Key messages:   The safe and sustainable by design (SSbD) framework is critical to the transition towards safe and sustainable chemicals and materials. Industry, academia, Member States’, and research and technology organisations’ (RTOs) participation in the first reporting period of the SSbD framework has been positive and encouraging. The operability of the framework is still under development. Future uptake by key stakeholders will be essential to effectively deliver SSbD chemicals and materials.  

Share of type of chemical/material considered (top) and contributing organisations (bottom)

Loading chart...
Loading chart...

Chemicals are everywhere in our daily lives and play a fundamental role in most of our activities. However, hazardous chemicals can harm human health and the environment. There is a need to step up the development of new, safe and sustainable chemicals and materials; promote the substitution of existing substances of concern; and phase out the most harmful ones

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) has developed a framework that includes safety and sustainability considerations during the development of new chemicals and materials, processes and products. The JRC framework defines the criteria and evaluation procedures for chemicals and materials. The framework addresses safety and sustainability aspects with a life cycle perspective and proposes a stepwise approach for their assessment. This starts with identifying hazards in chemicals and materials, is followed by safety assessments of the workplace and for consumers (e.g., exposure during production and use), and ends with an assessment of environmental sustainability as shown by the Figure below. For each step, the framework presents the dimensions, aspects and indicators to be considered; the methods and tools that can be used for the assessment; and proposals for defining criteria.   

Safety and sustainability assessment of chemicals and materials

Source: adapted from Caldeira C. et al. (2022)

The framework was first tested by the JRC in collaboration with industry using three case studies: non-phthalate plasticisers in food contact materials, non-halogenated flame-retardants in information and communication technologies, and surfactants in textile scouring processes. These studies identified several challenges and opportunities in implementing the SSbD framework that should befurther explored and addressed

To improve the relevance, reliability and operability of the framework in research and innovation, the European Commission published a recommendation for establishing a European assessment framework for safe and sustainable by design chemicals and materials. The recommendation is addressed to Member States, industry, academia, and research and technology organisations (RTOs), and invites them to test the framework and provide feedback. 

The recommendation establishes a two-year testing period and a defined reporting period each year to provide the feedback. The two-year testing period should be followed by a workshop and the publication of methodological guidance. 

The JRC has developed a required reporting template for feedback. The template has four sections. Most of them pose generic questions to identify initiatives, learn about stakeholder engagement and collect general feedback about the framework, promotion activities and the reporting template itself. Section III of the template collects information on cases where the SSbD has been/is/will be implemented, including a description of the case studies, the design principles followed and the stepwise assessment results. 

The first reporting period for feedback was open from 1 May to 30 June 2023. Considering the little time that stakeholders had to test the framework, the amount of feedback received was encouraging.  

In all, 24 organisations — including all relevant stakeholders — contributed during the reporting period: industry, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), RTOs, Member States’ authorities, and project consortia co-funded by European and national sources. In total, 45 case studies were identified as currently under development including substances, mixtures, nanomaterials and other types of materials.

Stakeholder take-up has been very positive since the SSbD framework was published. Some examples are the many SSbD-related events that have been organised and will continue to be, and the numerous national and European-funded projects that include SSbD.  

This good reception has also been confirmed by the feedback received during the first reporting period and the number of ongoing case studies to test the relevance, reliability and operability of the framework for research and innovation projects. Going forward, the most urgent needs that will require additional guidance are creating a shared understanding of how to correctly implement the SSbD (concepts, definitions and scope, for example), and the facilitation of access to and use of available tools and databases for collecting and generating data needed for SSbD assessments. 

In addition, communication along the supply chain and among stakeholders with wide expertise in safety and sustainability are needed to facilitate the framework’s application. 

References and footnotes

  1. Caldeira, C., et al., 2022, Safe and sustainable by design chemicals and materials - Framework for the definition of criteria and evaluation procedure for chemicals and materials ( accessed 20 February 2024.
  2. Caldeira, C., et al., 2023, Safe and Sustainable by Design chemicals and materials - Application of the SSbD framework to case studies, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg ( accessed 20 February 2024.
  3. EC, 2022, Commission Recommendation (EU) 2022/2510 of 8 December 2022 establishing a European assessment framework for ‘safe and sustainable by design’ chemicals and materials (OJ L 325, 20.12.2022, pp. 179-205).