Use of Safer Chemicals Gets New Scrutiny

Inaugural survey aims to provide a benchmark for tracking specific companies’ progress

By Mark Rosenzweig, Editor in Chief

In May, the Chemical Footprint Project (CFP), Somerville, Mass., issued the first of what it expects to become annual reports that provide a quantitative assessment of the performance of companies in dealing with hazardous chemicals in their products and supply chains — what it calls the “chemical footprint” of each firm. The report does not focus on chemical makers but rather on downstream companies in sectors including apparel, consumer durables, food and beverages, household products, and healthcare equipment and services. A total of 24 firms — including Clorox, Johnson & Johnson, Kyocera, Levi Strauss and Shaw Industries — participated in the initial survey.

Clear and consistent metrics will enable an updatable “chemical footprint.”

“The Chemical Footprint Project sets a new standard for evaluating and comparing companies on their policies, programs, and practices for managing chemicals,” claim its founders — Clean Production Action, Somerville, Mass.; the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell; and Pure Strategies, Gloucester, Mass. The CFP fills a critical gap in the sustainability mosaic, they believe.

The aim is to provide clear and consistent metrics to assess companies’ progress toward use of safer chemicals. The CFP considers its initiative as paralleling what’s already done for carbon emissions.

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“The Chemical Footprint Project results provide a window into how companies manage the financial liabilities of: regulatory risks…; reputation risks… ; and redesign risks…,” the group notes.

The project, launched in 2014, now has the support of investors and institutional purchasers managing more than $2.3 trillion in assets and with $70-billion purchasing power, says the CFP.

Companies participating in the survey were asked to answer 20 questions in four categories: 1) the policies and strategies in place to manage chemicals; 2) information collected on chemicals in products and supply chains; 3) baseline data available on chemicals of high concern and tracking of progress toward safer alternatives; and 4) sharing of information on chemicals in products with the public and steps taken to verify survey responses. The maximum possible score for the answers was 100; individual company scores ranged from 12 to 89. Average scores were highest for questions related to chemical inventory and lowest for those on disclosure and verification. (Download the “2016 CFP Annual Report.”)

The size, sector and business strategy of a company wasn’t an overriding factor in the results, says the CFP. Firms of disparate size and focused on different product categories scored above average across all four performance categories, it notes.

Among the CFP’s key conclusions:

• Companies that held executives accountable for chemicals management performed better overall. “The 29% of firms with Board-level oversight or senior management incentives performed better overall than firms with no such accountability,” the report stresses.

• Firms are focusing primarily on chemicals in products rather than in the supply chain. Almost 90% have policies to avoid chemicals of high concern in products and two-thirds have policies favoring safer alternatives in products.

• Companies need policies that address chemical hazards in manufacturing, supply chains and packaging in addition to products — otherwise, they face hidden liabilities and chemical risks, the report warns.

• Disclosure remains an issue. Companies have more practices in place than they share publicly.

The report cites a number of avenues for improvement, such as establishing more-comprehensive policies, including for better training and incentives for employees and suppliers, creating a list of restricted substances and alerting suppliers to these materials, as well as providing greater transparency.

Achieving such improvements will require significant resources initially but can yield great increases in customer trust and loyalty and open up many new business opportunities, especially for companies that sell directly to consumers, counsels the CFP.

Chemical makers, while not the focus of the CFP, are bound to feel its impact if the initiative gains traction with downstream companies.


rosenzweigweb.jpgMARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can email him at mrosenzweig@putman.net

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