The Safe and Sustainable by Design (SSbD) criteria could be the engine to move the whole economy away from hazardous chemicals and towards a more sustainable future.
But it is important that it is just that and not simply a paper exercise – or worse: a tool for greenwashing.
What happens now in the process is critical as everything is starting to fall into place. On the 22nd of March there will be a highly anticipated stakeholder workshop on the SSbD criteria and later this spring there will be a high-level roundtable on the same topic. It is important to get this right. Therefore, we propose the following five concrete ideas to make the SSbD criteria into what it needs to be:
1. Safety first
The context for establishing SSbD criteria is the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and its observation that substitution of the most harmful substances has not happened at the expected pace. In other words, a chemical that is a chemical of concern cannot be called SSbD, and materials and mixtures containing chemicals of concern cannot be called SSbD. The full chemical content must be known and assessed. In our previous publication, we detail what chemicals are to be considered safe.
2. Incentives for industry
If the SSbD concept is going to make a real difference, it must create incentives for the industry to move in the right direction. While establishing criteria to support research and innovation is a good start, it is not enough to fundamentally change the market. Once established, the SSbD criteria should be connected to a certification scheme. This would allow for greater transparency and benchmarking between companies.
3. Room for improvement
The SSbD criteria must be ambitious and represent a high level of safety and sustainability. It must be more ambitious than existing regulations and other frameworks to make the change it’s supposed to make. The bar must be set high but not impossible to achieve. Establishing different levels (for example, gold/silver/bronze or A/B/C) of the SSbD criteria is a way to make the criteria both achievable and ambitious.
4. Differentiate between chemicals and materials
There should be a tiered approach to deal with complexity. For example, materials and mixtures are more complex than chemicals. Therefore, additional criteria for materials and mixtures should be considered, such as recyclability. Similarly, If the SSbD criteria were to be expanded to more complex products than materials, mixtures, and chemicals, even more criteria, such as reparability, should be considered.
5. Efficient implementation of sustainability criteria
The SSbD criteria must be put in place sooner rather than later. It would be good to include a plethora of criteria, but we need to have a realistic approach regarding what information can be made available. For example, while the critical aspect of safety needs to be in place from the start, the number of sustainability parameters to be included could increase over time. A few production parameters, such as CO2 emissions, energy consumption, and waste, would be a good start. Later on, additional parameters could be added. A crucial part of establishing the criteria would be to ask the industry what information they could have available now and in the future. A life cycle analysis is not a desirable approach to this.