Responsible Care and its environmental impact come under scrutiny

05 February 2007 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Now in its third decade, the Responsible Care environmental performance improvement scheme has gone global. Here's how the global chemical industry's environmental health and safety initiative is making an impact

MURIEL COZIER/LONDON

The International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) describes Responsible Care as the global chemical industry's environmental, health and safety initiative to "drive continuous improvement in performance."

The ICCA adds: "Industry achieves this objective by meeting and going beyond legislative regulatory compliance and by adopting cooperative and voluntary initiatives with governments and other stakeholders. Responsible Care is both an ethic and a commitment that seeks to build confidence and trust in an industry that is essential to improving living standards and quality of life."

Responsible Care is a product of the industry's reaction to the chemical disaster that occurred in Bhopal, India, in 1984, when 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas were accidentally released from a Union Carbide India pesticide plant.

Responsible Care is now in its third decade, but the chemicals industry has recognised that it needs greater clarity and focus.

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Embedding the vision

Over the years, numerous conferences have stressed that Responsible Care must be embedded in the chemical industry's culture, endorsed and adopted in a company at the highest level, and communicated to all parts of a company. More recently, the debate has focused on how the industry can verify its Responsible Care credentials, with some people arguing for third-party verification, and others against.

After more than 20 years, Responsible Care not only had to address these issues, but also had to meet the needs of the chemicals industry in the 21st century.

To do that, the ICCA officially launched its Responsible Care Global Charter at the International Conference on Chemical Management, held in Dubai, during February last year.

The ICCA says the charter aims to create a common global vision for Responsible Care, and to improve the environmental, health and safety performance of the chemicals producers in the countries that sign up to it. Signed by CEOs from 103 companies globally and 52 national associations, the charter extends the original elements of Responsible Care.

The charter's nine core elements include the global adoption of Responsible Care principles, committing to sustainable development, and enhanced product stewardship. Many of the key elements are already a part of the industry's operations. But the ICCA believes that spelling them out and getting national chemical associations and industry CEOs to sign up will put Responsible Care on a better platform for the future.

It is the future that the chemicals industry has to consider. In recent years, it has found itself unprepared for the increased scrutiny from non-governmental organisations and public interest groups. Europe's ­chemical legislation Reach has proved to be a ­battleground, with the industry sometimes seeming very short of armour, let alone ammunition, constantly reminding its detractors that decisions should be based on science. The ICCA believes the revamped Responsible Care could go a long way to allaying the elements of suspicion that remain. Indeed, Kofi Annan, the then UN secretary-general, congratulated the ICCA on the launch of the charter.

Speaking at the launch of the Responsible Care Global Charter, Nance Dicciani, president and CEO of Honeywell Specialty Materials, said: "The new Responsible Care Global Charter elevates the commitment of the more than 50 participating associations to protect the environment, health and safety of people worldwide, and to meet the challenge from our stakeholders we are implementing a number of new measures, such as global performance data reporting and verification processes that go beyond self-assessment."

Galvanising business

Globally, the charter is galvanising business and associations. Cefic, Europe's chemicals industry association, has used the charter as a springboard to develop a far more cohesive approach to Responsible Care. This has become even more important as the EU continues to expand, and chemicals companies in the new member states work to bring their operations in line with existing practices.

Cefic believes that a revitalised and focused Responsible Care is not only what Europe's chemicals companies want, but something they also need to move forward. "A cohesive approach is what larger chemicals companies want to see. At the same time, such an approach will help Europe's small to-medium-sized enterprises assess how they are measuring up against their counterparts across the EU," says Cefic.

In addition, Cefic believes that raising the profile of the Responsible Care brand across Europe will make it easier for the industry and its stakeholders to identify initiatives and ongoing operations, such as product stewardship and independent scientific research, as contributing to the overall Responsible Care drive.

Indeed, many more companies are indicating that the global charter is essential to their ongoing operations. A recent signatory, Borouge, is said to be the first company in the Middle East to sign up.

Huber Puchner, chief executive of the Borouge Marketing Company, said: "The charter enables us to further improve our product stewardship processes. As a priority, we will drive a joint strategy with Borealis to enhance the contribution that innovative solutions make to the sustainable development of the value chain and society."

One of the achievements of the Responsible Care programme has been its inclusion of companies all along the supply chain, and not just chemicals producers. Partnership initiatives have seen suppliers and downstream users commit to Responsible Care principles.

In Europe, the European Association of Chemical Distributors, FECC, stated its commitment to the promotion of Responsible Care, holding a workshop last year to share implementation experiences.

One of the points emphasised at the meeting was the business benefits of Responsible Care. FECC highlighted the reduction in the risks of environmental, health and safety failures, along with improvement in the image and reputation of companies in the eyes of employees, authorities, customers and the public.

The wider benefits were acknowledged when the FTSE4Good, the responsible investment index, recognised that companies meeting the requirements of the American Chemistry Council's Responsible Care programme fulfilled many of its environmental inclusion criteria. As a result, the FTSE has encouraged Responsible Care companies to seek inclusion in the FTSE4Good.

ACC president and CEO Jack Gerard said: "The ACC and the FTSE share an exciting opportunity to expand participation in both Responsible Care and FTSE4Good, and continue our shared commitment to improving the environment through responsible product stewardship and transparent stakeholder communications."

There are many who argue that the chemicals industry has used Responsible Care to take credit for changes that legislation would have brought about anyway. But it can be argued that over the past 20 years, Responsible Care has given the industry something to focus on, a constant reminder of its commitment to the environment, health and safety.

It remains to be seen whether the global charter will improve the image of the industry in the eyes of critical non-governmental organisations, or if Responsible Care will become so embedded in the way that the chemicals industry operates that Responsible Care will not have to be referred to as if it were a separate function. Let's hope that it won't take another 20 years to find out.

GLOBAL CHARTER
What it says

The global Responsible Care core principles commit companies and national associations to work together to:

  • Adopt global Responsible Care core principles
  • Implement fundamental features of national Responsible Care programmes
  • Commit to advancing sustainable development
  • Continously improve and report performance
  • Enhance the management of chemical products worldwide (product stewardship)
  • Champion and facilitate the extension of Responsible Care along the chemical industry's value chain
  • Actively support national and global Responsible Care governance processes
  • Address stakeholder expectations
  • Provide appropriate resources to implement Responsible Care effectively.

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