The future of chemicals that are safe and sustainable by design

In our daily lives, we find ourselves surrounded by a myriad of chemicals and materials. New products come with potential risks for both our health and the environment. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that approximately 2 million deaths per year could be related to chemical exposure. TNO is encouraging companies to embrace Safe and Sustainable by Design (SSbD) methods, and advocates collaborating on a Decision Support Approach to effectively balance risks and benefits in the initial product development stages.

Despite existing EU regulations for the approval of chemicals (REACH), many consumer products still contain harmful chemicals. Legislation does not cover all chemical substances, and adverse effects sometimes only become apparent years after market approval, with disastrous consequences for people and planet (e.g. PFAS). Serious health and environmental issues often lead to financial burdens for companies and potential reputational damage.

SSbD is the way forward

To achieve a safer, healthier and more sustainable future, the European Commission introduced the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability within the EU Green Deal. A crucial element in this strategy is the production of chemicals and materials according to the principles of Safe and Sustainable by Design, SSbD, or Safe and Sustainable Innovation.

SSbD signifies a fundamental change in approach, where safety and sustainability considerations are incorporated from the outset of product development, alongside functionality and cost considerations. This proactive approach enables the early identification of opportunities to improve safety and sustainability during the innovation process, throughout the entire life cycle. Consequently, companies gain the flexibility to adjust their products, reducing negative impacts and development costs.

Decision Support Approach

At TNO, we support industry partners that want to be successful frontrunners by designing chemicals and materials that cause minimal harm to human health and the environment.

Together with manufacturing industries, innovators, researchers, and governments, TNO is developing a Decision Support System that empowers industries to effectively balance risks and benefits in the early stages of their design process. The system assists industry partners in evaluating and prioritising safety, sustainability, and performance criteria during the early stages of the R&D process.

TNO's SSbD approach

The innovation approach aims to empower companies to take informed decisions based on the integration of health, safety, sustainability, functionality and cost impacts early in the innovation process.

  1. Defining design criteria: For the intended use of the chemical, material or product
  2. Quick screening: On all SSbD aspects (health, safety, sustainability, functionality and cost) within the SSbD decision support tool based on available information, data and modelling
  3. Visualisation: Integration of impact on SSbD aspects and visualisation of trade-offs
  4. Decision making: Based on transparent visualisation and scenario testing. If needed, more detailed evaluation of one or more SSbD aspects can be performed e.g. by additional data gathering, (in vitro) testing, advanced modelling to reduce uncertainties and support decision making
SSbD-4-steps-approach-lifecycle test
Safe and Sustainable by Design approach to take informed decisions based on the integration of health and safety, sustainability and performance impacts early in the innovation process and throughout the entire life cycle.

Let’s start today

At TNO, we aim to collaborate with industry partners, innovators, researchers, and governments to advance our Decision Support Approach. Discover how we can assist you in developing less harmful, safer, and more sustainable products through our SSbD approach.


‘Currently for the majority of chemical substances we don’t know the risks sufficiently. That’s why a new integrated approach to support the industry during the early development stages of safe substances is required.

Hedwig Braakhuis

Senior Toxicologist, TNO

Paper Safe and Sustainable by Design

Read everything about designing safe and sustainable chemicals our paper ‘The future of chemicals is Safe and Sustainable by Design’.

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TNO’s approach for safe and sustainable chemicals innovation

28 May 2024
TNO is developing a Decision Support approach that allows companies to visualize potential health risks already in the early stages of their design process and to take measures to avoid reputation damage and high costs.

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