Guide to Responsible Nano-Business

ObservatoryNANO recently published a "Guide to Responsible Nano-Business", a brief report written for an audience of "Medium sized companies involved in the development, processing, production, or trade of nanotechnology-enabled materials, components, or applications".

ObservatoryNANO was created and funded by the then extant European Community (EC), the predecessor of today'sEuropean Union (EU),  “to create a European Observatory on Nanotechnologies to present reliable, complete and responsible science-based and economic expert analysis, across different technology sectors, establish dialogue with decision makers and others regarding the benefits and opportunities, balanced against barriers and risks, and allow them to take action to ensure that scientific and technological developments are realized as socio-economic benefits.”

The Guide sets out and briefly discusses four "tools to identify and manage nanotechnology-related priorities":

Tool 1: Set priorities, focusing on the process of framing responsibility measures

Tool 2: Check and complement established internal guidelines and code of conduct

Tool 3: Focus actions, described in the guide as the "strategies and programmes [needed] to be put in place to assure that a guideline is of any practicle use".

Tool 4: Inform transparently, focusing on what to communicate (content), how to communicate to employees of the company, customers and/or the general public, and the choice of communication media, ranging from company websites to product labels.

The Guide has links to "Good Practice Examples", such as BASF's Code of Conduct and to sites where more information can be found.

While the Guide to Responsible Nano-Business is not on the same level as "Guide for the Perplexed" by Moses Maimonides, it is a good short and clearly written work that the owners and managers of nano-businesses would find useful in formulating policies for the workplace and for communicating with the general public.

Swiss Food Retailer's Code of Conduct

Switzerland's food retailers association, IG DHS, has released a Code of Conduct for food and packaging suppliers with regards to nanotechnology usage in their products.  The Code is fallout from earlier criticism, and is aimed at avoiding similar public backlash, over the use of genetically modified food in Switzerland.

The two-page Code of Conduct states that "The lack of specific legal rulings for nanomaterials and the uncertainty associated with the assessment of their possible risks mean that the precautionary principle needs to be applied in order to protect the health of consumers and the environment from possible harmful effects. On the other hand, the numerous potential advantages and benefits offered by nanotechnologies need to be exploited in the best possible way.  This document adopts the working definition cited in the basic report of the Swiss Action Plan on Synthetic Nanomaterials, according to which nanotechnology is concerned with structures between 1 and 100 nm that offer added functionality and are manufactured or manipulated in a targeted manner."

Specific obligations under the Code impact procurement, product safety, and manufacturers and suppliers.  The largest impact of the Code appears to be the requirement placed on manufacturers and suppliers to submit detailed information on nanomaterials used in their products.  The Code requires the following minimum information from manufactures and suppliers:

  • Benefit or added value of the "nano-product" compared to the conventional product
  • Evidence of the nanospecific effects and/or modes of action 
  • Technical specifications (physical-chemical data, e.g. size, structure, etc.) 
  • Risk potential for humans, animals and the environment (toxicology, ecotoxicology, degradability, disposal, etc.)

While the requirements placed on suppliers seem to be detailed data submissions, the Code is contingent upon implementation by the signing IG DHS members (the Code states, "The members of IG DHS are responsible for requesting information about nanotechnologies from their manufacturers and suppliers.").  In addition, the use of the phrase "working definition" for nanotechnology, leading me to think its a rather soft use of the term.  While credit should be given for IG DHS's concern for protecting its customer, this document does not seem to have much teeth behind it.  Perhaps this is seen as a first step only, and with all new programs, first steps are generally revised over time.  We'll just have to keep an eye on how the Code is implemented and revised.