All Articles Leadership Live from CPI: Sustainability's slow, subtle march

Live from CPI: Sustainability’s slow, subtle march

3 min read


I’m reporting — and tweeting — from the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry’s Technical Conference in Nashville, Tenn. A major component of CPI’s annual event is the 60-plus technical papers showcasing polyurethane-related products and research. This post focuses on some of the “greener” advancements and where they fit in a wider business context.

“Sustainability” can be an idea, a goal, a vague promotional term or a perceived threat, depending on the audience, but for many industries, it’s merely a new perspective on an old goal: improving products and processes in the hopes of a better bottom line.

Even still, the difficulties in measuring sustainability lead to triple-bottom-line thinking that’s overly focused on the “wow” factor — the “green” innovation that comes out of nowhere but forever changes an industry. But real change, in almost any context, is incremental, with the leap usually the result of a thousand smaller, unsung steps.

At CPI’s technical conference, companies have repeatedly demonstrated that many of the smaller steps toward sustainability are already happening — they’re just folded into regular business improvements that bolster the industry. Efficiencies gained are often touted not for their eco-credibility but for improvements in cost, time and performance. And while these gains alone won’t be enough, they might be among the small steps needed for a larger cultural and industrial shift. A sampling of what I’ve seen:

  • Bayer MaterialScience’s development of a two-component waterborne polyurethane coating that offers a reduced level of volatile organic compounds.
  • Acme-Hardesty’s work with castor oil-derived products for various applications.
  • Honey Bee Polyol, which uses soy-based polyols for various applications and has gained the Department of Agriculture’s Certified Biobased Product seal.
  • Huntsman’s life-cycle efforts with polyurethane: “The product stewardship process adds value to our products by minimizing the risk of harm both to mankind and the environment, reducing the risk of marketing a defective product and, in consequence, reducing potential liabilities,” the company says.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency, the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry and the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance have been collaborating on best practices for spray polyurethane foam.
  • Honeywell International has been researching blowing agents for spray polyurethane foam applications, seeking increased efficiency and wider application while also improving environmental and energy performance to meet rising standards.
  • DuPont is performing geographically diverse cradle-to-grave life-cycle analyses of spray foam expansion agents, seeking to maximize energy savings against a realistic — and tougher — benchmark: existing expansion agents.

How is your industry taking small steps toward a greener, more energy-efficient future without losing focus of business objectives?