Going green is here to stay (Day 95)

Going green is here to stay (Day 95)

30th August 2014

I think the business arguments for organisations to become more sustainable are clear: reduced waste and costs; greater efficiency; employee approval and loyalty; competitive edge; great PR; adding value to your brand; and even increases to the bottom line are some of the potential benefits on offer.

Strong positive PR in the process industries often has a link to sustainability and the contribution that chemical engineers make. Examples include improving process safety and reducing energy, water and waste. These have a positive impact on the environment.

Unilever is one global company with big ambitions in the form of its Sustainable Living Plan. The plan includes halving the environmental footprint of production processes by 2020. This includes greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and waste produced.

In the UK, Unilever has entered into partnership with the University of Liverpool and AB Sugar to develop a micro biorefinery. This collaboration across academia and industry is a step towards sustainable production of chemicals for the manufacture of materials, plastics and solvents.

Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan includes a target to halve the environmental footprint of production processes by 2020.

The feedstock for this facility is the waste and byproducts from forestry and agricultural crops (eg wheat, corn, sugar beet).

Another fantastic feature of this facility is the fact that it is open-access; available to academic researchers and start-up companies through to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and large companies such as Unilever.

Meeting the challenges of sustainable, non-fossil feedstocks is a significant challenge in the 21st century and requires a truly multidisciplinary approach. Chemical and biochemical engineers will need to work alongside other science and engineering disciplines to identify compounds, produce materials and test their properties.

Scientific research and identification of suitable chemicals is one challenge but the bottleneck in progress is the development of efficient scaling-up that is economically viable

Bio-based products are already widely used in packaging but are increasingly being found in the consumer products themselves.

Earlier this year, Unilever announced a partnership with Solazyme to incorporate algal oils into the Lux brand soap (known as Cress in the US). The algal oils are sustainably cultivated using fermentation. This agreement sees an initial supply of 10,000 tonnes.


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