Environment Maine released a new report, Safer By Design: Businesses Can Replace Toxic Ingredients through Green Chemistry, which highlights 14 businesses across the country, that are innovating to cut toxic chemicals from their products, while helping their companies and boosting the economy. There are some big multi-nationals on the list, like Proctor and Gamble, Walmart and Union Carbide as well as a growing Maine company.
“These companies are already replacing toxic chemicals with safer alternatives, and it’s helping their businesses,” said Nathaniel Meyer, Field Associate with Environment Maine. “We need to move forward by continuing to harness Maine’s ingenuity rather than moving backward by weakening current protections that safeguard our health and our environment and that spur innovation.”
The report shows that businesses across the country are creating new technology to reduce their use of toxic chemicals, a process called green chemistry. Here in Maine, there’s True Textiles, a company up in Guilford that invented Terratex, which is a naturally stain-resistant fabric made from recycled material and corn.
“It looks like any old fabric. But this is not just any fabric because it’s naturally stain-resistent, Terratex doesn’t need additional toxic stain repellants in its product, which saves True Textiles an estimated $300,000 each year,” said Meyer. “And also helps improve the company’s branding and reputation.”
They’re big tangible reasons why more and more companies across the nation, especially ones with historically bad pollution records like Union Carbide, are embracing green chemistry— it’s all about their bottom line and public perception.
The pharmaceutical industry was one of the first large industries to adopt green chemistry in a broad way because there is economic advantage. Pfizer’s use of green chemistry in the development of the cholesterol drug Lipitor saved the company a lot money. The Safer By Design report says it’s the kind of approach that could save the industry billions in energy, raw materials and waste disposal costs.
Companies are increasingly looking to universities to develop and test new “green” products.
“The University of Maine has several very well-developed programs that use the principles of green chemistry in different ways,” said Steve Taylor with the Environmental Health Strategy Center.
Those programs include the Forest Products Bioproducts Research Initiative and the Advanced Engineering and Wood Composite Center. University researchers, who received Maine Technology Institute grants, are working on developing biodegradable bottles made from potatoes.
“Maine needs to support and promote the businesses like True Textiles that are creating the new economy through clean production and green chemistry. That’s the future of our economy and the path to healthy homes and good jobs for our children,” said Taylor
The Maine legislature passed a law in 2008 with wide bipartisan majorities, creating a process by which toxic chemicals used in consumer products can be identified and safer alternatives researched.
“Maine’s common-sense, science-based policies to protect our children from harmful chemicals in everyday products are improving health, reducing health care costs, and creating new business opportunities,” added Taylor.
According to the report, the costs associated with the public health and environmental impacts of some toxic chemicals far outweigh economic benefits of products that pollute. Some scientists say that the dramatic increase of asthma, autism, and other diseases can be linked in part to toxic chemicals in products.
Transitioning to safer alternatives can help power the economy by driving innovation, creating new market niches and new jobs, reducing costs of raw materials or toxic waste disposal, and by improving company reputation and branding.
“Is every company there yet? Of course not. Is every institution of higher learning there yet? No,” said Meyer. “But I think the smart companies and smart universities see where the economy is going, see where consumers are going, and see where public health policy is going.”
According to Meyer Maine is ahead of the curve and could reap big economic benefits as long as policy makers continue to support the needed research and development.