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nanotechnology sector moves closer to agreeing code

December 2007

Seven principles of responsible practice for companies in the developing area of nanotechnology are being finalized.

The Responsible NanoCode has been drafted by a working group established by the Royal Society, Insight Investment, the Nanotechnology Industries Association and the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network.

Consultation ended last month and the final version is expected to be published in March.

Research and development spending on nanotechnology – the manufacture of objects built from individual atoms and molecules – is growing rapidly, and the National Science Foundation has predicted that by 2015 the market will be worth $1trillion (£488billion). The greatest impact will be on the chemicals industry.

Early studies, however, suggest that some nanoparticles might damage living organisms, and there are worries about toxicity. The health, safety and environmental risks are unclear, and investment advisers Innovest and the pressure group Greenpeace are among those to have warned companies to tread carefully to avoid a consumer backlash similar to the campaign against genetically modified crops in Europe. Among other things, the principles in the draft voluntary code state that a company should:

 ensure that the board is responsible for guiding and managing involvement with nanotechnologies;
 ‘proactively engage with stakeholders’ and be responsive to their views
 carry out thorough risk assessments and minimize public health, safety and environmental risks.

The code working group includes representatives from BASF, Johnson Matthey, nanotechnology specialist Oxonica, Smith & Nephew, Thomas Swan (speciality chemicals) and Unilever.

The code will be discussed at a European Commission nanotechnology conference due to be held this month.




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