IHS Chemical Week


Al-Mady, Hambrecht, Jourquin - and More - Demonstrate Leadership on the World Stage

11:43 AM MDT | May 18, 2009 | By ALEX SCOTT

A small group of the chemical industry’s senior executives gathered together in the past week at the United Nations (UN) International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM-2) in Geneva and showed leadership that is worth noting here as their activities will have consequences for the entire chemicals industry.


ICCM-2 featured government representatives of more than 80 countries who voted on future activities of the Strategic Approach of International Chemicals Management (SAICM), an international program being created to make chemicals sustainable by 2020.


Many in the chemicals industry will not have heard of SAICM-or may view it as a distant program with indirect consequences for individual chemical companies. However, SAICM is a program gaining momentum. If it fulfils its promise, one day it could have significance to the global chemicals industry that outstrips the European Union’s (EU) Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (Reach) program.

Hambrecht: Providing industry leadership in SAICM.


The potential significance of ICCM-2 and its fundamental implications for the global chemical industry’s license to operate were not lost on a key group of industry’s leaders. No less than nine board members of major chemical companies saw fit to participate in ICCM-2. Those present at the meeting were Mohammed Al-Mady, CEO of Sabic, Ben van Buerden, executive v.p. of Shell, Bernado Gradin, CEO of Braskem, Jürgen Hambrecht, chairman of BASF, Reiner Groh, head of chemicals for Sasol, Christian Jourquin, chairman of Solvay and president of Cefic, David Kepler, executive v.p. for Dow Chemical, Tetsuo Nishide, director general of the Japan Chemical Industry Association (JCIA), and David N. Weidman, chairman and CEO of Celanese. Also at ICCM-2, among others, were Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), and Alain Perroy, director general of Cefic.


Did their presence really have an impact on proceedings? Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and one of the architects of SAICM, seems to think so. He publicly stated that he considers the strong showing of the chemical industry leaders at ICCM-2 to be a symbol of the “commitment” of the chemicals industry. “This is the most important signal we have seen from the chemicals industry that they are taking SAICM seriously,” Steiner says.


Interestingly, Steiner didn’t just note the presence of certain leaders and their positive input, but the absence of others. He was not alone. At one briefing that featured the nine industry leaders a representative from an environmental non-government organisation (NGO) expressed in a forlorn tone how the same old chemical industry-and its middle aged male leaders-had turned out once again. Hambrecht’s response that “we do have” a woman leading one of the biggest chemical companies, led to a lot of head turning as the audience sought her out. Sadly, Ellen J. Kullman, president and CEO of DuPont was not at hand to single-handedly trash a stereotype.


In a testing meeting for the chemicals industry, the nine industry representatives, among a range of issues, were faced with accusations of failing to manage the disposal of harmful chemicals in developing countries. An accusation that industry was failing to live up to its promise of dealing with a specific case of dumped toxic chemicals led Hambrecht to stick out an olive branch by offering to have his staff “look” at it. He didn’t promise to solve the issue, but at least as a leader he was at hand to provide a signal of intent to NGOs and to delegates of the wider SAICM meeting.


Hambrecht, who also gave himself up for the ICCM-2’s closing press conference, drew some sympathy from Steiner for having to represent the wider chemicals industry. 


Arguably, the CEOs of Akzo Nobel and DSM were marked by their absence in Geneva. These two companies, in particular, can readily be singled out because they are regularly ranked among the best environmentally performing chemical firms and have capacity to provide positive input into the SAICM process.


Those leaders who did step forward in Geneva have left a positive mark on the SAICM process. But as Steiner says, Hambrecht and the other handful of industry leaders present in Geneva can’t do it alone. The UN is seeking to bring the wider chemicals industry, including SMEs into the SAICM process. Already “we need to ask ‘who is not coming to SAICM?’” Steiner says.


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