a circular economy for plastics.”
“By 2030, we want … all plastic packaging to be recyclable or recoverable, and 10 years later, in 2040, we've made this public goal of making all packaging recycled, recovered, or reused,” said Jahn. “Our members are combining their innovation with sustainability for a lower carbon future and a circular economy for plastics.”