Undoing Chemical Industry Lock-ins: Polyvinyl chloride and green chemistry


We examine polyvinyl chloride (PVC) as one example of the ethical challenges that the chemical industry faces when putting green chemistry into practice. Green chemistry has emerged as a powerful new philosophy for designing molecules, reactions, and products to be intrinsically non-toxic and sustainable. We consider three issues: Should the chemical industry overcome the inertia of path dependent technologies and introduce safer, more sustainable technologies? What will motivate companies and their employees to practice green chemistry under conditions where changing technologies and businesses can create substantial economic, market, and technical risks? How should the precautionary principle be applied in terms of the real-world complexities of manufacturing chemicals? To do so, we look at examples of environmental and health harms in the feedstock and PVC manufacturing lifecycle stages, along with green chemistry solutions that could be employed. PVC suggests how difficult it could be to adopt green chemistry solutions; nonetheless, these solutions may make significant contributions across the chemical industry generally.

Publication date: 
January 1, 2017
Publication type: 
Journal Article
Iles, A., Martin, A., and Rosen, C. M. (2017) Undoing Chemical Industry Lock-ins: Polyvinyl chloride and green chemistry. Hyle: International Journal of the Philosophy of Chemistry.