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Helping solve some of the world’s most pressing problems with chemistry

Chemistry is at the forefront of innovation and ACC members working together to solve challenges can change the world

7 min read

Renewable Energy

Helping solve some of the world’s most pressing problems with chemistry

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This post is sponsored by the American Chemistry Council (ACC).


Christopher L. Jahn

The American Chemistry Council is at the forefront of innovation, helping members work together on solving global challenges like climate change, plastic waste, and feeding and powering a growing population. Here we talk with newly named president Christopher L. Jahn about what he plans to address in his role, the opportunities for the industry and issues he’s monitoring for 2020.


Tell us a bit about your industry experience and how your previous roles have prepared you to head ACC.

I’m honored to lead ACC. For me, it’s the culmination of a career dedicated to stewardship, sustainability and advancing pro-growth public policy that protects people and the environment.

I spent the first 10 years of my career on Capitol Hill, including time as chief of staff to former US Sen. Craig Thomas, a Republican from my home state of Wyoming. Later, I served as president of the National Association of Chemical Distributers for seven years, then president and CEO of the Fertilizer Institute for six years. Along the way I’ve gained deep policy experience in many of the issues that impact the US chemicals sector including trade, energy, environmental regulation and transportation to name a few.

It’s also important to recognize that ACC is a dynamic organization with more than 200 talented, knowledgeable employees. Beyond leading ACC’s science-based public policy agenda, an important part of my job is to build and retain a strong team and ensure that our entire staff has the tools, resources and support to succeed.


What do you see as the major challenges and trends for the industry?

One of the most promising trends I’ve seen is a growing belief that partnerships are critical to progress across virtually every issue or challenge we face as an industry and a society. Partnership is the new leadership.

For example, ACC and the US Green Building Council (USGBC) are now partners in promoting sustainable building and design, but it wasn’t always that way. Not long ago our organizations were on opposite sides of the ring on ways to improve sustainable building design. Today, ACC and USGBC are working together to leverage materials science and help improve the health, safety and sustainability of our buildings and communities.

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste is another example. My predecessor, Cal Dooley, helped bring together the world’s top minds from across the entire plastics value chain as well as members of the finance community, government and civil society to work to end the flow of plastic waste into the environment. It’s a problem that has no single answer and will depend on diverse teams coming together to promote infrastructure development, education and engagement, innovation and cleanup efforts to keep plastic in its place.


What major events are you watching in 2020 and what unique challenges do these present for ACC?

We’re closely monitoring and engaged in ongoing issues that could reach a climax in 2020, especially with regard to trade, international chemicals management and the US election, which could significantly impact ACC members.

Trade is a big one for us. ACC members have been hit hard by the steel and aluminum tariffs, tariffs on imports of chemicals and plastics from China, and retaliatory tariffs on US-made chemicals and plastics, which threaten to undermine US chemical industry growth and exports. Resolving the US-China dispute, reducing or eliminating tariffs among key trading partners and passing trade agreements like the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will all be critical to giving our industry and its investors the certainty and predictable trading environment we need to compete globally.

We are also looking ahead to the Fifth Meeting of the International Conference on Chemicals Management, or ICCM5. ACC and the International Council of Chemical Associations will be traveling to Germany next October to report on the progress the global industry has made in improving safe chemicals management and promoting sustainable development around the globe. The ICCM5 could determine the future direction of a voluntary, intergovernmental policy framework designed to promote chemical safety around the world.


How can ACC help members work through these challenges and take advantage of new opportunities?

When it comes to key challenges like climate change, plastic waste, and feeding and powering a growing population, I’m encouraged that more people around the world are seeing chemistry as part of the solution – and in some cases, an essential part.

Our industry is responsible for a variety of products and technologies that help save energy, enable renewable energy and reduce emissions. Continuing to showcase chemistry’s social, economic and environmental benefits at the local, state and global level is one of our industry’s biggest opportunities because it paves the way for partnerships like the ones I described earlier.

At the same time, as we talk about chemistry’s numerous benefits, we will need to step up our efforts to build and retain trust by demonstrating how chemicals can be produced and used safely in communities around the world. We also need to highlight chemistry’s role in advancing a more circular economy and demonstrate the chemical industry’s commitment to investing in advanced recycling technologies that can recover the value in chemical and plastic waste and repurpose our products for new, innovative uses.


What are your thoughts on Responsible Care® and what steps can be undertaken to continue to strengthen sustainability work?

Responsible Care is one of our industry’s greatest success stories. It’s the backbone of the chemical industry’s commitment to safeguarding the health and well-being of our employees and the communities where we operate, safely managing the chemicals we manufacture, sharing information transparently, and conserving and protecting our environment and natural resources.

Since its inception, two core tenets of Responsible Care have been strong, dedicated leadership and a commitment to continual improvement. Since ACC began its Responsible Care journey more than 30 years ago, our members have updated and enhanced the initiative to improve our industry’s environmental, health, safety and security performance. ACC’s sustainability principles are a natural progression of this commitment.

Our sustainability commitment builds off the solid foundation set by Responsible Care to address the issues that consumers and our stakeholders care most about: Are chemicals being used safely and what is their impact on human health? It is important that consumers know that the products they use every day and the processes used to manufacture them are safe. Our industry recognizes that we have a direct impact on human health and the environment, and a clear responsibility to live up to the expectations of our customers, neighbors, consumers and employees.

Over the coming year, we will continue to build out tools and mechanisms for measuring and reporting our performance with an expanded set of sustainability metrics, addressing topics ranging from climate, water, waste and air to materials use, process safety, diversity, human rights and more.


What excites you most about this new role?

ACC is one of the most respected and influential trade associations in the country. Our staff is top-notch. Our members are among the most innovative, responsible and admired chemicals and materials science companies in the world. Our companies may have competing brands or products, but they’re working together on the biggest issues like eliminating plastic waste and making the industry safer and more sustainable for future generations.

At the same time, the chemical industry is leading a renaissance in American manufacturing. We’re changing the way people think about waste and energy efficiency in building, automotive, and packaging design, and pioneering efforts to develop more sustainable, diverse and progressive workplaces.

I really couldn’t feel more fortunate to lead an organization at such a dynamic time in its history.


Christopher L. Jahn took over as president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) in November. Prior to that, he was the president and CEO of The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) and president of the National Association of Chemical Distributors.