With sustainable development at the top of the global agenda, Elaine McGavin, Regulatory and Responsible Care Lead at the Chemical Business Association (CBA), highlights the impacts and opportunities of adopting sustainable practices throughout the chemical supply chain industry.

Across all sectors, there is a rising demand for more sustainable business practices. However, according to UN Global Compact participants, supply chain procedures are the biggest challenge to improving their sustainability performance1.

Contrary to belief, and despite being heavily impacted by several crises – including Covid, Brexit, and the conflict in Ukraine – the chemical supply chain industry is focused on making considerable progress towards sustainability while reducing its impact on the environment, with many industry stakeholders proactively taking steps to making a green transition.

In particular, there has been a growing commitment across industry to safe chemicals management, improving the environmental safety and impact of chemical supply chain processes, and seeking innovative technologies and solutions to sustainability challenges.

Playing its part

Although there is currently an urgency for the chemical sector to develop sustainable strategies and strengthen net zero commitments, companies across the chemical supply chain have been pursuing these goals for years. Many are actively involved with the Responsible Care (RC) programme, a global, voluntary initiative which provides an ethical framework for the safe and sustainable use and handling of chemical products.

Various organisations and authorities, including the CBA, the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) and the Non-Ferrous Alliance (NFA), have also been collaborating on initiatives to produce guidance on climate change and develop a climate change risk assessment and action plan for chemical, pharmaceutical, as well as other businesses.

Furthermore, as the chemical industry has a key and leading role to play in decarbonisation – both as a consumer of energy and in developing sustainable solutions for the future – understanding carbon and other greenhouse gases and their role in climate change has become increasingly vital for the sector. As such, industry stakeholders are actively undertaking Carbon Literacy training.

In support of sustainability initiatives in the sector, and to enable discussion between stakeholders and regulators, the government established the UK Chemicals Stakeholder Forum back in 2000. Following the UK’s departure from the EU the Forum, which consists of 27 members, including the CBA, has been working with industry on a strategy similar to the European Commission’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, which was adopted in 2020.

Addressing ethical concerns

In addition to facing criticism around sustainability, and despite ongoing efforts by the industry, there is still a perception that the chemicals sector is not doing enough to address diversity, equality and inclusion. This is affecting engagement with the sector.

Similarly, potential employers’ environmental impact has become a major career consideration for many young professionals. Unfortunately, lingering misconceptions about the industry have hampered chemical companies’ ability to attract top talent.

To help shift this negative perception, and to ensure the chemical industry attracts the diverse and inclusive talent pool required to maintain its position as a vital contributor to the UK economy, businesses across the chemical supply chain are ensuring that policies and legislation are continuously revised, that training and development opportunities are accessible, and that best practices for creating more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments are in place. Additionally, there is a greater effort to educate incoming talent about the importance of the industry to the economy and society at large.

An essential link

The chemical industry is an essential link in the sustainable development chain. With the global population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, it not only has an important role to play in ensuring water and food security, but also in helping to achieve climate change targets through the production of wind and solar power.

As companies in the chemical supply chain increasingly look to integrate sustainability into their overall strategies, the CBA, which has been the voice of the chemical supply chain for a century, will continue to use its position as a leader and influencer to facilitate their understanding of the impacts of adopting sustainable practices, and to help them leverage related opportunities.

For more information, visit chemical.org.uk

1 https://www.unglobalcompact.org/what-is-gc/our-work/supply-chain