DTI chemicals task force puts environment at heart of innovation

A task force has been formed by the Department of Trade and Industry to help rescue the reputation of the chemicals sector and develop a sustainable development strategy. Plans afoot include a possible overhaul of the industry's Responsible Care programme, and creation of a new system of "self-regulation" based around performance indicators and third party verification.

The new task force, called the Chemistry Leadership Council, follows the recommendations of the DTI's Chemicals Innovation and Growth Team, which reported in December.1 A similar innovation team recently led to the creation of a new Government steering group to champion the environmental goods and services sector (ENDS Report 335, pp 3-4 ).

The CIGT was chaired by Byron Grote, chief executive of BP Chemicals. Members of the new leadership council include BASF chairman Barry Stickings and environmentalist Jonathon Porritt. The council will develop a vision for sustainability and set priorities for R&D, technology and skills development.

  • Sustainable development: The prominence which the team gave to reputation issues and sustainable development is significant. The CIGT report says that the industry needs to "deliver solutions, which integrate fully the needs of the economy, society and the environment rather than simply minimise the negative impacts of its production and processes."

    "It is important to embed sustainable development into the innovation and education processes and demonstrate to the industry and its supply chain that making real, positive contributions to the sustainable development agenda can have real, positive effects on companies' businesses and their ultimate profitability."

    Included in the report is a study by Forum for the Future which gives a flavour of the issues which the council will need to consider. Sustainability will mean significantly less use of petroleum-based raw materials and an active quest for alternatives. The industry will also have to use more renewable energy, and eliminate or significantly reduce the negative impacts of both products and processes.

  • Reputation: The CIGT says that the industry had a "poor" reputation with both the public and the City. "Yet not all of the industry is aware of this, or convinced that it is a problem, or understands how its own actions contribute to that reputation."

    The report recommends trying to improve reputation through a programme of stakeholder dialogue, guidelines for companies and training for industry leaders.

  • Self-regulation: Another task for the leadership council will be to develop a self-regulatory system, above and beyond Government regulation. This should take the form of a "code of conduct", endorsed by stakeholders, and "aggressively marketed" to companies and the public.

    The system will include third party verification and performance indicators. A publicly available database will list companies which are - and are not - signed up to the code.

    Strikingly, the system should include league tables of performance where "bad actors" will be identified. If they do not improve, the report says, "tougher means" should be considered.

    Responsible Care, the industry's best practice initiative, is likely to be the vehicle for this system. But Forum for the Future felt that Responsible Care will require "significant changes" if it is to incorporate "a strategic vision and approach to sustainable development." The CIA's new performance targets represent a first step down this road (see pp 3-4 ).

    Speaking at the CIA's Business Outlook conference on 23 January, Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt told delegates that "innovation is the way to solve environmental problems."

    CIA director general Judith Hackitt strongly endorsed the CIGT report: "Reputation and sustainable development are fundamental to innovation and growth," she told the conference. "The competitiveness, profitability and the long-term survival of individual companies will be determined by those who have the foresight and will rise to the challenge and those that do not."

    The conference also heard from some of the industry's customers. Mike Barry, Marks and Spencer's environmental manager, described what he saw as a sea change in consumer concerns. "Consumers need more than just legal compliance," he explained. "Companies must make their products more sustainable."

    One delegate took exception to Marks and Spencer's policy on phasing out certain hazardous substances (ENDS Report 331, pp 31-32 ), an initiative which he saw as "expediency".

    But Mr Barry said that the industry must escape its "bunker mentality". "Consumption is the new democracy - customers can take action every time they spend money." He said that his company preferred to do business with companies which took their responsibilities seriously - and he offered praise for Clariant, Dyestar and Ciba.

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