4.1.2. Health and environmental impacts of products
As a chemical company, Solvay sells products that are usually only a part of the final product. Many actors along the product value chain play roles in transporting, storing, using, and disposing of chemicals in a manner that is safe for both people and the environment.
of products portfolio covered by LCAs
of new R&I projects assessed for environmental impacts
Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs)
Solvay has made a strong commitment to conduct environmental assessments based on LCA methodologies. Standardized LCAs supply a reliable, unbiased image of a product’s environmental footprint. Solvay applies LCA methodologies according to international standards: ISO 14040, ISO 14044 and ISO 14046 norms.
Understanding these impacts is key to improving and communicating about Solvay’s products. These cradle-to-gate LCAs feed Solvay’s portfolio sustainability assessment, performed using the Sustainable Portfolio Management (SPM) tool. LCAs are used extensively to quantify the environmental footprint criteria of the SPM tool.
To support the LCA process, Solvay relies on a strong internal team of experts to develop Life Cycle Thinking methodology and set up tools for delivering all types of LCAs, from light screenings up to a full LCA for a complex product or service. These full studies are usually certified by an authoritative body for their adherence to the ISO Standard and for the quality of their results.
Extensive cradle-to-gate Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) are established for 92% of products (by turnover share) placed on the market, compared to 88% last year. This improvement is due to the redesign of the product portfolio (sale of the polyamide business), and also to a better business portfolio segmentation, leading to the calculation of new eco profiles and LCAs.
% of turnover
Products with a cradle-to-gate LCA
Full Life Cycle Assessments for customers
The Group performs extensive, customized ad hoc studies (full environmental impacts, cradle-to-grave) for and with customers, and submits them to peer review. For example, Solvay has completed a calculation of the environmental and social footprint of Guar cultivation in India.
Assessing the Research and Innovation portfolio
Solvay assesses 100% of new research & development projects for environmental impacts. It uses an enriched version of the SPM assessment tool that was specifically designed for products and applications still under development, and that benefits from the experience gained during several years of innovation project management.
Assessing R&I projects helps to design the research portfolio with respect to both environmental impacts at the manufacturing stages and helps align the project with sustainability megatrends in the market. Performing LCAs for R&I Projects is also a key tool for designing new products and new processes with less environmental impact and more sustainable characteristics, which are the leading themes of the Eco-Design approach.
Taking part in world class LCA platforms
To maintain a high level of expertise, Solvay participates in collaborative platforms:
- High level research on LCA methodologies: Ciraig (LCA expertise center - Polytechnique, Montréal, Canada, supporting the “International Chair on LCA”) coordinated the five-year program that ran from 2012-2017 with 13 industry partners; the new 2017-2022 multi-partner program is now starting;
- Association Chimie du Végétal in France on bio-sourced materials;
- The SCORE LCA platform: created in March 2012 to promote collaboration between industrial, institutional and scientific actors; and to foster positive developments in overall environmental quantification methods, particularly the life cycle assessment (LCA), to be shared and recognized at the European and international level;
- World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) LCA projects;
- Active participation and session chairing during the “LCM 2017” international conference on Life Cycle Management.
Establishing international LCA guidance on avoided greenhouse gas emissions
As an active member of the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), Solvay coordinates a trans-company task force focused on the quantification of avoidance of greenhouse gases (GHG) enabled by chemical products during their lifecycle.
After previous case studies on vehicle lightweighting by replacing metal parts with engineered plastics, Solvay has completed a new study, together with Asahi Glass Europe, on emissions avoided by the use of soda ash in the glass industry.
Double-glazed windows in buildings: contribution of sodium carbonate in avoiding greenhouse gas emissions
The contribution of sodium carbonate is “extensive” according to the ICCA/WBCSD guidance, because this chemical is an indispensable raw material when making glass. For every m2 of double glazing, sodium carbonate is estimated to be responsible for 19% (441 kg CO2) of the total avoided emissions thanks to double glazing (2,322 kg CO2), assuming a mass allocation, and excluding the effect of the low-e coating (1,092 kg CO2).
On the basis of the selected assumptions (presented in the full study), sodium carbonate can be estimated to contribute 90 kg CO2 avoided for every kg emitted during its manufacturing for this market.
Quantifying toxic impacts throughout product life cycles
In 2016, at BASF’s invitation, Solvay and six other stakeholders established a consortium (BASF, Covestro, Deutsche Bauchemie, DSM, IVL, and Kingspan) to develop a method to quantify the overall toxic impact of a product throughout its life cycle. The quantification will combine the LCA life cycle approach with quantifiers for products’ health hazards (toxic properties of the product) and for risk (exposures).
Such an assessment is intended to be used, along with additional information on toxicity impact as measured via a conventional Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), in the context of Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) and Product Environmental Footprint data (PEF). The EU Commission has expressed interest in a potential PEF application.
The methodology and the tool of toxicity impact assessment, named ProScale, has been presented and proposed to a large panel of regulation prescriptors and industrials to promote the use of this new standard. Several practical cases are also presented for comparison of construction materials.