Empowering Change: Sustainable Chemistry Policy Advocacy in 2024

Posted By: Dr. Asli Tamer Vestlund In the News,

Change Chemistry views policy as a critical lever for systemic change amid escalating planetary challenges. With a focus on incentivizing safer, sustainable chemistry and harmonizing policies, the organization is eager to bring advocacy to the forefront of its efforts in 2024 while leveraging the collective power of its members.

“As an organization, we have the privilege of significant political leverage paired with diverse and valuable agency and legislative connections,” says Change Chemistry’s Founder and Executive Director Joel Tickner. “We look forward to working with all of our member organizations to move the needle on policies that benefit them and align with our organizational values and mission.”

To advance this effort, it is imperative for industry leaders to champion policy transformations to reshape the trajectory of the chemical landscape toward sustainability. The advocacy influence wielded by these influential figures provides an essential catalyst for pivotal shifts in policy frameworks, driving innovation, fostering research, incentivization, adoption, and scale, and redefining industry standards. 

Policy's Role in Advancing Sustainable Chemistry 

The relationship between policy and sustainable chemistry has gained prominence as a catalyst for innovation in the chemical industry. The enactment of the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act in January 2021—an accomplishment Change Chemistry played a large part in achieving—marked a significant stride in aligning federal and private investments in sustainable chemistry R&D and commercialization.   

Post-Act, the sustainable chemistry landscape swiftly aligned with broader federal priorities like decarbonization, resilient manufacturing, and environmental justice. This evolution highlights not just sustainability's criticality but also the pivotal role of policy in guiding these advancements. 

Following this legislative momentum, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) established an interagency Strategy Team on Sustainable Chemistry. This team crafted the "Sustainable Chemistry Report: Framing the Federal Landscape," cataloging initiatives, estimating investments, and outlining the government's role in advancing the field.   

As a sustainable chemistry leader, Change Chemistry was the first organization invited to engage with OSTP to discuss the report and the Team’s second sustainable chemistry strategy report, which points to the organization’s level of trust and influence at a federal level. 

There is still work to be done to align sustainable chemistry with current governmental priorities like environmental justice and supply chain resilience. To navigate these necessary strides, Change Chemistry believes that industry leaders must actively advocate for chemicals policies that incentivize R&D as well as foster the adoption and scale of sustainable chemistry.   

Change Chemistry’s Advocacy Support in 2024 

In support of this work, Change Chemistry is undertaking a transformative approach in 2024, integrating policy advocacy as an essential facet of its operations. With the backing of its 107 members, the organization aims to elevate policy as a central driver for sustainable chemistry, continuing to extend its focus beyond federal-level initiatives to encompass European, global, and state-level policy endeavors. 

At the core of Change Chemistry's mission is the alignment of member interests with policy initiatives. This involves streamlining member priorities, understanding their needs, and synchronizing them with organizational objectives. 

Tickner underscores the significance of the organization’s advocacy, highlighting the challenges faced by several Change Chemistry members in navigating regulatory approvals for new chemicals. "Those challenges have the potential to keep incumbent, more dangerous chemicals in the market, setting up another hurdle for innovators. So we're talking with a range of organizations to find common ground to both prioritize and recognize safer, more sustainable chemicals coming into the market," says Tickner. "This initiative aligns with our mission and addresses a key membership priority." 

In Europe, new European Program Lead Asli Tamer Vestlund emphasizes the need for advancing safe and sustainable chemistry by making it more obligatory for companies. She also envisions lowering barriers for startups to access markets more easily. "All our members agree that these changes are essential.” 

Change Chemistry is already actively promoting incentives policy in Europe through Tickner’s role on the High Level Roundtable for the European Chemical Strategy, which engages executives from businesses, NGOs, and professional organizations. 

Both Tickner and Vestlund foresee a future for sustainable chemistry policy that transcends national borders. Vestlund emphasizes the potential of harmonizing policy across regions, envisioning easier compliance for multinational companies. "If we can inspire U.S. policymakers and get them to engage with their EU counterparts, it would simplify compliance with the current situation of multiple, varied laws."  

By providing its members essential access to policymakers, Change Chemistry is able to bring together diverse stakeholders to initiate critical policy changes and realize system-wide changes. “What we bring to the table is this whole value chain and multiple sectors,” says Tickner. “There isn’t any other organizational advocating that is like that, and that makes our conversations incredibly valuable.” 

Strategic connections will be pivotal in upcoming years, asserts Vestlund. She emphasizes the organization's focus on forging connections with policymakers who hold decision-making authority. "We aim to emphasize the urgency of the changes we advocate for. We've been advocating these changes for decades, and the time to act is now. We can help policymakers and members connect and create new policies.” 
Real Results from Collective Action 
The impact of policy advocacy in driving forward the agenda of Change Chemistry and its coalition members has already been transformative. Through concerted efforts and strategic initiatives, significant milestones have been achieved in influencing legislative actions and shaping critical programs both in the United States and on an international scale. Change Chemistry looks forward to carrying this momentum forward in 2024. 
Here are the realized outcomes resulting from the advocacy and dedicated work of Change Chemistry and its members:

  • Sustainable Chemistry R&D Act (2021): Collective advocacy efforts led to the passage of this act, paving the way for increased federal investments in sustainable chemistry R&D. 

  • Secured Funding Appropriations: Persistent advocacy secured multiple appropriations, directing crucial funding toward advancing sustainable chemistry research and development. 

  • Establishment of SusChem Program at NSF: Advocacy efforts, including language inclusion in the 2010 America Competes Act, established the SusChem program at NSF, fostering innovation in sustainable chemistry. 

  • Coalition for EPA Safer Choice Program: Formed a coalition to oppose staffing cuts and defunding of the EPA Safer Choice program, supported by a majority of Change Chemistry members. 

  • Representation in European Chemical Strategy: Active participation in the European Chemical Strategy High-Level Roundtable provided influential guidance to the European Commission on policy implementations. 

  • Contributions to European Chemicals Agency Strategies: Through the UMass Lowell Sustainable Chemistry Catalyst, Change Chemistry’s sister organization, contributed to the creation of the European Chemicals Agency Substitution Strategy, advocating for Safe and Sustainable by Design principles. 

  • Shaping Key European Chemicals Strategy Programs: Collaborated closely with the European Commission to shape programs like Safe and Sustainable by Design, marking significant strides in fostering sustainable practices within the chemical sector. 

This winter, Change Chemistry will be undertaking a series of discussions with members to shape its policy advocacy platform and priorities for 2024 and will host periodic member discussions. Please reach out to Asli Tamer Vestlund (asli@changechemistry.org) if you’re interested in participating.