INSIGHT: How do you care about your products?

24 February 2006 17:01  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

Can GPS show a company cares?LONDON (ICIS news)--At times it seems the chemical industry is continually frustrated in its campaign to win greater trust from regulators and the general public. Moves to drive ahead with a more environmentally friendly and socially aware agenda, actively pursued by some but by no means all producers, are so easily undermined.

Yet despite some of the gripes even the most forward-looking companies can be pleased with recent global progress. There is clearer evidence that where there is a will a way will be found to push ahead with change in what is often considered to be a slow moving sector.

At the start of the month, the United Nations (UN) held its flagship global chemicals management meeting, SAICM, where nations finally agreed to develop a new framework for global chemicals control. The industry was active on the sidelines in Dubai re-launching its Responsible Care initiative and emphasising the growing importance of product stewardship.

It has become increasingly clear that important industry customers, as well as regulators and the general public, want companies to take more responsibility for their products. The notion that a firm’s responsibilities ends at the factory gate has rapidly become outmoded.

But the idea of product stewardship has yet to take hold. The chemical industry, working increasingly at the global level, has taken the opportunity to build product stewardship into a re-vamped Responsible Care. The Global Product Strategy (GPS) was launched quietly in 2004 but has come to represent an umbrella campaign that encompasses other global industry projects including the high production volume chemicals (HPV) and long range research initiative (LRRI).

If it works, GPS will demonstrate more forcibly that chemical companies care not just about how they run their businesses but about the products they make – and how they are used.

Soon producers in Europe and sellers into the region will have to address these issues under the European Unions (EU’s) Reach regulations. Reach, it should be remembered covers the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals. Under its rules companies will be forced to address product uses and product chains in much more detail. Key elements of the GPS include help with learning from best practices in the chemicals and chemical consuming industries.

Two years ago the ICCA (the International Council of Chemical Associations) expressed concern that the industry was not making progress on product stewardship. That the GPS has been born out of a revamped Responsible Care illustrates the impetus behind both initiatives.

The more forward-looking companies are driving the agenda hard, of that there is little doubt, but there is broader support. The industry can only convince other industrial players in the value chain of the benefits of closer product monitoring if they understand the benefits themselves.

The industry should be heartened too that the GPS has won support at the highest levels. UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, in Dubai commended the GPS and the Responsible Care initiatives calling them “inspiring models of self-regulation that other industries should consider following”.

The industry geared up for Dubai and came up with the goods so the challenge now is to maintain the momentum and make GPS work. Time was when companies thought product stewardship was too difficult really to get to grips with. Now the intention is to produce an over-arching product stewardship management system for use in the sector. The timetable suggests this can be launched in 2006. The sector owes it to its stakeholders to ensure the launch date is achieved.

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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