Rethinking Nanomaterial Governance
Ismael Rafols | University of Sussex | March 2010
Regulating nanomaterial is indeed difficult: For one, it is nearly impossible to intervene in early development phases - for example to ensure environmentally-friendly design - since the final application of the material may yet be unknown at this point. Any type of restriction at this time would merely stifle innovation. On the other hand, it is also impracticable and extremely expensive to regulate an established nanotechnological application, given the fact that the corresponding infrastructure as well as institutional interdependencies and customer preferences are already in place. The heterogeneity of nanomaterials in end products translates into the impossibility of regulating them from the point of view of the final product. The missing coordination mechanisms in the nanomaterial sector time and again contribute to producers and end-users seeing their hopes disappointed. For these reasons, new regulatory methods need to be developed in order to reduce political barriers and promote innovation by putting regulatory mechanisms in place much earlier in the production chain. Even if there is no way of controlling for specific outcomes in the nanomaterial production chain, their development can be steered in a generic fashion. To this end, it is necessary to differentiate between socially acceptable innovations and those which will not be approved by society. Here one needs to pay particular attention to the location of the intervention within the product chain: Whether it lies closer to the consumer (i.e. downstream) or further away (upstream). In addition, marketing and regulatory guidelines must be coordinated to a greater extent, in order to further research and the development of nanomaterials.
Existing guidelines within the complex system of nanomaterial governance are insufficient and disproportionately target the final product within the production chain. Hence it is crucial to redefine the nanomaterial sphere, since there is a lot more at stake than simple risk management. Customers must also rethink their attitude toward nanomaterials, for example by demonstrating a willingness to consume more environmentally-friendly products. Regulating for socially-desirable outcomes also means adapting guidelines to account for differences in up-, mid- and down-stream interventions. Only thus will nanomaterial governance contribute to opening up new paths for the future development of more environmentally-friendly nanomaterials and technologies. More…
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community Editorial Team from "Missing Links in Nanomaterial Governance: Bringing Industrial Dynamics and Downstream Policies Into View" published here by the University of Sussex.