There are many challenges faced by CPCA member companies in Canada due to the continued churn of regulations per a highly activist federal agenda as seen over the past several years. Some have referred to it as the ‘firehose’ of Canadian regulations. This has not changed with the recent federal election in September, which saw the previous Government returned to power in a minority Parliament. The balance of power is now held by the New Democratic Party on the left who are more likely to support an activist agenda that was already focused on a number of worrying amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), for example. These amendments will be considered by a Parliamentary Committee in the House of Commons this winter.
CPCA has done much work to ensure that current and future regulations impacting the coatings industry remain focused on evidence-based, scientific data. When that is done the industry is better off. But if the goal posts are moved in terms of assessment of chemicals being tilted toward a hazard-based assessment over risk-based, it will get much more difficult. And, as always it is done in the name of sustainability.
While CPCA continues advocating for a balanced approach to public policy and regulation, it is time to highlight the tremendous success of the industry on the sustainability front. Throughout the world, CPCA members have made great strides in lowering VOC emissions in architectural coatings, over 90 percent in Canada’s case. It has achieved impressive success in waste paint recycling and other important advancements. Antifouling marine coatings carry tremendous eco-efficiency benefits when applied to tankers, bulk cargo and other vessel types, reducing greenhouse gas and other emissions by an average of 9%. This is no small feat, since shipping counts for an estimated 2-4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Cool roof coatings provide value by enhancing the ability of commercial buildings and homes to regulate temperature, leading to a reduction in energy usage demonstrating energy savings between 10-70%. Coatings for water transmission improves the pipeline infrastructure as a corrosion-resistant external coating, for both potable and non-potable water. Automotive monocoat technology results in more-durable paint, uses less energy and water, and reduces CO2 and particulate emissions compared with conventional paint processes.
While many have pointed out such impressive characteristics as the above, it may be time to double-down and take a more proactive approach to shine the light on how far the industry has come on sustainability — and plans to go. The paint and coatings industry must get more credit for its enhanced efforts on sustainability as evidenced in the ‘annual’ reporting of many companies. They deserve more credit for fully embracing sustainability and incorporating it into their DNA. Their corporate strategy and values now clearly reflect it. That includes both larger as well as small- and medium-sized enterprises. This is aligned with the coatings industry’s long-standing commitment to worker and product safety, first evidenced in the principles of Coatings Care. The industry is now embracing more widely the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of relevance to the coatings industry.
In terms of governance and delivery, the industry’s enhanced commitment to sustainability and reporting is real. This includes increasing commitment from CEOs who are now an integral part of the effort, as well as senior executives with a stronger role in the development and delivery of more sustainable practices. This is the case not only within the company but across supply chains. This is further supported by a commitment to aligning sustainable approaches with credible and recognizable standards organizations such as the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, which also ensures more transparent Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting.
None of the objectives and goals established by the UN — or elsewhere — are relevant if there is no accounting for the metrics related to the concrete or aspirational targets. So, companies are now reporting on sustainability using metrics based on previous years’ baseline results such as: percentage of sales from sustainably advantaged products and processes; manufacturing locations with zero waste to landfill; waste disposal sites with no releases; reduced spills; and waste and greenhouse gas reductions. There is now also reporting on metrics related to land use and biodiversity, water use, adaptation to climate change, product stewardship that includes circular economy recycling, energy use and GHG emissions (including low-level VOC emissions), sustainable approaches to innovation and product development, improved engagement with suppliers, renewed focus on regulatory compliance, and much more. Coatings companies are going beyond the aspirational to the practical and factual. That said, the aspirational goals will still be important on the road to further sustainability.
These metrics are garnering support and respect from standards-setting organizations as well as consumers who increasingly base purchase decisions on the sustainable nature of products. That may be the new challenge or opportunity for companies in the CASE industry, that is, improving communications on just how well the industry is doing in enhancing the sustainability of its products and processes. That trend is becoming more evident and will be something to watch for in 2022 and beyond.
All of these advancements in sustainability reporting in the CASE industry are being done while the coatings industry continues to deliver innovative products and solutions that ensure their customers can minimize ‘their’ environmental impacts related to both human health or the environment. Moreover, these products continue to deliver positive outcomes in the communities they serve whether related to protecting valuable public infrastructure or valuable personal assets. It is a kind of ‘two-for-one’ for the consumer because they get ‘more’ sustainable products while still being able to ‘reduce’ their environmental footprint in some way.
The sustainability approach, and related reporting, in the coatings industry is indeed on the right track as shareholders of coatings companies, writ large, continue to invest in the value they see in paint and coatings companies of every size, across multiple product lines.
While the coatings industry has faced challenges over the past two years as many have, the commitment to sustainability and product development has not diminished. It is time those who make the regulations in the name of more sustainability give credit where credit is due. We all need to make sure this happens for a truly great, innovative and more sustainable industry all of us are proud to serve.