Transparency is changing the materials marketplace

Colin Price is the director of research and market innovation at the Oregon Environmental Council.

Colin Price is the director of research and market innovation at the Oregon Environmental Council. Organizations interested in learning more about green chemistry innovation and transparency in the marketplace can contact Colin at colinp@oeconline.org.

There is a major shift happening — especially in Oregon — around how materials are made and used.

Green chemistry innovators are working to design inherently safer alternatives at the molecular level. Renewable feedstocks are replacing risky petroleum-based options. And an increasingly sophisticated and prominent push for transparency in the marketplace is driving change for businesses and consumers alike.

As a result of these exciting trends, the materials landscape is rapidly evolving for everything from building materials and products to electronics and apparel. The choices companies are making about materials are increasingly driving sustainability efforts. These businesses are considering materials' influence on our health, ecosystems and economies.

In this broad and evolving materials landscape, one of our most pressing challenges is embedded in this question: Are the chemical ingredients in any given material or product safe for people and our ecosystems?

For many businesses up and down supply chains, as well as the people and organizations that buy and use materials and products, the answer to that question is: We don’t know.

I suppose that uncertainty may be acceptable if we felt confident that our current standards and laws were effective at protecting downstream businesses, the public and our environment. Unfortunately, the general consensus between businesses and advocates alike is that our laws in this arena are outdated and ineffective. Not only are they ineffective at protecting public and ecosystem health, exposing companies to inefficiencies and risk, but they also fail to drive innovation and stimulate entrepreneurship.

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