A Sustainable Balance

A Sustainable Balance

Momentum is gathering among shipping companies around the world to invest in green initiatives to reduce their carbon footprints and improve their environmental profiles. Customers, investors, employees and shareholders are all potential beneficiaries. But one coatings manufacturer is embracing the sustainability challenge and setting it at the heart of everything it does. Here, Dr. Gareth Prowse, International’s Product Regulatory Affairs Manager, explains how the company has established a track record in sustainable product development that is second to none.

International had already achieved pole position amongst marine coatings manufacturers in the race for sustainability long before it was acquired by Dutch chemicals giant AkzoNobel. But the fact that the company’s parent has been ranked in the top three of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index every year since 2007, and is currently ranked No.1 position, provides a synergetic backdrop to International’s far-reaching sustainability initiatives.

Dr. Gareth Prowse is in charge of Product Regulatory Affairs at International. He explains that the ongoing drive for a more sustainable coatings business presents both challenges and spectacular opportunities. And the quietly-spoken scientist, only a few months into the job, is clearly fired-up as he explains in more detail.

The industrial coatings business generally – and the marine coatings sector in particular – deals with a significant number of hazardous substances which need careful management in order to provide the high performance coatings that its customers demand. These are necessary because they ensure that the manufactured coatings are fit for purpose and perform as customers expect. But with ever increasing regulatory scrutiny, keeping ahead of the sustainability curve enables International to make sound value judgments over which materials make it into its products or not.

A better world

“That’s why sustainability is such a critical part of our business,” explains Prowse. “A sustainable business is one which you can continue to trust and in which a long-term investment would be both safe and ethically sound. Product stewardship and the close monitoring of regulatory affairs are the day-to-day tools we use to provide suitable products to the market. We want to leave a better world for our children and our children’s children.”

“The ambition is always that new products are better than those which have gone before,” he continues. “We must be able to demonstrate that changes made to improve the environmental profile of a particular product have not been cancelled out by the addition of some other ingredient. We do this by using robust and comprehensive risk assessments, with results properly verified.”

There is no point, Prowse explains, in reducing the volatile organic compound (VOC) content in a particular product, only to replace it with a potentially more damaging or equally harmful diluent. That’s where International’s Environmental Scorecards come in, just one aspect of its complex through-life eco-efficiency analysis procedures.

Every aspect of every new product is assessed and compared with the best in class available in the market, often one of International’s own products. This benchmarking process is then used as a basis for deciding whether to continue with a certain product’s development or not.

Continuous improvement

Prowse uses hull coatings as an example. And, just like any other new coating formulated by the company’s chemists, a new product must prove that it is both more effective and more sustainable than an existing one before they will commit to the claim.

So Intersleek®1100SR, for example, the company’s premium foul release coating formulated specifically to tackle slime build-up, and Intercept®8000 LPP, a biocidal antifouling offering linear hull polishing, are both more sustainable than their predecessors.

Achieving continuous improvement in products goes beyond standard paint formulation; International continuously looks for ways to improve the way its products are assessed.  Prowse highlights International’s unique “slime farm”, the only such facility in the world and one that has been developed specifically to grow slime – complex communities of bacteria and diatoms which attach to all underwater surfaces including ships’ hulls – quickly and in ideal controlled conditions.

The slime farm, together with teams of microbiologists and polymer chemists, has been an essential component in the development of Intersleek®1100SR. Without it, says Prowse, the new coating would still be at an early stage of product formulation.

“One of the constant challenges is to continue to strive for superior performance from products manufactured against a more sustainable backdrop,” Prowse explains. “Our eco-efficiency analysis, for example, examines every new product from its origins as an ingredient list of crude raw materials, potentially sourced globally, through to its manufacture, application, performance, repair, renewal and disposal; a complete life cycle analysis.”

“By using these independently verified tools we ensure that the sustainability improvements we make are genuine, and any such claims that we make are credible and defensible.”

Supporting a Sustainable business

A sustainable profile in a marine coatings business often requires a different approach to the way that companies historically operate, requiring input at all levels of the organisation to make it work.  This comes with its own challenges; changing direction in the coatings industry is often as slow as the super-tankers it serves but in the long run the effort is worth it. The future payback is varied, including increased customer loyalty, greater market share, a motivated workforce and ethically responsible shareholders keen to support sustainable initiatives.

Lead by example

“We have established a number of firsts over the years,” Prowse declares. “We were the first to stop using tributyl tin (TBT) in our hull coatings, well ahead of the IMO’s eventual ban. TBT-based hull coatings were very effective, but they were also endocrine disruptors, or ‘gender-benders’, from a marine organism point of view.”

“We’re also the first marine coatings company to have stopped using lead chromate and coal tar in our products. We’ve stopped,” he explains, “because we want ship owners and operators, their shipper customers, our shipyard clients and ultimately all of our stakeholders to see that it is the right, responsible and sustainable thing to do. This is an example of product stewardship in action. We are ahead of the game.”

Some competitors have also announced plans to stop using lead in due course, but progress is slow despite the fact that CEPE (the European Council of producers and importers of paints, printing inks and artists’ colours) and other industry groups have been lobbying for years to stop the use of lead chromates.

International’s move last year to stop using lead comes as the call for lead-free coatings gains momentum. In October, the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint (GAELP) held a week of action to draw attention to the issue which was fully supported by both International and its parent company AkzoNobel.

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