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Chemical policy reform—Who speaks for industry?

The Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum hosted a happy hour event on May 15, entitled The Business Case for Chemical Policy Reform. The group of fifty, over half from the business community, heard presentations about how sound chemical policies can benefit businesses and why business voices are needed in chemical policy debates.  

We heard from David Levine, co-founder & CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), a growing coalition of over 165,000 businesses and social enterprises and more than 300,000 entrepreneurs, owners, executive, investors and business professionals. David cited the results of an ASBC polling showing that 87 percent of small businesses think there should be government regulations to ensure that chemicals used in growing food are safe and 73 percent support government regulation to assure that consumer products are free of toxins. Nine out of 10 small businesses surveyed believe that chemical manufacturers should be held responsible for ensuring that chemicals they use are safe and 94 percent support disclosure of chemicals of concern in products.

We also heard from Ally LaTourelle, VP for Government Affairs at BioAmber, a renewable chemistry company that transforms agricultural crops into green chemicals that directly substitute for petrochemicals. Ally described the disjointed and weak chemical regulatory system as ineffective in assuring chemical safety. She emphasized that stricter chemical regulation, as well as incentives for adoption of green chemistry, can spur innovation to produce safer alternatives, such as those being developed by BioAmber. She cited real world examples, such as the spike in patents for phthalate-free chemicals following a cluster of phthalate bans in several countries between 2006 and 2009.  This is just one example of regulation providing impetus for innovation.

Both David and Ally urged businesses to engage with policymakers to have their voices heard and their interests served in policy debates. Ben Kyriagis, co-founder of Small Business Minnesota (SBM), an event co-sponsor, noted that large businesses and business organizations have significant resources to engage in policy debates so they have the most influence. SBM strives to advocate for the real interests and values of small business owners and self-employed people. 

The voice of “industry” at our state capitols and in Congress is usually the voice of big businesses and the organizations representing big business, like the Chamber of Commerce, who generally say chemical regulation is bad for business. Policymakers rarely hear from the thousands of diverse businesses who could benefit from stronger chemical regulation. Those benefits include better supply chain management to assure that chemicals used in products are free of toxic chemicals, reduced costs and liabilities, better worker protections, a more level playing field for companies making and using greener chemicals and increased consumer and investor confidence. In short, effective chemical regulation creates a more competitive, innovative and economically viable chemical industry in the U.S.

Who is speaking for “industry?” The truth is, there is no monolithic “industry.” Policymakers need to do a better job of listening to new business voices, including manufacturers and retailers dedicated to making and selling safer products, green chemistry businesses, and the thousands of small businesses across Minnesota. The American Sustainable Business Council and Small Business Minnesota are working to activate and magnify these alternative business voices.