While environmental sustainability is rightly a key focus for industry, so too is ensuring a sustainable workforce for the future. Tim Doggett, CEO of the Chemical Business Association (CBA), discusses how initiatives are improving sustainability in the chemical supply chain.

Environmental sustainability

Providing materials, components and technologies for over 97% of all manufacturing, it is little surprise that the World Economic Forum’s Nature Positive: Role of the Chemical Sector report describes the chemical industry as the largest industrial consumer of energy and the third largest subsector with regard to CO2 emissions.

That said, the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) claims that solutions already implemented in the sector save at least two tonnes of greenhouse gases for each tonne emitted. Indeed, sustainability initiatives have been successfully and effectively deployed across the chemical supply chain for decades.

The chemical industry’s commitment to continual improvement in health, safety, security and environmental performance is the Responsible Care programme, a global initiative spanning the entirety of the chemical supply chain. The CBA has been part of this programme for over 30 years, providing businesses with an ethical framework for using and handling chemical products safely, while pursuing industry-wide improvements in security, health and safety and environmental performance through eight guiding principles.

As the chemical sector is a major consumer of energy and a leading developer of sustainable solutions, it’s important for its businesses to understand how CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases affect climate change and what measures can be taken to mitigate their impact.

The CBA has engaged with the Carbon Literacy Project to create its own certified training programme that helps individuals make informed decisions to reduce their carbon footprint and enable employees at all levels to make a positive impact.

Workforce sustainability

Building a sustainable workforce that can adapt to future demands is vital to the sector, and making the industry visible and accessible to a wide range of people is important in driving recruitment and reducing potential skills shortages. Shifting and addressing negative perceptions and stereotypes is one way to increase its attractiveness and make it an employer of choice.

Given the size of the industry’s workforce and the wide range of skills required, addressing negative perceptions of working in the chemical supply chain – and improving understanding of the crucial benefits the sector brings to society – is paramount. Similarly, there needs to be greater awareness of available career opportunities.

At the same time, existing employees need opportunities to develop and progress. Workforce sustainability and retention can be improved by providing staff with stackable skills through vocational training, skills programmes, continuous learning and mentoring. This can be vital in retaining experienced employees, ensuring they feel valued, giving them a sense of purpose and the ability to contribute and make a difference.

Current initiatives include the CBA’s Future Council where young people with different employers, roles, experience and skills meet to exchange ideas and deliver on collective ambitions and objectives. The group aims to promote the chemical supply chain, attract new talent and raise awareness of available careers. This is achieved through a variety of projects, including organising and attending careers outreach events. Another initiative is the CBA Young Person’s Award, which recognises excellence within the industry.

Generation Logistics is an industry-led campaign, supported by the Department for Transport (DfT) that brings together stakeholders in logistics to change perceptions and attract the next generation of employees via entry-level, apprenticeships and graduate programmes. In just over 12 months following its launch, the initiative had over 822 million reach for its messages, 789,000 visits to its website, more than 3.5 million engagements with its social media campaign, and enrolment of over 330 ambassadors.

A more recent CBA initiative is the People & Skills Hub. Established last July, it has created a collaborative space for, and a network of stakeholders from right across the chemical supply chain, including industry experts, education partners and potential future professionals. The Hub is a proactive resource that bridges the gap between talent and opportunity by facilitating skills development and careers advancement. Through networking opportunities, resources and outreach programmes, it provides bespoke support tailored to specific needs, promoting and prioritising skills, allowing businesses and individuals to exchange know-how, offer skills development and advance careers.

A final noteworthy CBA initiative is Generation STEAM. STEAM takes the traditional acronym STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) way of thinking and adds an A for arts – but also for other terms such as ability, ambition and attitude. Creating this new way of thinking will allow us to build a workforce diverse in thought and ideas, making industry accessible to a wider range of skillsets, from traditional roles such as logistics through to sales and marketing.

It is the responsibility of our sector to show that opportunity exists everywhere for all goals and interests.

Supporting sustainability

Businesses across the chemical supply chain understand more than ever that environmental and workforce sustainability are vital to the industry’s success. Cutting down energy consumption and CO2 emissions, while improving talent across the workforce, are key elements for growth and productivity.

With programmes like Responsible Care and Carbon Literacy, the CBA supports the industry in managing chemicals in safer ways, reducing the impact of chemical supply chain processes while seeking practical solutions to minimise emissions and meet net-zero targets. At the same time, it is helping members address workforce sustainability by making the industry more attractive to new talent while encouraging retainment through career development.

Details at chemical.org.uk