P2 Impact

To detox manufacturing, businesses find a secret ingredient

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Forward-thinking chemicals management is an emerging business priority. There is no manual. There are no rules of engagement. By sharing practices, professionals can compound their collective intelligence and advance solutions.

Five leading Massachusetts manufacturers found joining forces essential in their efforts to redefine chemicals management. Meeting recently as a peer-mentoring workgroup led them to share ideas and resources.

Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, Waters Corporation, Essilor USA, Analog Devices and Entegris made up the workgroup. These companies were joined by the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership, an organization that works directly with smaller manufacturers across the state, many of which are suppliers to the five companies in the workgroup.

Meeting this past summer, the companies shared best practices and a common drive for proactive chemicals management that moves beyond compliance and toward true corporate social responsibility. A common sense of purpose allowed member companies to learn about and adopt one another’s practices.

"Within Siemens, we focus on sustainability, especially the environmental aspects," said Kevin Johnson, director of environment, health and safety at Siemens. "Sustainability is integral to the way that we do business and the way we build products. This workgroup has been very helpful in improving our chemicals of concern management by leveraging the best practices of our peers. In addition, we were able to help advance industry’s overall efforts of proactive chemicals management by sharing the things we do well."

Obstacles to change

Managing chemicals has become a significant, multidisciplinary challenge for manufacturers. However, various external and internal drivers complicate the challenge.  

First of all, regulations, especially global ones, are redefining which chemicals can be used for specific applications. Companies that ship products globally not only need to anticipate which chemicals are likely to face increased regulation but also need to find substitutes that remain viable in the face of escalating regulations.

Secondly, corporate sustainability goals — whether those of original equipment manufacturers or their customers — require safer substitutes for toxic chemicals. Sustainability metrics also call for an unprecedented degree of details on chemical use, storage and disposal at each facility. 

Third, customers often specify chemical restrictions and demand accurate reporting on chemical presence across the supply chain to meet their own sustainability goals, brand image attributes and end user requirements. Finally, economics is often a factor. Increasingly, companies are realizing that "greener" technology is more cost effective due to factors such as lower regulatory burdens, fewer control requirements, reduced waste costs and positive market differentiation.

Many companies are growing by acquisition, which elevates the importance of cost avoidance. Careful product design, purchasing strategies and inventory management systems promote economic efficiencies. 

For many companies, major internal drivers include research and development (R&D) specifications; product development requirements; environmental health and safety (EH&S) criteria; procurement standards; and legal, chemical use, storage and disposal requirements.

Honoring a mutual commitment

The group developed monthly meeting agendas to build an understanding of sound chemical management practices, which led to tactical, strategic discussions. Different members facilitated meetings, which provided diverse perspectives and fostered learning. Outside experts also joined.

All of the companies use proprietary lists and institutional procedures to manage chemicals. They found that their internally developed chemical lists tended to have a built-in criteria including associated business risks, such as sole supplier and price volatility. They identified types of tools and resources, including: 

  • Chemical lists and hazard databases such as CoRap, ChemHAT, SiNimilarity and BOMcheck
  • EH&S, quality and sustainability tools such as Gensuite, EHS Dashboard and ETQ
  • Resources from the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3), the EU’s Green Public Procurement site and BizNGO
  • Standards such as ISO 14001 and 45001, OHSAS 18001, EPA Safer Choice, EICC and the Chemical Footprint Project

The group also discussed process and structure solutions to break down the silos of R&D, production, procurement, EH&S and sustainability departments, and build a common understanding.

Workgroup participants also considered building EH&S requirements into product development and procurement processes that restrict the use of chemicals of concern. They also aimed to strengthen supplier relationships and mandate contract language to increase transparency to chemicals of concern in the supply chain. Other best practices included restricting the use of corporate credit cards to purchase chemicals, and establishing a chemical review board.

A public call to action 

The workgroup translated its passion into a public call to action at a half-day workshop at a continuing education conference, sponsored by the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI), on the topic of chemicals management.

Andrew Pastor, global product stewardship specialist at Waters Corporation, applauded the open discourse about best practices and common goals within the workgroup. 

"It’s been great to learn how other firms with similar value chains tackle different challenges, to pick up new ideas, and to validate or reconsider approaches we’ve decided to take," said Pastor. "In addition, TURI has provided invaluable information about industry and regulatory developments that help us stay ahead of the curve as we plan sustainability and product stewardship initiatives."

This peer mentoring workgroup shows how TURI fulfills its mission to improve chemicals safety in Massachusetts while enhancing the competitiveness of business. The development, promotion and dissemination of sound chemicals use in manufacturing can be equally effective in other states.

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