Awash with heritage, ancient sites, broad swathes of desert and – home to Petra – one of the most iconic landmarks on the planet, Jordan is a crucial part of the Middle East.

The country is also an emerging economy which has a large number of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). While the large industries in Jordan are better equipped with cleaner responsible production and chemicals management techniques, SMEs are often at a disadvantage owing to their limited time and financial resources, as well as the dissymmetry of information they can be exposed to.

SMEs in the country are innovative and looking to find sustainable solutions and alternatives to hazardous chemicals to tackle the health-related and environmental consequences of improper chemical management.

Jordan Sipes Paints Co (Sipes) is an SME producing automotive, road-marking, industrial, oil, water, and nitrocellulose paints. In 2016, the company was looking to reduce risks from hazardous chemicals – especially from the use of lead pigments in their products. They also aimed at improving their efforts towards sustainability.

This is where the Quick Start Programme (QSP) stepped in. QSP put in motion a project implemented by the Jordanian Royal Scientific Society and UNEP from 2016 to 2018 to help address the issue. The driving element of the programme was UNEP’s Eco-innovation methodology.

Eco-innovation is the development and application of a business model, which is shaped by a new business strategy that embeds sustainability across all the business operations based on a life cycle thinking approach, and in collaboration with partners along the whole value chain. The approach is employed with a goal to enhance the performance and competitiveness of companies.

Sipes invested in the Eco-innovation methodology. A strategy was developed to eliminate the use of lead chromate in their automotive and road-marking paints. The company was driven by the will to improve health conditions for consumers and staff involved in the production process. They were also committed to preserving freshwater ecosystems in the country – acute water scarcity is a significant challenge for Jordan. Their decision was also motivated by national regulations banning lead chromate in non-decorative paints by 2022 and aligned to global efforts for elimination of lead in paints – also an emerging policy issue for the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management.

Soon after the project was rolled out, Maher Joma, Engineer at Sipes, pointed out: “Our company is committed to applying the best environmental standards in performing its operations. The eco-innovation project was a chance to foster our capability to develop products while incorporating sustainability pillars in the whole life cycle of our operations. We at Sipes hope to lead the local market in the production of lead-free automotive and road-marking paints.”

Sipes’ involvement in this project was a turning point – with successful outcomes, it was the first company in Jordan to produce lead-free paints. This sent a strong message to the similar companies in the region. It proved that sustainability-driven innovations were achievable and the social and environmental benefits were apparent.

The Eco-innovation methodology was implemented in four other SMEs spanning producers of home care products, personal products as well as a water, oil and gas mining service provider. New business strategies and models were devised for each of the companies to develop sustainable and viable products with less hazardous chemicals. 

Case studies were developed featuring the selected SMEs and served as examples of success to other Jordanian SMEs working towards better chemicals management:

The Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), a research institute center for environmental expertise — collaborated as international consultant, providing technical support in the identification of hazardous chemicals used by the SMEs participating in the project.

The Ministries of Environment, Health, Labour and Finance were involved in the project steering committee – which oversaw the implementation of the project.

The project served as an example of success not only to companies in Jordan but had the potential to serve as inspiration to similar companies in the region looking to embrace innovation and sustainability.

Mohammad Al Shaer, Founder and General Manager at Sigma Detergents, another SME that benefitted from the project summed it up well. He said: “The project has left a positive effect in stimulating companies to seriously search for alternative materials less harmful to the environment and product development, also created a spirit of honest competition between companies to search for everything that is new.”

Case Studies

Note: Quotes used in the story were recorded between 2016 – 2018 when the project was active.