The Responsible Nano Code

Background to the Responsible Nano Code

In November 2006, the Royal Society, Insight Investment and the Nanotechnology Industries Association (NIA) came together to explore the potential societal and economic impact and uncertainties related to  nanotechnologies.

The three organisations began this process by convening a business-focused workshop, to stimulate companies to engage more fully with the broad spectrum of questions which affect the development of nanotechnologies and consider how they may respond.  The workshop, held at the Royal Society, brought together seventeen European companies with a commercial interest in nanotechnology – from food and chemicals manufacturers to retailers of healthcare and fashion.

Uncertain businessThe background to the workshop was laid out in the commissioned briefing paper: An
Uncertain Business: The technical, social and
commercial challenges presented by nanotechnology.

The paper explored some of  the key Technical, Social and Commercial challenges  posed by Nanotechnologies and considered the potential risks and uncertainties which may arise from their use.  It went on to ask some key questions to be explored at the workshop.  Some of the issues have been resolved, or at least are being addressed, but surprisingly, even 8 years later, some still remain – or at least clarity on whether or not they still remain has not been reached!

This was the first time that a business workshop had explored these issues in relation to nanotech or in fact any technology and was considered useful and successful by participants and sponsors alike.

workshop report


The  workshop discussion identified three key areas of work to be taken forward:

1.   A new approach to responding to technical, social and commercial risk is needed

2.   Business should be more active in the shaping the debates on regulatory systems, standards & definitions

3.   The importance of coordinated engagement and communication

The main outcome of the workshop was a unanimous agreement on the need to clarify expectations about the responsibility of companies.   A Code of Conduct for businesses engaged in nanotechnology was proposed.  It was felt that such a Code should be Principles based rather than standards based and would be developed through a process of engagement between a representative group of businesses from various stages of different supply chains and a wide range of stakeholders, including NGOs, government and consumer groups.

The three organisations were joined by the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network, to become the ‘founding partners.’  Funding was provided by the partners, though did not include funds from the Nanotech Industries Association as it was felt not appropriate for business to fund this process.  These four, supported by Hilary as the Secretariat for the Code, brought together a multi-stakeholder group for a two year process of development.

working group

A two year process of development and consultation ensued, with discussions in the UK, EU and US.  From that process the Responsible Nano Code was developed.  The seven Principles of the Responsible Nano Code were created, supported by Examples of Good Practice.   The final report is available below.code final report

 What happened next

A Benchmarking framework was developed by the Secretariat, by which method organisations including SME’s, multinational companies, materials manufacturers and retailers could be evaluated against their commitment to upholding the Responsible Nano Code.  This was never published, but is available on request from hilary@matterforall.org.

Three Universities were invited to participate in a competitive tender process to take forward the Responsible Nano Code.  Cranfield University was invited to further develop the benchmarking process and take on the Code.  However, despite offers of financial support to the ongoing process from businesses, no other support from government, foundations or others was able,  and was deemed necessary by the working group.  Cranfield worked hard to try to secure this funding, but eventually had to shelve their involvement with the Code.

The Responsible Nano Code and the NIA

Founding partner the Nanotechnology Industries Association continues to support the Code promoting it to its members and more widely to help build confidence in the technology.

An update on the status of the Code and it’s potential to link with or be supported by MATTER Principles for Sustainable Innovation will be discussed at an event at the European Commission’s Community of Practice for Self and Co-regulation on 13 March.  Materials from that meeting will be available here on Blogs and Events sections shortly after the meeting.



Leave a Reply