Sustainability: No Longer a Buzzword but a Way of Life
10:10 AM MST | December 2, 2011 | By LAWRENCE D. SLOAN
By Lawrence D. Sloan, SOCMA President and CEO
The concept of sustainability has been front-page news now for well over a decade. These days, you can’t find a company that isn’t touting something they are doing as “sustainable.” It’s akin to the term “green,” which has been over-used, particularly by consumer products companies wanting to appeal to the hearts (and pocketbooks) of “environmentally conscious” folks – to such an extent that the Federal Trade Commission had to step in last year and publish guidelines to ensure the customer wasn’t being misled.
Sustainability is much broader in scope. As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sustainability is “based on a simple principle – everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permits fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”
And so as public scrutiny of the chemical industry grows, environmental, health, safety and security (EHS&S) management systems are more important than ever, not only to SOCMA and our member companies but the chemical industry as a whole. These days, sustainability is an integral part of every manufacturing process. Energy efficiency, carbon emissions and the resulting impact on global climate change are at the forefront of all sustainability discussions. The chemical industry understands the need to invest in new technologies that reduce energy consumption and, consequently, its collective carbon footprint, while making good business sense. For decades now, chemical manufacturers have strived to conserve energy, well before the term “carbon footprint” became all the rage. While simple measures such as switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs are being adopted, more complex and innovative technologies which capture waste steam and reduce carbon emissions are commonplace.
Across the board, we see SOCMA members:
* Developing facility goals and encouraging employee involvement;
* Reducing paper projects with increased use of electronic mail;
* Using proactive procurement of renewable raw materials;
* Implementing technologies that reduce excess of raw materials, therefore reducing energy consumption;
* Replacing solvents in products and processes with benign and naturally reoccurring solvents;
* Switching to suppliers that use similar green-based practices; some members are administering surveys to their suppliers; and
* Collaborating with other groups to learn more about sustainability. For example, members are involved in the U.S. Sustainable Development Business Council, UN Global Compact, Green Composites Committee of the American Composites Manufacturers Association and others.
As you can see, these businesses are making tremendous efforts to be good stewards of the environment and ensure their future viability. Sustainability is no longer just a buzz word. It’s a way of life, and companies must make the commitment to operate environmentally friendly facilities in order to survive.
When it comes to sustainability, the chemical industry remains vigilant in researching new ways of doing business that are smart for the planet as well as their bottom line. SOCMA’s ChemStewards® EHS&S management system recently added a “sustainable” metric on greenhouse gas emissions, which members are being asked to submit. While the tool currently in place has been adopted from the EPA, discussions are under way to ascertain whether improvements can be made for it to better reflect the unique dynamics of a batch chemical manufacturer.
Because of the increasing and widespread practice of sustainability among our member companies, SOCMA is presenting its first-ever ChemStewards Sustainability Award at our 90th Annual Dinner on December 5 in New York. This award is based on a company’s excellence in the area of sustainability and green chemistry. For example, companies considered for this award are those who set sustainable goals for their facilities, implement cost- and energy-saving measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as material savings in production; develop new technology in green chemistry; change from hazardous to non-hazardous materials; change to suppliers who use green-based chemistry; research how their material can be used going forward; or form a green chemistry or sustainability team at their facilities.
With the addition of the greenhouse gas metric and now the sustainability award, SOCMA members are being formally recognized for the sustainability practices they have implemented for years.
So what’s next? In my previous job, I managed a trade association representing the adhesives industry. Several years ago, we began to see some of the bigger member companies invest in something called “Life Cycle Assessment” (LCA). The EPA defines LCA as “a technique to assess the environmental aspects and potential impacts associated with a product, process, or service, by compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases and evaluating the potential environmental impacts associated with identified inputs and releases.”
Is the batch chemical industry doing the same? Are companies sensing any advantage to developing their own LCA’s based on their customer’s demands? I would surmise that someday it will be commonplace for companies to publish LCA data alongside their material safety data sheets as a routine part of their business. What do you think?