Fecc: Taking steps to secure the future

18 May 2012 11:05  [Source: ICB]

With Responsible Care now well established in the distribution sector, companies are turning their attention to the wider issues of sustainability and CSR

In October 2009, Fecc and Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council, launched the Fecc European Responsible Care program for chemical distributors. Three and a half years later, Fecc is celebrating a record number of companies applying to join the program in 2011, a reward for the association's active promotion of Responsible Care.

The importance of programs such as Responsible Care and the application of sustainable practices in business, particularly in chemical distribution, was reflected in the hosting by Fecc of a separate Responsible Care seminar in Krakow, Poland, in 2011 to address a more specific audience and increase its presence in Eastern Europe.

Taking steps 

 Copyright: RexFeatures

There is clearly a move among chemical distributors across Europe towards greater adoption of sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) - although the level of involvement varies between countries and companies. In addition to operating more ­efficiently in an environmental sense, companies can use their sustainability principles to create market differentiation between themselves and their competitors. Benefits not only fall to the companies, but to national associations and Fecc as Responsible Care programs contribute to improving sector reputation and help communicate what the industry has been doing for sustainability.

Phil Hockaday, environment, health, safety and quality director for the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region at global chemicals distributor Univar and a champion for Responsible Care, says: "In terms of sustainability, we recognize that we are living in a changing world, and as a chemical business we have the same concerns as many other reputable businesses. We want to prosper not just today, or tomorrow, but for the long term. So sustainability to Univar is about long-term viability, not just for ourselves but for our customers and suppliers, the communities we live in and the environment we operate in."

According to Peter Newport, chief executive officer of the Chemical Business Association (CBA), which represents the UK's chemical supply chain, "There are operators that are driving the shift in terms of sustainability and Responsible Care. The sector leaders in this area are measuring their own performance using third-party verification, for example the ESAD [European Single Assessment Document] scheme, giving them an independent view. Every CBA member that has had third-party verification has without exception told us they have identified gaps in their management systems or opportunities to improve the safety or efficiency in their operations.

"Company programs are driven from the top and some are more adept and committed than others - they do it because they believe in it and do it extremely well and reap the rewards. Others do it because the regulations are there and they're signed up to Responsible Care, but they don't see quite as clear a link with the benefits and don't do it with quite the same level of commitment," he adds.

"Responsible Care is about business as much as it is about environmental health and safety," says Hockaday, "Good practices must be integrated into the core business strategy - Univar's approach is about being a partner with both customers and suppliers. We've engaged with our key stakeholders, interviewing customers and suppliers to help identify what are the key drivers in a sustainable business context. Sustainability is often viewed as the ­domain of the manufacturer, but as a distributor we have a vital role in the supply chain and we can make a real difference."

Using the feedback from these stakeholders allowed Univar to develop a materiality matrix, which enables a company to decide which CSR initiatives to invest in. Hockaday says that it is also very important to understand the concerns of the local community to find out what it is about your business that is material to them. All of the information is fed into the matrix, which makes it clear what it is that makes a genuine impact and where the company can make real improvements.

Sustainability should be part of a chemical distributor's business strategy because it makes their business sustainable, Newport says. It also enhances profitability and reputation and failure to apply sustainable practices can be costly in a lot of ways and affect customer trust: "Sustainability is just the right thing to do."

Despite chemical distribution being less energy intensive compared with chemical manufacture, one of the big efficiency impacts Univar has achieved is in transport and the measurement of the company's carbon footprint. Every litre of diesel burned produces 2.7kg of CO2, so looking at more economical and efficient engines is very important for the environment and in cost terms, Hockaday says. Route and load planning are also significant, as can be tire specification. Univar insists on driver training, and has even started to introduce it for company car drivers to improve fuel efficiency and underline the health and safety benefits of safe driving.

Newport says: "Members have been training drivers on defensive driving techniques, including optimization of driving. They bring in lorry manufacturers and specialist trainers to explain and demonstrate the differences between vehicle ranges and models to achieve optimum fuel performance."

When Univar replaces its vehicles it specifies the most efficient engines. "We've looked long and hard for delivery trucks that have low emission, low maintenance, the highest practical safety standards and provide a comfortable working environment for our drivers," says Hockaday.

"The new delivery trucks are purpose developed for urban distribution. The engines have low fuel consumption and facilitate cost-effective compliance with the Euro 5 emissions standard. They have a stop/start system, which cuts fuel consumption reducing pollutant emissions in city centres. The body of the truck is purpose-built for our needs with specific features to ensure the safety of our drivers and of course our customers."

Another important area that the sector has considered is packaging as a distributor often takes in bulk deliveries from manufacturers, dilutes and repacks them into smaller units for customers. Returnable packaging was introduced a decade ago, although the nature of some chemicals handled doesn't always make this viable. Univar has worked with packaging manufacturers on packaging use to make it as environmentally friendly as possible through a number of initiatives including ­reducing weight without losing the integrity of the packaging.

To enhance the reliability and accuracy of third-party reviews on members' facilities and operations, Fecc and Cefic undertook a complete review and update of the Safety and Quality Assessment Systems (SQAS)/ESAD assessment scheme in 2010 and 2011, culminating in the launch of the ESAD 2011 scheme in April of that year. Newport, who chaired the ESAD review, says, "SQAS and ESAD 2011 are assessment schemes to help tell you where you and your business are, they are tools to monitor implementation of health, safety, environmental and security regimes so while they don't contribute directly in terms of implementation of sustainable practices, they are a tool to monitor their implementation. ESAD 2011 provides a third-party check on implementation and it gives you a benchmark to help you identify gaps and opportunities for improvement."

Univar has 44 operational sites across Europe and has been involved in ESAD for 13 years - the first assessment was carried out in March 1999. Over the past three years, it has carried out 34 ESAD assessments. The firm carries out its own internal audits, more stringent and tailored to its specific requirements, which helps validate the results of the ESAD assessments. "It's an aspirational system," says Hockaday, who is rolling out the scheme across the EMEA region.

As part of their induction, every Univar employee receives environment, health and safety training and intensive follow-up training as appropriate. Univar's key message is 'Serious about Safety,' raising safety to the highest priority: "Both the starting point and foundation for all aspects of our global business operations," the company says.

Within the national association programs across Europe, training and support for Responsible Care is delivered locally in a local language. Newport says that training is key to companies ensuring that their Responsible Care coordinators are employing best practices and CBA runs a range of courses for members, tailoring them for individual companies' needs. For ESAD training and transport services clinics in the UK, CBA wants to grow third-party verification so is offering the training free of charge to members attending the courses for the first time in 2012.

The CBA would like to see more manufacturers looking for distributors with ESAD to help drive the system forward, Newport says. However, this can't be done collectively as there are concerns arising from competition regulation and legislation, so it is up to each manufacturer to set their policy on what ­attributes they'd like to see in their partners in logistics and distribution provision.

Newport concludes: "Sustainability was around for a long time before it became a buzzword. Responsible Care is an ethical commitment that goes beyond simple compliance with regulation."

By: Mark Whitfield
+44 20 8652 3214

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