The hazards that certain chemicals may or may not pose remain a subject of intense debate between chemical makers, regulators and other interested parties. Nonetheless, some users of these chemicals undoubtedly must feel that replacing suspect materials now rather than waiting for an ultimate decision about their safety is a prudent course of action.
Such firms should take a look at a new 64-page book called "The Guide to Safer Chemicals," which is downloadable at www.bizngo.org/guide.php. It was issued in December by the Biz-NGO Working Group (www.bizngo.org), which calls itself "a unique collaboration of business and NGO [nongovernmental organization] leaders who are creating a roadmap to the widespread use of safer chemicals and sustainable materials in our economy." Some large manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Shaw Industries — but no chemical makers — as well as retailers like Staples and Whole Foods are involved.
Previously, Biz-NGO had developed "Four Principles for Safer Chemicals," namely:
1. Know and disclose chemicals across the lifecycle of products.
2. Assess and avoid hazards.
3. Commit to continuous improvement.
4. Support public policies and industry standards that make comprehensive hazards data available, act to eliminate known risks, and promote a greener economy.
The group says that many companies agree with these principles but don't know how to implement them. The book aims to help.
"'The Guide' is the result of three-plus years of discussions, pilots and draft versions among Biz-NGO participants of how to implement the Biz-NGO Principles for Safer Chemicals," says the group.
The book is not about compliance with laws and regulations. It assumes companies already comply and want to move beyond that. Many drivers — such as addressing consumer demands, ensuring product development stays far ahead of regulations, expanding current markets and capturing new markets, and guiding innovation — can prompt taking a more-proactive approach in use of chemicals, notes Biz-NGO.
The executive summary provides a good overview of the book's purpose and content:
"'The Biz-NGO Guide to Safer Chemicals' is a unique resource for downstream users of chemicals. It is a hands-on guide that charts pathways to safer chemicals in products and supply chains for brand name companies, product manufacturers, architects and designers, retailers, and health care organizations.
"Chemicals are at the core of our materials, products, and manufacturing systems, and as such should be at the core of our sustainability programs. Yet many a downstream business, those organizations that use chemicals by virtue of the products they purchase, has avoided starting this journey thinking that the path to greener and safer chemicals is too clouded in complexity and uncertainty. 'The Guide' is our response to these uncertainties and is intended for both novices and experts.
• Marks pathways to safer chemicals in products and supply chains.
• Sets relative benchmarks for each of the four Biz-NGO Principles for Safer Chemicals.
• Specifies actions for each benchmark.
• Presents examples of business practices for each benchmark.
• Illustrates how downstream users are getting started and advancing on their paths to safer chemicals.
"Users of 'The Guide' will learn how to:
• Measure internal performance, identify areas of improvement, and track progress to safer chemicals.
• Benchmark performance in comparison to other organizations.
• Communicate to the public their organization's performance in moving to safer chemicals based on an independent metric."'
Some corporate executives already are applauding the effort. "'The Guide' establishes clear steps for building a meaningful program for developing and adopting better materials, and we have found it to be helpful in communicating across the supply chain how to implement a green chemistry program," says Helen Holder, materials manager at Hewlett-Packard. "'The Biz-NGO Guide' is a much-need, pragmatic resource for how businesses can start on the path to safer chemicals," notes Roger McFadden, vice president and senior scientist at Staples. "We welcome this much needed addition of the chemicals element to the sustainability equation."
However, the authors admit this initial version of "The Guide" has many gaps in reporting and the benchmarks are imperfect and need refinement. "'The Guide' is a living resource and will evolve over time as we learn more about the challenges and opportunities that organizations face in implementing these benchmarks," they say.
MARK ROSENZWEIG is Editor in Chief of Chemical Processing. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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