07 July 2004 15:42 [Source: ICIS news]
Chemical companies might feel they are getting to grips with the complexities of sustainable development (SD) thinking but they face a moving target.
It is good to see, then, real progress being made in the ?xml:namespace>
The amount of work and the sheer determination needed to get the trade group this far should not be dismissed lightly. While SD has been discussed widely at the international level it is only on a country by country and eventually on a regional basis that real progress will be made.
Engagement and communication have been vitally important in the early stages of establishing the association’s goals and guiding principles. They will be the tools through which CIA member companies are persuaded to endorse the programme – by the end of next year.
At first sight, some firms apparently think they can match the aims of the CIA’s plan that covers such aspects of doing business as productivity, social diversity, employability of staff, energy efficiency, water use and waste production, as well as occupational health and safety and a raft of sub-goals. But that may not always be the case.
Companies are already doing good work in areas that might not necessarily be labelled under sustainable development. The industry’s commitment also to safety, health and environment (SHE) goals is well known. There is, nevertheless, more to say and to be done about the wider aspects of sustainable development thinking.
Sustainable development strategies need to be set and understood at the senior management level. Certainly, sustainable development commitments move companies, and the industry, away from Responsible Care and the focus on what is clearly measurable in terms of SHE performance.
The major difficulty for the CIA in establishing this programme has been to pull together the strands of different project programmes that cover the SHE, employment, communications and image areas among others. The association’s member companies face a similar challenge in determining exactly what it is they do and what they might have to do in future if they agree to sign up to the proposals.
At the sector level, the CIA also has to be careful with what it says in SD terms and not be tempted or drawn into overstating the industry’s SD case.
The CIA’s plans reflect the fact that the chemical industry debate has moved on fast from plants and processes towards products. In the
As the debate has shifted so it has become increasingly important to address issues in the more holistic way advocated in most sustainable development thinking. This is hardly an easy area for technology and process driven businesses but there is nothing to suggest that companies cannot accept new challenges and adapt accordingly.
Learning to adapt and change is probably the key issue for companies in the sector. Some of the stakeholder comments published by the CIA as part of its sustainable development guidelines and goals package show how far thinking has moved on.
Customers and others are welcoming the CIA’s leadership but understandably calling for more. The real challenge for the industry then lies ahead. Chemical companies have to get behind the initiative and deliver change. And as some have made quite clear, broadening the initiative to the rest of
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