Responsible Care set for improvements

05 February 2007 00:00  [Source: ICB Americas]

Responsible Care is set for improvements in environment, health and safety, while the American Chemistry Council sets its sights on further gains


BY ALMOST any measure, the US chemical industry has made huge strides in environmental stewardship, but environmentalists and many in Congress think it's not enough - and major chemical producers pretty much agree.

The US chemical industry's principle environmental stewardship program, Responsible Care (RC), is administered by the American Chemistry Council (ACC). Council officials take pride that ACC member companies - who among them account for 85% of US basic industrial chemicals productive capacity - have steadily reduced emissions, even though output has increased and the reporting ranges have broadened.

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Reduced emissions

The ACC says that between 2002 and 2003, member companies reduced emissions of Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) chemicals by 15%. Since 1988 when the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) TRI program went into effect, ACC says its member firms have cut emissions of core TRI chemicals by 77%.

Since 1988, the council notes, the number of chemicals reported to EPA under the TRI program has grown from 288 to 582. "Despite this increase," says ACC, "Responsible Care companies have reduced emissions of all listed chemicals by 76%."

The council notes too that despite the broadened range of reportable chemicals and the reduced emissions, since 1988, the companies implementing Responsible Care have increased production by 32%.

"This demonstrates advancements in eco-efficiency - the ability to produce more with less impact on the environment," the council says.

Also as part of the Responsible Care program, the industry says it has improved operational safety performance by 16% between 2004 and 2005. The safety record of chemical industry workers is 450% better than the average in the broad US manufacturing sector.

Emissions of greenhouse gases were cut by more than 26% in the five years ending in 2004, the council says, with a reduction of 8.6% in 2004 alone.

Process safety incidents are down by 45% in the last decade, and since 1970 the companies enforcing Responsible Care have reduced fuel and power energy consumption per unit of output by 46%. Between 2003 and 2004, said the council, energy efficiency improved by 6% even while production rose by 6%.

Not good enough, according to environmentalists.

Rick Hind, director of the Greenpeace US toxics campaign, argues that still tougher emissions standards should be imposed on the chemicals industry by Congress, including imposition of mandatory use of inherently safer technology (IST) - the use of alternative, less toxic feedstocks and process chemicals and production processes that rely less on high temperatures and high pressures.

Hind, who says he has already met with Democratic Party leaders in the new 110th Congress, contends that the first Democratic-majority Congress in 12 years will launch a number of environmental legislative initiatives at the refining and process industries.

In anticipation of that and other looming regulatory developments - not least of which is the newly approved Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (Reach) program in the European Union (EU) - the ACC says it is already moving to improve Responsible Care.

"Responsible Care has always been the gold standard," says ACC president Jack Gerard. "It requires us to go beyond minimums set by law, and it is our social license for the future. Right now we are looking at Responsible Care in both its domestic and international roles, and we're looking at ways to upgrade it."

Improvement recommendations

Debra Phillips, the ACC's managing director for Responsible Care, says the council's board of directors is now reviewing a series of RC improvement recommendations from a special strategic review panel. The outside panel, which includes academics, former government environmental officials, think tank specialists and two chemical industry executives, made its recommendations to ACC in October. Phillips says the ACC board will likely make a decision by June 2007.

"The external review panel recommended more emphasis on product issues and additional transparency in the governance of Responsible Care," Phillips says. "They are asking for enhanced measurements of performance, and they suggest we look at industry-wide goal setting."

Phillips notes that under current RC requirements, individual companies report on their environmental performance in a variety of categories, but they make what improvements they can on a company-by-company basis.

If the outside panel's goal-setting recommendation is adopted by the ACC, in the future, Responsible Care participants would have to work toward a specific goal in emissions reductions, worker safety, energy efficiency and other categories.

"Up to now," says Phillips, "we have not said in Responsible Care that emissions of TRI chemicals must be reduced by this certain amount by this or that date." Such reductions targets could be part of a revised RC in 2007.

At least in part due to the expectation of Reach, Phillips said, ACC and Responsible Care have put heavy emphasis on product issues for the last year and a half. "The emphasis is becoming more broadly focused on product safety up and down the supply chain," she said.

"We are modifying some of the data, doing more collecting and opening technical specifications and enhancing the product stewardship elements" of RC, Phillips adds. "We're adding emphasis on product issues, trying to be proactive and address these things through Responsible Care."

Reach requirements are much broader and more chemical product specific than is Responsible Care, she says. "We don't get to that level of detail yet, but the spirit of Reach is the concept we want to embed more solidly in Responsible Care."

"We're not creating a Reach template per se," Phillips adds, "but we hope to create a good system for product risk management that will be responsive to concerns that brought Reach into the EU."

Revisions and improvements to Responsible Care will continue to focus on environmental and economic impacts of chemical industry operations, but there will be a broadening emphasis on social impact as well. "We're looking at what Responsible Care could do more of in the societal sense," she says.

That, for example, could include making labor issues part of RC, making hiring practices and outreach to labor unions part of the program, perhaps with explicit requirements for contributions back to society.

Societal elements of RC could, for example, involve closer work with local schools, providing some funding but also providing expertise. "Here in the US," Phillips says, "we could work with the Environmental Protection Agency to help schools deal with best management practices for chemicals."

School environments

"There are chemicals in school environments - cleaning chemicals, pest control products, chemical elements in cafeterias and so on," Phillips notes. "This is becoming a real issue in schools in the US."

"There are gaps in basic information about chemicals that the chemicals industry could fill if such requirements were part of the Responsible Care program," she says.

In hiring practices, Phillips says, the council "could build into the RC program criteria for ethical hiring and labor practices that could be applied worldwide, such as not hiring workers below a certain age, not working personnel over certain hour limits."

"There's always room for improvement," Phillips says.


Socma's ChemStewards gains momentum

The Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (Socma) says its own year-old environmental management program - called ChemStewards - has been enthusiastically welcomed by the group's member firms and has brought new companies into the Socma fold.

Socma president Joe Acker says the new environmental stewardship program has helped build membership in the organization, which serves batch producers and specialty manufacturers in the US chemicals industry.

"Our members and prospective members have embraced ChemStewards," Acker says, "because it offers a fit-for-purpose approach that is flexible."

Until September 2005, Socma member companies subscribed to the Responsible Care stewardship program administered by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), but Socma launched its own ChemStewards system because members wanted a more adaptable program.

"ChemStewards recognizes that different companies have different resources and needs," Acker says, "and our members wanted a program that is flexible and can be adapted easily to individual companies' needs based on their resources."

All Socma member companies are required as a condition of membership to take part in ChemStewards.

The program has three tiers of criteria for environmental, health, safety and security (EHS&S).

The first tier, termed Fundamentals, is limited to companies that have fewer than 100 employees and annual sales of less than $25m. The second tier is called Enhanced Performance, and the third tier is Excellence. There are no revenue or workforce size requirements for the second and third tiers.

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