We must dematerialize our western economies

an average factor of 10 or more,

as well as de-energize them,

if they are to be sustainable

F. Schmidt-Bleek, 1993


In the early 70ies of last century it became apparent hat all products of chemical industry should be examined for their potential dangers to humans and the environment. Early legislation was put in place in Japan, the USA and in the EU. The OECD undertook a considerable effort to develop harmonized testing guidelines and Good Laboratory Practice procedures in order to avoid non-tariff barriers to trade. Jim McNeill, Margarita Idman, Peter Mencke-Gückert, Rune Longren, and Bio F. Schmidt-Bleek were among the first to put this work in motion. The Chemicals “Part Two Program” was established within the OECD Environment Directorate and Peter Crawford became its first leader.

In its work, the OECD focused on the toxicity of chemicals to humans and the biosphere, as well as on chemical and physical effects and the behavior of chemicals during production (worker’s safety) and after release into the environment. During the past 30 years, the OECD chemical’s testing procedures have become world standard.

The concepts for judging the relative environmental burden of material insults to the environment were only at their beginning in the 70ies and 80ies: the analyses generally remained on the level of the examined case study. It is scientifically impossible to derive a complete picture of the ecological consequences of placing even a single chemical compound onto the market. Future surprises can never be ruled out as we learned from cases like the use of CFC’s. Generalizations of testing results were rarely possible, in part because of the tremendous complexity of ecological linkages and effects. And even if this complexity was ever completely understood for a particular case, it is by no means certain that the resulting discoveries would be transferable to other materials, procedures, facilities or services. In addition, something even more basic from an ecological point of view was missing from judging the dangers inherent in marketing chemicals in the 70ies and 80ies: although members of both industry and politics had endorsed it as essential for analyzing the ecological quality of goods, the „cradle to cradle“ principle was not applied.


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