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Making safer products for consumers brings leading companies to Ann Arbor

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May 9-11 meetings focus on alternative chemicals and manufacturing processes
May 4, 2012

Representatives of more than 40 leading national and global companies will be meeting in Ann Arbor from May 9-11 to discuss how they can do more to reduce exposure to toxics and other chemical hazards among both their workers and their consumers.

These companies--including Michigan-based firms like Dow, Steelcase and Herman Miller as well as international businesses like Staples and Nike—represent the retail, footwear, auto, furniture, building, and home, beauty and health-care sectors. The meeting in Ann Arbor is the seventh annual Innovators Roundtable of the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3), an organization of more than 70 companies that helps support the design and application of safer chemicals and products.

“Manufacturers are tasked with obtaining the chemical makeup of components in products provided by their direct supply chain but this is often a challenge since this information is not always shared from raw materials providers,” stated Tammy Ayers, who leads Steelcase’s materials chemistry practice. “Banned and red-lists of chemicals are published by regulatory entities, certification programs and even corporations, but it is challenging for every manufacturer to navigate and respond to these requirements. That’s why we need to enhance the collaboration and information sharing between manufacturers and suppliers and ultimately deliver full transparency on material content and safer products.”

Topics on the agenda for the meeting include greening the textile industry, bio-based cleaning solvents and “The Auto Sector's Journey Towards Safer and Greener Chemical Design.”

Hosting the GC3 meeting in Ann Arbor is a solid reflection of the state’s leadership in advancing green chemistry, according to Tracey Easthope, environmental health director of the Ecology Center. In 2008, Michigan became the first state in the country to direct government agencies to advance “green chemistry” through research, education, economic development and implementation. The effort has engaged businesses, academic researchers, and government agencies in a clearinghouse of resources, an annual conference and governor’s award for green chemistry, and educational networking.

“Holding the meeting here is also important and hopeful given past and current contamination of the Great Lakes ecosystem by chemicals from manufacturing and everyday products and the resulting health impacts on people and ecosystems in the region,” Easthope said. Greener chemistry has been a long-standing policy initiative of the Ecology Center, and the Ann Arbor nonprofit is hosting a reception in conjunction with the GC3 meeting.

“The GC3 provides a forum for companies to share challenges and experiences in advancing safer chemistry through their supply chains,” according to Joel Tickner, associate professor of environmental health at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and director of the GC3. “Business-to-business collaboration in a safe space and around common goals will help move the market place for safer products through pre-competitive problem-solving.”

The meeting will feature speeches and presentations by Lana Pollack, former Michigan senator and chair of the U.S. Section of the International Joint Commission; John Viera, director of sustainability at Ford, and Rui Resendes, director of the Green Centre Canada, a research institute set up by the Ontario government to support commercialization of safer products.

At this year’s Roundtable, the GC3 is expected to endorse a policy statement on “green chemistry education,” calling on academic institutions to ensure their graduates in relevant fields have an understanding of chemical hazards and safer chemistry.

“As a consumer-facing firm, we want to make sure our products are safe for current and future generations,” said Roger McFadden of Staples. “We need a revolution in product design with an environmental conscience and commitment to green chemistry. Events such as the GC3 roundtable provide us an opportunity to create that revolution across sectors.”

For more information, contact: Terry Gallagher, terry@ecocenter.org, 734-369-9267