27 September 2012 10:52 [Source: ICB]
As the role of environmental sustainability in chemical manufacturing grows, the US specialty chemicals sector has taken the initiative to self-regulate production processes. One programme being employed is ChemStewards, developed and managed by SOCMA.
Independent auditing is an important part of the ChemStewards programme
"ChemStewards was born out of necessity," says Dr. J Holland Jordan, director of the ChemStewards programme.
Jordan explains that many of SOCMA's members were challenged by the one-size-fits-all practice that encompasses other performance improvement programmes. "One of the huge differences between continuous production and the batch and custom industry is that we are a lot smaller and there is much more diversity. Our members said that they needed a programme that had adaptability and was not a 'one-size-fits-all'."
ChemStewards has evolved from those early days as a programme with very high member involvement into a system that continues to adapt and change to meet the needs of the industry it serves.
ChemStewards' key distinguishing traits include its facility-based nature and its tiered system. Being facility-based, ChemStewards targets risk at manufacturing sites.
Each member company is required to undergo an auditing process by a third-party auditor. SOCMA trains and certifies the auditors, but that is the extent of the association's involvement.
"The companies contact the auditors themselves and pay for the audit themselves, so we are out of the picture. We don't see the audits per se, but we are notified when the companies pass them so we know that they are in compliance," Jordan explains.
Meanwhile, the tiered system is what gives ChemStewards its flexibility and adaptability. Some SOCMA member companies can have a small number of employees, such as 8-10 people, whereas other members can be much bigger, such as divisions of BASF, for example.
As a result, not every company has to do the exact same things when going through compliance procedures, and this is where the tier system kicks in. The company can follow the procedure that fits its size and needs, according to the tier into which it fits.
There are currently three tiers: the fundamentals tier, the enhanced performance tier and the excellence tier (merit-based). The key performance requirements for each tier include core principles, the management system, security, metrics, and verification.
"The auditing process was beneficial for us," says Bryan Shaffer, production manager of the Cleveland plant at McGean, a privately held speciality chemical company and SOCMA member based in Ohio, US.
"The auditor was well trained in the requirements of ChemStewards, which made things go smoothly. The third-party audit helped to assure our system is consistent with best industry practices," Shaffer says.
"The auditor had some suggestions for improvements to our system. The cost of the audit was under $2,000 (€1,590) for each facility, minimal when compared to the importance of having an excellent EHS&S programme," he adds. McGean had programmes in place to address the majority of requirements: "ChemStewards allows flexibility in how the programme is organised, so we did not have to rewrite or restructure our entire EHS&S programme," according to Shaffer.
However, there was some work done to cross-reference the ChemStewards requirements with McGean's existing programmes. This turned out to be beneficial to McGean as it highlighted a few gaps that the company was then able to address, which helped improved its overall system.
McGean has two manufacturing sites in the US, both of which are in compliance and have completed their third-party audits. The company had a team to implement the programme, which took approximately a year to get completely in place, according to Shaffer.
"The ChemStewards system is very helpful in keeping us current with our internal programmes and regulatory requirements, while supporting continuous improvement," he says.
"A programme that had adaptability and was not a 'one-size-fits-all' "
Dr. J Holland Jordan
With the whole board of SOCMA governors firmly behind the ChemStewards programme, SOCMA had fewer challenges than would be expected during its implementation.
"Many of our members joined SOCMA simply because of the ChemStewards programme. They felt they needed something like this. Last year, we had 97% compliance from all of the members with the programme. We find this truly amazing in the six years that this programme has been out there," says Jordan.
On the other hand, to lend credibility to the programme, there have been some companies that have not complied with the programme in the manner they should. As a result, they are no longer SOCMA members.
"As a criteria for membership, company executives must agree to implement the ChemStewards programme at their facilities," says Jordan. "If a facility isn't achieving its objectives and targets, our staff will work with them so they remain in compliance. If a member company still cannot meet its Chem-Stewards obligations, they would no longer qualify for membership."
"We're very excited about the future of the ChemStewards Program. It is based on continuous improvement, and that is something we emphasize to our members. It is something we take to heart with the programme itself," Jordan adds.
"This year, our members will be supplying greenhouse gas measures from a sustainability standpoint, and we're going to continually look at the programme and evaluate where improvements can be made."
Next year, SOCMA is going to hold its ChemStewards National Meeting in May 2013, with a focus on process and occupational safety.
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