Interview with ChemSec: How Positive Industry Voices Drive Policy Change

As public concern grows, and the EU’s Chemicals Strategy tightens legislation, it’s time for companies to take action on toxic chemical use. 

Our latest interview highlights why proactive companies should work with EU policymakers and civil society to create a culture of safe, sustainable chemicals and drive circular business models

We spoke with Theresa Kjell at ChemSec to learn all about: 

  • How ChemSec works with industry, investors, and policymakers to drive change
  • How companies of all sizes and sectors can get started with chemicals substitution 
  • Why positive industry voices are crucial to effective policy 
  • How – and why – stakeholders should work directly with Brussels

Remember to take a look at Ohana’s full interview series for actionable, insider advice designed to help organizations to engage more effectively with EU sustainability policy. Ohana’s interview with eco-friendly textiles company Sympatex offers insights into getting your voice heard in Brussels, while our Policy Hub interview offers tips on combining education with advocacy. Our microplastics interview calls on companies to push for holistic life-cycle analysis of microfibres in textiles. 

Now, we’re taking a deep dive with ChemSec on how companies can act as positive voices for change in EU chemicals policy. 

Want someone with deep experience and connections in the EU to help guide your engagement with sustainability policy and public affairs? Get in touch!

ChemSec’s vision for change

As ChemSec’s Senior Policy Advisor, Theresa Kjell brings her expertise to policy and legislative work with a particular focus on circular economy issues. 

“ChemSec is an environmental NGO aiming to reduce use of hazardous substances through substitution with safer alternatives,” Theresa tells us. This involves working directly with companies to “drive legislation that helps human health and the environment but remains pragmatic for companies.” 

ChemSec believes that chemicals regulations should reinforce the circular economy, creating a safe and efficient secondary raw materials market

Enabling companies in all sectors

“We work with brands across all sectors that want to be leaders in their respective fields,” Theresa says, “though it can be difficult to find committed companies in some sectors.” 

The ChemSec Business Group brings together market-leading organizations to collaborate on developing effective corporate practices to phase out and substitute hazardous substances. With diverse member companies, ranging from IKEA to H&M Group and Apple, the group engages in issues such as stronger regulation, traceability, and transparency in the use of chemicals. This helps ChemSec, sometimes in collaboration with companies, to give input to EU policymakers. 

But ChemSec doesn’t only work with large corporations. “We try to be of assistance to SMEs who can’t have their own chemicals experts,” Theresa affirms, “showing them how to work with substitution in a constructive way.” 

ChemSec’s tools are “really helpful for companies who want to address hazardous chemicals use but don’t know where to start.” 

The Substitute It Now (SIN) list is a database where companies can consult an accurate list of substances of very high concern. The SINimilarity tool lets organizations identify all chemicals linked to the SIN list, aimed at decreasing regrettable substitutions where companies phase out a hazardous chemical but replace it with another high-risk substance. 

ChemSec’s PFAS Movement also brings together large and small organizations to fight per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), harmful substances known as “forever chemicals” because of their persistence. “The PFAS Movement consists of companies who have either already phased out non-essential PFAS and companies who want to do so,” Theresa tells us. “It’s been a huge success since we initiated it a year and a half ago.” 

The importance of positive industry voices in the EU

When engaging with Brussels, Theresa urges companies to remember that though “it may feel like these big grey buildings are deciding things, it’s really people making the decisions.” It’s crucial for those people to hear from positive industry actors who are committed to substituting hazardous chemicals for the sake of human health, environmental sustainability, and the longevity of their business. 

“Policymakers need to be aware of what’s happening from an industry perspective to get a balanced picture of what it’s really like,” Theresa says. Educating policymakers about the corporate landscape gives them information “to be able to justify why they want to do certain things,” allowing them to make a strong case for phasing out hazardous substances. 

“And usually, as a policymaker in Brussels, you only hear about companies who are lagging on change. The companies who don’t want to or can’t commit to change are the ones knocking on your door”. 

That means positive industry voices have a huge impact. “When we come with a positive message, showing that companies want change, policymakers really appreciate it,” Theresa notes.  

Companies who come together for positive change can make a huge impact on EU policy and industry more broadly. “The frontrunners really show what’s possible, and then we use that to pull all the other companies along,” says Theresa, noting that the EU’s Sustainable Chemicals Strategy focuses on “rewarding frontrunners.” 

Engaging with key legislation 

Theresa points out that “it’s important that companies don’t just speak through trade organizations because, since these organizations have to represent all of their members, they can end up promoting less progressive policies as the lowest common denominator.” Instead, organizations need to engage directly with Brussels. 

“We work with all of the pillars of the EU,” says Theresa. It’s crucial for organizations to engage with member states and the EU Commission to push for new legislative proposals, and then to give feedback throughout the EU Parliament and Council’s co-decision process

ChemSec encourages companies to “bring their perspectives” to the EU by participating in policy consultations and workshops and forming a collective voice for change. 

Stakeholders should get ready to engage with key legislation that will impact chemicals use, including: 

  • The EU’s Sustainable Chemicals Strategy 
  • The Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH)
  • The Regulation on the Classification, Labelling, and Packing of hazardous substances (CLP)
  • The Sustainable Product Initiative which highlights the need for chemicals use to be safe and sustainable by design 
  • The EU Strategy for Sustainable Textiles which will address hazardous substances in fabric production and recycling
  • The EU Taxonomy which will drive investment towards companies who use safe, sustainable chemicals 

Here’s how you can get your voice heard: 

Companies who lead the way on chemicals legislation will contribute to improved innovation, stronger transparency and consumer trust, and the success of circular business models. 

“Strong legislation will help companies,” Theresa reminds us. Stakeholders who take the opportunity to shape EU chemicals policy will help create a safer, more sustainable, business ecosystem. 

Want someone with deep experience and connections in the EU to help guide your engagement with sustainability policy and public affairs? Get in touch!

Join our newsletter to keep up to date with the latest news and information coming out of the EU.