Corporate Risk and the Growing Case for Sustainable Chemical Management

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With more than 70,000 chemicals currently in common use – and 1,000 new chemicals coming into use every year – maintaining and managing their effective, appropriate and responsible use is a challenging task. Cost, process, regulatory and safety issues converge to making chemical management a critical, complex and cumbersome activity.

But by implementing a range of measures on site and across businesses, the risks associated with chemical use can be eliminated. To start, it is important to have a solid understanding of exactly what chemicals are being used at each facility – and what compliance documentation is required for each chemical, including waiver documentation, if appropriate.

Building out an inventory of chemicals is crucial to fully understanding how exposed your business might be – not only to regulatory non-compliance but also to the risk of pollution or breaches of internal health and safety policies.

For Kimberly Williams, an inventory services manager for the chemical data management business SiteHawk, an accurate chemical inventory is the foundation for your overall chemical management initiatives and globally harmonized system (GHS) compliance. “Similar to building a house, periodic chemical inventories will ensure there are no cracks in your foundation,” she says. Logging what chemicals you have on site, documenting where they are located and ensuring up-to-date safety data sheets (SDSs) are available will help your business to establish a solid baseline for creating chemical approval and control procedures; meet SDS compliance; and automate regulatory reporting that is efficient and accurate, she adds.

Among her top tips for creating an inventory are to: label materials; create chemical ‘areas’, either physically or logically grouping materials; and to develop a routine schedule, so that the inventory process becomes an annual event. “By employing the right mix of people, process, and technology, you can get a step ahead in your chemical management efforts and ensure compliance,” adds Williams.

Chemical managers are beginning to realize that the most important investment their business will make in the next ten years is information management software to make life easier – especially technology that integrates wider environmental health and safety data. Software platforms offer a straightforward data interface and reporting function which can access data from a number of sources, fulfilling regulatory demands and supporting business analysis. A fully filterable and searchable inventory of materials can be backed up with comprehensive digitized content provided by third parties like SiteHawk or 3E. So you get the manufacturers details and hazard classifications which you’ll need for compliance reporting. Users also have the ability to register new chemicals associated with a particular product – and they can even request waivers if chemicals contain any Cat 1a substances.

To help build out a picture of potential risks or hazards, site managers can create property profiles for each individual site, noting which chemicals are where, how long they have been there and whether there is a storage threshold per hazard type. Then there’s the option to create charts and graphs to help analyze chemical inventory metrics.

Philips, the Amsterdam-based technology company which manufactures a range of electronic equipment and lighting, has been making use of chemical management software for the last few years. Eliminating and minimizing its use of hazardous substances in its products and production processes has long been a priority for the business. It maintains a Regulated Substances List (RSL) for products which includes substances banned by law or by Philips; that need to be monitored due to regulatory requirements; or that Philips just wants to monitor. The RSL is something it asks its suppliers to comply with, and it is updated regularly. It also contains a number of substances that Philips wants to phase out from a precautionary point of view, despite there being no regulatory requirement to do so, such as polyvinyl chloride, phthalates and beryllium.

Perhaps the world will instead turn to greener chemistry for product components and production techniques in the future. According to a new study by the American Sustainable Business Council and the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3), it is a market set to jump from $11 billion in 2015 to nearly $100 billion by 2020 as companies grapple to build more sustainable entities and de-risk their processes.

There is a growing realization that the cost of managing chemicals goes far beyond the price of materials. By adopting best practice and looking at the entire lifecycle of chemicals, more and more companies are looking to better integrate the chemical management process so that it can be used to gain strategic advantage in the marketplace – boosting efficiency, improving site health and safety, mitigating corporate risk and creating sustainable businesses for the long-term.