The Formulator's Nightmare is not Green Chemistry...You can Employ it to Your Best Advantage

Posted on 12/16/2013 4:25:06 PM By Bob Braun

In my last post, I reviewed several definitions of building green and how excessive focus on this property can lead to a less sustainable building overall. 

In this post, I look at the use of green chemistry and how it can be advantageous in many instances without sacrificing other product attributes.  First and foremost, it is most important to avoid green listed chemicals whenever possible.  That said, one must also decide what the application really demands.  I have noted over the years that formulators have been driven to maximize a physical property that really was not essential to good product performance.  One example: I have seen companies tout that their product is the strongest adhesive, even when the application did not require this level of adhesive strength.  It was perceived as a marketing ploy that the adhesive exhibited the “best adhesive performance” compared to any competitor's brand.  I will give some specific examples from my experience later in this blog.

So how does this happen?  In some cases, newer product specifications have been set by producers based on product performance properties that historically existed for a given product type.  Often, these specifications included the properties that formulators had tested in the product development stage and then later evolved into a QC spec and finally into a supplier spec.  Other producers then often followed the lead of the biggest player and sought to match what existed.  In some cases, good science became secondary to getting a specification agreed to amongst several or more producers of the product. 

I am sure that if you are a formulator, you have experienced the type of situation where the sales department is hammering you to increase your product’s adhesion because the competitor has a higher value and to decrease the flame spread for the same reason.  You probably sit there and wonder (in light of your scientific knowledge) why this will make the reformulated product actually perform better.  The reformulation may raise the cost and it may complicate the manufacturing process as well.  And, you have already tested both products side by side and find yours more durable, and even more convenient to use and dispense etc.  But, the marketplace has been driven by product A and you “must” equal or exceed its property characteristics or expect to face declining sales.

An adhesive requires a minimum adhesive strength plus a reasonable safety factor to insure the minimum is not exceeded due to weathering, aging, etc.  Of course, the concept that bigger is better is ingrained into our psyches and changing the game to tout product features, not related to the historical paradigm, is difficult.  This has been the challenge of the green movement as well, and helps explain why now the “greenness” of some products is becoming the major sales focus...perhaps sometimes at the expense of other beneficial properties (as described above).  Nevertheless, for the formulator of a product with less demanding durability requirements, emphasizing green becomes a very desirable benefit, while maintaining good balance for the remaining properties becomes easier.  This is not to say that one should not strive to make all products as green as possible, but this often becomes more challenging as one moves up the durability scale.   

Here is a specific example of the above: some adhesives (in my view) are engineered for higher adhesive property levels (especially for interior applications) than needed or even desired.  Often, the adhered material need to be removed in the not so distant future, and this will then be more costly and more difficult.  This is not a sustainable approach.  Take carpet, for instance.  Carpet is often replaced within five years due to traffic wear, staining, or due to replacement of the poorly coordinated furniture.  There are many other interior examples as well such as drywall and parquet.   These materials certainly must stay well fastened, but will often be removed once or even more before the end of the building’s life.

I will go into further detail in my future posts on green chemistry and other related issues.  Anything you would like to see in the future on this topic?  Questions I can answer?  Post a comment below and I'll respond.

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