Blog: GC3 Roundtables (3/4): The public perception of chemistry

– The public perception of chemistry: how do we become part of the solution?
Finally the discussion pointed out the challenge of public opinion of chemistry: chemistry and synthetic chemicals are often paraded as ”the problem”. Anything natural is intrinsically good. Anything synthetic is bad or at best suspicious.  Study upon study shows that this is not the case. If anything chemistry will be an integral part of the solution in reversing some of the damage we have done since the industrialisation. We cannot make the planet’s limited resources last for 7 or 10 or 20 bn people without it. Finding sustainable, energy efficient and zero waste pathways to manufacturing lightweight and highly functional materials is critical. The potential for achieving big and lasting impact should motivate any scientifically minded aspiring teenager to get into chemistry. Instead the industry has difficulty in recruiting the top talent to work on these challenges. 
One aspect to this issue is the staggering complexity of the chemistry value chain. Even formulators have a hard time understanding the reality of the chemical companies. How is a consumer to understand the entire value chain? This brings us back to the importance of trusted brands and companies that are conducting business responsibly. Founded on good science. The future will tell if it is Apple that is establishing its own screening labs for all its components or 7th generation that works in relationship with their customers, educating them, and sharing their experiences with them. 
The other end of this argument is the difficulty to find room for SME innovation in this world of extreme transparency. New technology development in chemistry is capital intensive. IP has been an important tool to protect innovation but it is expensive and slow processes that enable IP protection. Bringing a technology from research to a viable application is often a long, expensive and painful project. How can a small company invent and capitalise on its inventions? How do you protect IP in a world of full disclosure? And in addition what are the impacts of REACH and the new TSCA legislation on chemistry innovation – where costly registration and evaluation processes further increase the burden on SME firms? If innovation of new processes and raw materials are reduced through these extensive regulations, will that ultimately benefit or harm the public? Perhaps benefit due to fewer harmful substance being released but harmed since certain innovations that might have been highly valuable might be stopped in their tracks due to high initial investment cost. It is crucial to strike that balance. In that context it is encouraging to see chemicals regulation agencies (such as ECHA) making an effort to also take in SME/innovative companies points of view as they try to revise and improve on the current legislation.
What is this?
Paxymer is a company working with halogen-free flame retardants. Paxymer is a member of the GC3 start up network and Amit Paul the managing director participated in the round tables (the networks main annual event) for the first time in 2017. This series of 4 blog posts are his reflections and take aways from the conference relating to halogen free flame retardants as well as green chemistry and the future of the chemistry industry in general.  To read the previous posts please press the link below.
3. The public perception of chemistry: how do we become part of the solution?
4. In closing (27th of July)