AMSTERDAM - He took a firm stance, 20 years ago, when society was at the turning point of becoming sustainable. Emmo Meijer, chair of the Top Sector Chemistry back then, and now a retired professor (87), reflects on what has been realised since. And he does that possibly more with a sigh of relief than with a sense of satisfaction.
‘Because everybody knew that huge steps had to be taken, but a wait and see approach prevailed. Who would make the first move, the heavy industry or the government?’
Meijer notes that nowadays chemistry and petrochemistry businesses have become an integral part of a finely branched recycling system. Small and medium-sized chemical companies respond to the future visions of other sectors and have consequently become strongly interwoven with those sectors, for example the biosciences, smart agriculture, construction, the food industry and mobility. Due to their innovations, these sectors are increasingly dependent on the knowledge of modern, sustainable chemistry. That is why at least 80% of the chemistry industry is currently accommodated in (bio)science parks, industrial parks and university campuses where the molecular chemistry perspective drives the innovation processes.
‘Understanding how we can influence things at the molecular level is the strength of chemistry’, states Meijer. ‘No other discipline in the world possesses that depth of knowledge and it is from this molecular understanding that new developments emerge.’ Due to the close ties with societal developments, chemistry has gained more respect among the general public, observes Meijer. ‘And by the way, 20 years is a relatively short time period. Unfortunately, not enough progress and investments were made in the initial years, and so not all of the sustainability objectives have been achieved. My focus is therefore on 2050, because that still leaves us enough time to achieve what needs to be done.’ ↙