On March 19, 2021 the European Commission (EC) held its first stakeholder workshop about the Safe and Sustainable by Design (SSbD) approach and criteria for chemicals. The SSbD criteria are a key element of the EC’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS) (FPF reported), which was published in October 2020. During the online SSbD workshop, representatives from the EC, the EU Member States (MS), as well as various stakeholders from industry, civil society, and academia presented their views on how to identify criteria for SSbD and what these criteria should be. More than 500 participants contributed with questions and comments in the chat. The full recording of the workshop has been published by the EC Directorate General for Research & Innovation (DG RTD).

DG RTD is responsible for developing the SSbD criteria and is currently working on a framework for this purpose, as was described during the workshop by Aleksandra Malysha and Javier Sanfelix, both DG RTD. First findings on the criteria development framework were shared, and workshop participants were informed that a survey will be sent out to stakeholders in April 2021 requesting input on priority sectors and priority uses of chemicals with the potential for improvement. Further, a technical stakeholder workshop is planned for the end of 2021. The specific criteria will then be drafted and published for consultation with all stakeholders in the third quarter of 2022, with the aim for it to be finalized by the end of 2022. An important element of the SSbD criteria development will be to establish a network of experts and stakeholders, which will also be achieved through the new EU research funding mechanism, Horizon Europe. Calls for new research proposals under Horizon Europe that will support the implementation of the CSS will commence in the second quarter of 2021.

Kestutis Sadauskas, Directorate General for the Environment (DG ENV), stated that the goal of the CSS is to “avoid as much as possible substances which pose a concern to human health and the environment, and those are the chemicals that have a chronic effect,” including, for example, carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, or persistent substances. He further explained that the CSS complements other EC elements of the European Green Deal published in 2020 (FPF reported), such as the Circular Economy Action Plan (FPF reported) and the Farm To Fork Strategy (FPF reported), as well as the Zero Pollution Action Plan for Water, Air and Soil that is expected to be finalized and published in the first half of 2021.

Sadauskas explained how the EC intends to utilize the SSbD criteria: (1) they will help to identify which research and innovations should be funded by the EC, and which investments should be deprioritized, in alignment with EC goals towards climate neutrality and zero pollution ambition; (2) the criteria will impact upcoming EC regulations on sustainable finance, a sustainable product initiative to regulate the overall sustainability of products (expected at the end of 2021), and proposals for a targeted revision of REACH regulation (in 2022), including assessment of the overall environmental footprint of chemicals.

Xenia Trier from the European Environment Agency clarified in her presentation and in her comments during the discussion that the SSbD criteria will not address economic considerations, but instead be focused on the intrinsic properties of chemicals. Economic considerations then play a role when products or services are developed and suitable, and non-hazardous chemicals are selected that will allow for performing the service.

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EC (March 24, 2021). “Sustainable-by-Design approach: towards a sustainable future.” (YouTube)

EC (March 24, 2021). “Sustainable-by-Design approach: towards a sustainable future.”