This is the time of year I like the best. It’s not the impending over-consumerised glut-fest of Christmas, nor the early nights and a roaring fire that do it for me, though. No, what I look forward to is receiving the December issue of HCB back from the printers and being able to close the book on another year.
And it has been quite a year. Not only has it been HCB’s 40th year of continuous publication, but also a year of massive uncertainty and volatility, both political and economic. Businesses in industrial sectors all around the world have had to find ways to meet that volatility head-on, although many executives have mentioned the financial ‘headwinds’ they have faced as a result of that strategy.
This has also been the year when the growing calls for action on climate change and the despoliation of the natural environment have become a clamour. The public outcry when it was made clear just how badly the world’s oceans have been – and continue to be – polluted with plastics waste and other detritus arising from human activity has made it impossible for governments and supra-national bodies to stand idly by. Some attitudes that formerly were widely regarded as being the reserve of extremist tree-huggers have become mainstream.
The UN and EU have set out deadlines for action and targets for improving the sustainability of economic activity and, with the notable exception of the US, the world seems to be coming round to the idea that we cannot carry on the way we have been doing ever since the first industrial revolution.
That much has been apparent from nearly all the industry conferences we have attended this year, where ideas such as ‘sustainability’ and the ‘circular economy’ have been on the lips of almost all speakers (well, outside the US at least). The European Petrochemical Association (EPCA), during its Annual Meeting, went so far as to consider whether the fourth industrial revolution – aka ‘Industry 4.0’ or simply the ‘digital revolution’ – has a part to play in helping industry to meet those sustainability goals. For those who want to know more – and our report on the EPCA Annual Meeting appears in this issue – the answer is: “the jury is out”.
One of the most important tools if the world is to improve its performance in terms of sustainability will be the drive to decarbonise human activity. And in a world that is wedded to affordable, hydrocarbon-based energy forms (and in my book that includes biofuels just as much as fossil fuels) that suggests there are some massive changes in human behaviour just around the corner.
The need to move away from hydrocarbon fuels is, of course, a major concern for those who make a living out of producing, manufacturing and supplying those fuels; and many of those who will be affected are (or should be) HCB readers. We will, therefore, continue to keep an eye on what is happening in this area and report back, as we have done this month, with a number of articles helpfully corralled in the ‘Sustainability’ section.
One thing is clear: ‘business as usual’ is over, and the future will be very different - although in what way is impossible to tell. When it comes to volatility, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
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