Chemical companies at the forefront of environmental safeguard

The higher the risk, the deeper the conscience: strict regulations and external pressures lead to dialogue with stakeholders and foresight initiatives.

Chemical companies are at the forefront in safeguarding the environment. High risk firms, especially chemical ones, are those that most actively work to limit their impact. These are the findings of an international survey conducted by DNV GL – Business Assurance, a world
leading certification body, and the research institute GFK Eurisko, on more than 3,500 professionals from businesses in different sectors in Europe, North America, Central and South America and Asia.

Environmental safeguard

92% of high risk companies, that is to say those companies whose environmental impacts might be of significant nature and gravity, consider environmental issues an integral part of their corporate strategy. Among them, chemical firms show the highest commitment, with
proportions reaching 98%, about 14 percentage points more than the global average.
Green conscience is not a merely cosmetic issue, it translates into the concrete application of a formal policy for 96% of chemical firms. In addition to generically protecting the environment (79%) and containing guidelines to prevent pollution (83%), policies adopted by
chemical businesses define rules to keep improving environmental performance too (77%).

Main risks

Globally, across continents and sectors, the main risks are related to waste disposal (60%), with an increasing awareness of the problems probably caused by packaging and scraps.
For chemical businesses the handling of hazardous materials (64%), the discharge of waste waters (62%) and waste disposal (61%) are the main concerns too. Moreover, they are particularly worried by the release of atmospheric emissions (42%). On the other hand, they are quite advanced in handling operational aspects: structural deficiencies of facilities (12%), for instance, score below average rates.

Key iniatives undertaken

With one hundred per cent of professionals interviewed reporting that they implement at least one action to control risks, the chemical sector confirms its status as the most active industry for environmental protection. In addition to monitoring compliance with legal and other requirements (92%), 82% of chemical businesses conduct assessments to identify all potential impacts on the environment, 76% resort to management systems and 63% to monitoring of particular environmental trends. Moreover, they are engaged in innovative initiatives linked to external communication (48%) and in design processes aiming at minimizing environmental impact (62%).
Though with lower rates, similar behaviour is recorded for all high risk companies, which are in any case normally more active than the global average, which sees monitoring processes to evaluate compliance with legal requirements as the principal measure adopted (75%).

Drivers, benefits and obstacles

Coherently with what happens at a general level, laws and regulations (90%) are the main drivers leading chemical firms to safeguard the environment. Differently from the global average, however, business continuity (45%), brand reputation (43%) and public concern (37%) come immediately after, highlighting how external pressures from community and institutions are able to influence their performance, so much so as to interrupt or even prevent operations.
External stakeholders’ consent is essential for these businesses to keep operating and environmental initiatives undertaken proved to be useful for this purpose. 70% of chemical companies reported improved relations with authorities and with other stakeholders (40%).
The main factor that seems to prevent businesses from making more progress in environmental management is lack of financial resources (33%). But the percentage drops to 26% for chemical firms and 36% don’t perceive any barriers to improvement.

Future outlook

For the future risks are expected to decrease. The capability to manage issues such as waste disposal (-12%) is somewhat taken for granted and firms will concentrate attention on long term matters, likely as a consequence of increased pressure from authorities to consider future impacts, especially in the chemical sector.
In fact, more than in any other sector, chemical firms will resort to foresight activities such as assessment of their impacts (+8% vs. average), monitoring of environmental indicators (+13%) and design processes aimed at minimizing environmental impact (+18%).
However, focus on the environment will not diminish. 92% of people surveyed will maintain or increase investments. In particular, almost 1 in 2 chemical firms confirm that they will increase investments for environmental protection in the next three years.

Download here the whole Report_Environmental_Management!
 The survey was conducted in March 2014, on a sample of 3,539 professionals who work at prominent
companies in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors across different industries in Europe, North
America, Central & South America and Asia.
 The sample is qualitative and not statistically representative:
 24% of the firms involved employ less than 50 people, 33% from 50 to 249 and 42% 250 or
 Companies involved are in the primary (4%), secondary (57%) and tertiary sector (35%).
 The sample includes 578 high risk companies (177 belonging to chemical sector):
 The classification of a company in the “high risk” group is based on the list of high complexity
business sectors defined by IAF “the world association of Conformity Assessment Accreditation
Bodies.” The list includes: mining and quarrying, oil and gas extraction, tanning of textiles and
clothing, wood pulp manufacturing, oil refining, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, metals,
selected non-metal processing and products, coal-based electricity generation, civil
construction and demolition, hazardous and non-hazardous waste processing, effluent and
sewerage processing.
 The questionnaire was administered using the CAWI (Computer Assisted Web Interviewing)