16 August 2002 12:47 [Source: ICIS news]
The US chemical industry asked key stakeholders earlier this year what they thought of Responsible Care. The answers were not surprising.
While key government officials, the general public, customer groups and non-governmental organisation (NGO) representatives thought Responsible Care was a worthwhile programme, which prompted the industry to take action on important environmental, health and safety (EHS) issues, US stakeholders largely saw it as a public relations exercise. In many respects, they felt Responsible Care lacked teeth and that it needed to be supported by a range of measurable performance objectives.
At the same time the American Chemistry Council (ACC) surveyed its members to find out what they thought about the industry pre-eminent EHS programme. Again, the results were hardly surprising. It has been felt for some time that Responsible Care, while vitally important for the industry, lacked, or was losing, purpose. The Responsible Care programme, translated into actions by the industry across the globe, was being superseded by government legislation and companies themselves going it alone and following often far-reaching EHS agendas and performance verification procedures.
It was not so much that Responsible Care had lost its way but that it needed to be revitalised. According to Michael Campbell, chairman of Arch Chemical and the ACC Responsible Care Committee, the ACC felt that Responsible Care could be integrated more directly with new industry schemes such as the Long Range Planning Initiative and the High Production Volume testing programme. In other words, it could be more closely aligned with current business processes. There was a feeling too – which was highlighted by the industry survey – that Responsible Care had to become more business critical if it were to continue to serve companies well.
A great deal had changed since Responsible Care was launched 14 years ago. In terms of government control of the industry alone, when responsible Care was launched in the US only about 13% of its codes of practice were required by government regulation. The coverage today is more like 80%.
The ACC’s decision to make third party certification of members EHS management systems mandatory has been widely publicised but some of the other measures ACC intends to adopt with Responsible Care have been less well documented.
The ACC board has recommended that the old Responsible Care codes of management practices need to be replaced with a new system, for instance. Campbell says that companies can derive more business value and achieve better performance by adopting a modernised system. A voluntary EHS management systems verification process was set up in 1996 but interest in it has not been sustained. Indeed no verifications had been scheduled for 2002.
The ACC board suggested that the voluntary management systems verification process will be eliminated and a great many of the current time consuming reporting requirements phased out. (Mike Baldwin of EHS consultants Pilko & Associates will look at these critical EHS management systems verification issues in Chemical Insight soon).
The ACC wanted to create opportunities for member companies to share appropriate Responsible Care information to increase the value of the scheme to individual producers. It also wanted to use the programme more effectively to determine industry-wide performance and improve the transparency of member company performance. Responsible Care in the US currently provides no mechanism for continuous improvement once a code’s requirements are met. The ACC will create a ‘recognition programme’ of silver, gold and platinum levels of achievement.
The aim clearly is to use Responsible Care more effectively as a tool to drive measurable and independently verifiable member company performance and to be able to chart that performance at the industry level. But the industry wants to be seen to be doing the right thing and get credit for it. The new Responsible Care agenda, Campbell says, would include streamlined government permitting process, fewer government audits, increased regulatory flexibility and faster government review of chemical industry operations. Certainly, different ACC companies have different goals but the aim is to align the aspirations of the industry much more closely with improved and coordinated performance set against stretch targets. One is hardly even likely without the other.
The industry will be hard pressed this year to make changes to the programme burdened as it is with adopting a new Responsible Care security code of practice following the terrorist attacks on 11 September. Yet the ACC hopes to start introducing the new aspects of Responsible Care later this year. Member companies will begin tracking performance in 2003 and the data will be assessed by ACC in early 2005. The US industry has set itself some ambitious targets but is has rightly addressed some of the key Responsible Care issues. It has challenged the industry elsewhere to push harder to raise its level of performance through revitalised and more relevant Responsible Care schemes.
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