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Research projects

Ensuring Sustainable Substitution: Learning from the corporate phase-out of PFAS in outdoor clothing

About this project

Project information

To achieve a sustainable society, large-scale changes are necessary, involving substitution of multiple unsustainable practices, processes, and materials. In this situation, it is fundamental to ensure that substitution not turns out to be regrettable substitution, that is, that the new materials or practices introduced to deal with sustainability challenges bring new, unexpected and unintended challenges to human health and to the environment. One area in which these challenges are present is the phase-out and substitution of hazardous chemicals in consumer goods. While the phaseout of harmful substances should, over time, reduce the risk of adverse effects on consumers and the environment, regrettable substitution may halt this process by unintentionally shifting the hazard burden from one hazard to another.

Using a multidisciplinary approach – combining expertise in business studies, analytical environmental chemistry and toxicology – the aim of the present project is to extend the understanding of sustainable substitution and, in particular, corporate substitution processes and the resulting environmental and health effects. To achieve this aim, the proposed research project investigates the substitution of a group of chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), by corporate actors within a specific industry, Swedish outdoor clothing manufacturing. A social science interview study – investigating corporate substitution processes and trade-offs between hazard, functionality, and cost – is complemented by a natural science methodology using both chemical and bioanalytical tools to cover a wide range of toxicological substitution outcomes. This way, the project investigates which types of corporate substitution processes may result in sustainable substitution. This knowledge may help us achieve sustainable substitution in further areas in the transition to a sustainable society.

Research funding bodies

  • Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation