01 March 1996 00:00 [Source: APC]
OVER THE past decade an increasing number of chemical industry associations and individual chemical companies have adopted the Responsible Care principles, and a growing number of them are eager to publicise the fact. Most major Western chemical firms now publish annual environmental reports, detailing their progress in reducing emissions, cutting the number of industrial accidents and improving the sustainability of their production processes.
In the Asia-Pacific, the move towards Responsible Care is being spearheaded by the Association of International Chemical Manufacturers (AICM) based in Hong Kong (see box). The AICM is spreading the message that companies benefit from adopting Responsible Care principles where it counts: on the bottom line.
Far from being an added cost to doing business, chemical firms in the Asia-Pacific are discovering that adopting safer environmental practices can help reduce their costs by cutting raw materials usage and improving the quality of the final product.
Another factor in the increased uptake of Responsible Care in the region is the increased internationalisation of the chemical business. With more and more Asian chemical companies competing for business in the toll and custom manufacturing sectors - particularly in the downstream fine and speciality chemical business - they are finding it necessary to undergo an environmental audit to satisfy their Western clients that their processes are safe and efficient as well as being environmentally satisfactory.
Many companies are finding that adopting the Responsible Care principles and obtaining certification from one of the international standards bodies is often a prerequisite to winning business in the international custom manufacturing marketplace.
Another standard is on the way to help this process. An international standard to help the chemical industry manage its environmental affairs and make a commitment to improving its performance is a step closer with the launch of a new draft environmental standards ISO 14001.
ISO 14001 is the first environmental standard to offer chemical companies independent approval for their environmental management systems and could receive official approval as early as mid- 1996. Initial feedback from the business community has shown that the new standard is set to be just as popular as its international quality management system equivalent ISO 9000.
ISO 14001 requires companies to identify areas of work that impact on the environment, to prepare an environmental policy which makes commitments to continuous improvement and implement a management system for environmental activities.
Adopting the principles of Responsible Care is now considered by many as a prerequisite for doing business with the West. And - far from being an added cost - by identifying and minimising sources of waste, raw material costs can be reduced.
A recent survey undertaken in the US by a leading international certification company, Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance (LRQA), found that as many as 30% of companies already certified to ISO 9000 were planning to implement ISO 14001 within the next 12 months.
'ISO 14001 is set to stimulate huge international interest, building on the success of the UK's environmental standard BS7750,' says LRQA's environmental business manager Frank Harmer. 'The standard not only enables companies to improve their environmental performance, but also gain real commercial benefits from reductions in waste to generating new business opportunities.
'The standard not only enables companies to improve their environmental performance, but also gain real commercial benefits from reductions in waste to generating new business opportunities,' he added. 'Because environmental management systems have to be applied across the whole organisation, rather than focusing on individual activities within a company, it acts as an important strategic management tool helping to provide real business benefits.'
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