Workshop by ISC3 and UN Environment: Learning from Start-ups

ISC3 – International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre

On 14th of September 2017, innovators, entrepreneurs and experts from around the world participated in the workshop “Advancing Entrepreneurship and Start-up Initiatives for Sustainable Chemistry: Learning from Case Studies” in Berlin, Germany. The workshop was organized by us and UN Environment to share experiences and insights from sustainable chemistry start-up initiatives and companies – fourteen cases from all over the world were presented.

Mr. Friedrich Barth (right) presenting ideas for follow-up action in the closing session. Mr. Achim Halpaap (middle) and Ms. Petra Schwager (left).

“Towards a Pollution-free Planet” – This is the theme of the upcoming United Nations Environment Assembly in December 2017, that workshop participants contributed to by identifying barriers and opportunities for sustainable chemistry innovation and start-ups. And by acting as a driver to support implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, for example in the areas of zero hunger, clean oceans, climate change and sustainable cities.

Workshop participants explored barriers and challenges that sustainable chemistry start-ups face in moving ideas from concept to market, like access to laboratory infrastructure, obtaining patents and licenses, securing capital, and gaining market access. While these challenges are common across regions, start-ups in developing countries often face particular challenges, such as a lack of basic laboratory infrastructure. Participants concluded that Governments and the international community can provide critical support needed to strengthen the enabling environment for sustainable chemistry start-up companies and to foster research and innovation.

Friedrich Barth, Director of the newly founded ISC3, announced that the ISC3 is committed to advance concrete activities in the coming years to support sustainable chemistry start-up companies. Achim Halpaap, Chief of UN Environment’s Chemicals and Health Branch said: “In order to ensure that sustainable chemistry start-ups can unfold their full potential for addressing international chemicals, waste and pollution priorities, we need to give more attention and support to this emerging sector.”

The fourteen cases from around the world demonstrated that start-ups have great potential to support action “Towards a Pollution-free Planet” – for example:

  • the use of biological methods to substitute mercury in artisanal gold mining
  • replacing hazardous potassium permanganate in jeans bleaching
  • design of continuous flow electrochemistry and biomimetic processes to substitute toxic agents in pharmaceutical production
  • use of photocatalyst to decompose water contaminants into non-toxic molecules using sun light; and others.

All cases are available on the website of UN Environment.

Main results of the day: Sustainable chemistry start-ups can bring valuable insights to the table in shaping global policy, including the intersessional process on the Strategic Approach and the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020. Next steps will therefore focus on engaging sustainable chemistry start-ups in relevant international discussions and exploring opportunities to strengthen the enabling environment for them, like providing advisory services and enhancing access to finance.

The workshop was organized by UN Environment and the International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Center (ISC3), in partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), and the Free University of Berlin. Additional financial support was provided by the Government of Germany.

More information and meeting documents can be found on the website of the UN Environment.