Ethical Performance
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Regulation is inevitable – so nano firms must act regulation is inevitable

February 2011

The nanotechnology sector has been warned that it will soon face regulatory, liability, reputational and operational risks as the industry’s safety and environmental issues become clearer and more pressing.

A new analysis by the Netherlands-based CSR research consultancy Sustainalytics has said companies using nanotechnology – including those in the food and textiles industries – must prepare for the gap in regulation to be righted sooner rather than later, and should start to introduce best practice in the area voluntarily.

The study, Brave new world: investors and nanotechnology, notes that the ‘current understanding of the potential risks of nanotechnology is limited’ and outlines expected regulatory developments for the industry.

Sustainalytics says the virtual absence of safety requirements is unlikely to continue for long as potential risks to human health are considered. At present, it says, ‘the overwhelming majority’ of nanotechnology-based products are not required to undergo testing and there are no frameworks on labelling. But pressure from civil society, the increased use of nanotechnology and a better understanding of its risks will inevitably lead to a stricter regulatory environment.

It highlights imminent regulatory tightening, such as that in the European cosmetics industry, which will require all nanomaterial to be listed on products by 2013, and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recent decision to include nanotechnology as a ‘substance’ in its revised Toxic Substance Control Act.

Some NGOs, including Friends of the Earth, have proposed a moratorium on the use of all nanotechnology in consumer products until regulations are adequate to ensure safety.

The report emphasizes the sector’s transparency problems, saying manufacturers’ reluctance to label their nanotechnology products as such – or to produce policy statements on their use of nanotechnology – has revealed ‘an urgent need’ for redress.

To negotiate the coming changes, Sustainalytics recommends that companies develop a policy on their use of the technology that includes principles outlined in the European Commission’s code of conduct for responsible nanoscience; commit to multi-stakeholder programmes, such as the NanoRisk framework, to assess risks; implement safety systems; and make a concerted effort to increase transparency.

Hilary Sutcliffe, director of Matter, a think tank on the responsible use of new technologies, told EP:  ‘Transparency is fundamental in nanotechnology. But a major problem is the relationship between the SRI investor and company investor relations managers. There are companies doing innovative work, considering their approach to nanotechnology very thoughtfully, but with investor relations departments simply not interested.’

Firms using nanotechnology include DuPont, L’Oreal and Unilever. The sector is expected to be worth $2.5billion (£1.6bn, €1.9bn) globally by 2015.

Sustainalytics | Global | Technology

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