Industry in the lead

OUR PLANET 9.2 - Ozone

Industry in the lead


describes how industry has accelerated phase-outs of ozone-depleting substances, and draws hopeful lessons for the battle against global warming

crowded cityscapeManufacturers of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and many of their industrial customers initially fought aggressively against regulations to control the substances. During the debate before the signing of the Montreal Protocol, industry argued that scientists had not yet proven that CFCs destroyed stratospheric ozone, that the products made with or containing them were absolutely vital to society, that there were no safe substitutes and that potential substitutes would be ineffective and costly. At the Montreal meeting, ten years ago, only the United States Air Force and a few small businesses expressed technical optimism that sufficient alternatives and substitutes could be successfully introduced to satisfy the 50 per cent reduction in CFC use and the freeze in halon production prescribed by the Protocol.

Industry responds

Fortunately, industry then began listening more carefully to the scientific findings linking ozone depletion to CFCs, halons and the other potent ozone-depleting substances (ODS). In late 1987 and early 1988 leading multinational companies began announcing corporate goals to help protect the ozone layer by halting their use of ODS. They mobilized their technical experts to seek solutions, motivated suppliers to offer alternatives, and commercialized and implemented new technology which eliminated the need for ODS. Such corporate support, and the technical solutions that became available, enabled the Parties to the Protocol to make strong political decisions to expand the list of controlled substances and to accelerate the schedules for phasing them out: these targets were strengthened and achieved more easily.

Remarkable partnerships were formed as corporate experts began working more closely with regulators. These allowed business to adopt more cost-effective alternatives more rapidly than would have been possible using a 'command and control' approach, or other traditional regulations.

Corporate leadership included a wide variety of unprecedented initiatives. These included:

- Dramatic announcements of CFC-free products, such as the announcement as early as 1975 by S. C. Johnson company that it was phasing out CFCs as aerosol propellants and switching to hydrocarbons.

- Public announcements that CFCs destroy the ozone layer, such as an about-face by Du Pont in 1986, when it accepted that there was sufficient scientific evidence and began to advise customers to seek alternatives.

- Breaking ranks with industry associations, as in 1988 when AT&T announced a new solvent, made from oranges, that cleaned as effectively as CFC-113.

- Setting challenging goals, as in public pledges by Nortel/Northern Telecom and Seiko Epson in 1988 to phase out CFCs faster than was required.

- Starting up organizations to speed the commercialization of alternatives, such as the Industry Cooperative for Ozone Layer Protection in 1990 and the Halon Alternatives Research Corporation in 1991.

The United States military also surprised sceptics by acknowledging their responsibility as customers and spearheading technical innovation, green procurement and market influence.

Although the Montreal Protocol allowed a ten-year grace period for developing countries, some countries set their own, more ambitious schedules.

In 1989 Mexican environmental and industry leaders, concluding that protecting the ozone layer was too important to wait, jointly declared that they preferred to proceed at the same pace as developed countries; this would enable them to leap-frog inferior and obsolete CFC equipment and use cutting-edge technology.

Mexico formed a technology cooperation partnership with Nortel to transform its electronics industry. As a result, its electronics industry halted CFC uses faster than most European companies and built some of the world's first new CFC-free factories - including AT&T and Nortel plants that manufactured products without using any solvents.

Thailand pushes ahead

Thailand went one step further. Its Government and the UNEP Industry and Environment office surveyed domestic use of ODS and presented the results at a conference in Singapore in 1991. The survey found that foreign companies were responsible for more than three-quarters of the use of the substances in the country: approximately 50 per cent was by Japanese companies, 25 per cent by United States companies, 5 to 10 per cent by European companies - leaving the remaining 15 to 20 per cent to Thai companies and such local uses as automobile air-conditioning service. The Government therefore asked foreign companies to propose a cooperative solution. A plan emerged to ask multinational companies operating in Thailand to pledge to phase out ODS there no later than one year after they did so in their home company or country. Workshops were organized to demonstrate CFC-free technology, and suppliers challenged to offer it to Thai companies.

new carThe companies that made the pledge phased out ODS very rapidly from solvents, but doing the same for refrigerators was very much more challenging. Refrigerators used CFC-12 as a refrigerant and CFC-11 as a blowing agent in the insulating foam. In 1992 CFC-free insulating foam was still experimental and compressors had not yet been developed for the likely alternative refrigerant, HFC-134a. So Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry financed a compressor redesign team composed of experts from the six Japanese companies with joint ventures in Thailand. This met dozens of times and by October 1996 the problems were under control. The companies confirmed their commitment to phase out production by January 1997. The Government of Thailand then prohibited the manufacture and import of new refrigerators containing CFCs, making it the first developing country in the world to use trade controls to protect the global environment.

This experience with the Montreal Protocol holds several lessons for the world as it confronts the problem of climatic change.

- The controls originally introduced under the Montreal Protocol in 1987 motivated industry. Although little technology had yet been identified, industry moved quickly to commercialize alternatives and substitutes. The December 1997 Kyoto Protocol on Climate Protection may prove to be a similar precondition to gaining support from industry and to developing technology.

- Corporate environmental goals focus company priorities and motivate suppliers: this is now beginning to repeat itself over global warming. British Petroleum has heeded the science and announced that it is now time to act to protect the climate. Dow has set a goal of improving energy efficiency by 2 per cent a year and Mitsubishi Electric and Philips have announced targets of increasing it by 25 per cent by 2010. General Motors has introduced an electric vehicle, Honda has an ultra low emission vehicle, Toyota is marketing a hybrid vehicle, and Mitsubishi has commercialized direct fuel injection. ENRON has developed a portfolio of climate friendly energy supply technology for its customers. Whirlpool has commercialized the world's most energy-efficient refrigerator and is advocating stringent regulation to motivate its competitors.

- Partnerships and associations between industry and government attract companies taking leadership. The Industry Cooperative for Ozone Layer Protection has been reorganized as the International Cooperative for Environmental Leadership with a climate protection agenda. The organizers of the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy have formed the International Climate Change Partnership to guide climate negotiations towards flexible, performance-based regulations.

- Information is critical. Industry experts on the Montreal Protocol's Assessment Panel catalogued and evaluated the best technologies. The UNEP Industry and Environment office in Paris provided publications, databases, and on-line access to information - and organized networks and regional offices to guide the selection of technology. The Convention on Climate Change has now reached the stage where increased industry participation is needed and it is considering how UNEP can repeat its success in providing information that helped to protect the ozone layer.

Dr. Stephen O. Andersen is Co-Chair of the Montreal Protocol Technology and Economic Assessment Panel and Director of Strategic Climate Projects, US EPA Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Division.

Complementary articles in other issues:
Claude Fussler: Clean = competitive (Hazardous Waste) 1999
Mark Moody-Stuart: Picking up the gauntlet (Climate & Action) 1998
John Browne: A new partnership to make a difference (Climate Change) 1997
Margaret G. Kerr: Profits with honour (The Way Ahead) 1997
David T. Buzzelli: Our millennium challenge (Chemicals) 1997

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