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Sustainable Development is the Need of the Hour
For chemical industry, it has become a cumbersome task to make profi t and at the same time, protect the interests of the community and the environment. Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation have further worsened the situations. In order to meet environmental challenges, investing in R&D in Sustainable Development is what, industry need to pay attention to. Dr Joerg Strassburger, Country Representative & Managing Director, LANXESS India Private Limited, explains why industry needs to make enough efforts to minimise adverse impact on the environment and protect the interests of the society.

Conducting business in a profitable manner, while keeping in view the interests of the society and minimising adverse impact on the environment is what we define as sustainable development. In todays age of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation wherein we are consuming available natural resources at an alarming rate, sustainable development is certainly the need of the hour for the society at large. However, businesses and governments need to play a more active role in achieving this target. Irrespective of the size of the organisation, nature of business and geography, there is an incumbent need for everyone to take up this challenge of developing ways to meet the future demands, while maintaining the necessary balance in the environment.

Issues like scarcity of clean water and unexpected climatic changes across the globe are connected to the well-being of every individual on this planet and hence these problems can only be dealt with a collective effort, driven by a mass consciousness.

Now that we understand why sustainable development is essential, there are few questions before us - How do we achieve this balance on an ongoing basis? Who all or what will be required for an organisation to carry on their efforts for sustainable development? Which is the optimal methodology which offers minimum risk yet opens a path of constant innovation that is necessary to take this forward?

We can understand this better with an example from the chemical industry.

Every product that is manufactured must be analysed for the carbon footprint it lends, or emission of any other potentially hazardous gases both during its production and application. Industries, which consume these chemicals to make their products, must also evaluate the environmental impact of the final product. We must also look at the extent of consumption of the product in the society. The more widespread the consumption, the higher the risk, hence the evaluation should be more stringent. At the same time, the cost of the product and the calculation of risk assessment should be borne in mind. If the overall cost is higher than the sales it meets, then the process will not be sustainable. So, businesses will have to evolve a methodology in which this process is sustainable in the first place. Organisations which do not have scale hence are unable to focus on areas like risk assessment and environmental impact of products.

Nevertheless, it is important to invest in technology, people, and processes in order to facilitate continuous research and development. Without this investment, it is difficult for organisations to identify areas of improvement both in terms of quality and environmental impact of the product. In the context of the chemical industry, safety is a very important parameter as well. Safety standards maintained during the life cycle of the product, during product handling, packaging and transport is also vital.

Secondly, for continuous sustainable development, there has to be uniform standards in environmental management across the globe and every organisation should be equipped with tools to measure and assess the environmental performance and risks at its areas of operation. This should be audited regularly by the organisations themselves and then reviewed by a body of global relevance.

These guidelines should be based on international industry practices and standards for environmental management and sustainable resource consumption. The guidelines must ensure that these standards are maintained across the supply chain of the business process. Suppliers, vendors, employees and other stakeholders who impact the business should all be informed and trained to abide by the same standards. These standards should meet all legal requirements in the area of operation and should ensure compliance with statutory and environmental regulatory requirements. Overall, organisations should strive to reduce consumption of renewable resources, develop productive ways of reusing resources and recycling the used/ waste resources. Health, Safety, Quality and Environment should form the key pillars of sustainable development. This would gradually raise the bar for standards on protection of environment, utilisation of renewable resources and most importantly it would foster innovation amongst the community to come up with safer and better ways of pursuing their operations.

Thirdly, in order to achieve sustainable development, it is quintessential for companies to invest in technology and innovation. Adoption of newer technologies and innovation in processes and practices would provide us the necessary tools to achieve higher standards of safety, quality and environmental protection. For the chemical industry, it is even more critical to innovate in order to make products that are high on quality, which have been developed by sustainable means and meet the future needs of the customer.

In summary, there is research and development involved in developing new products which are higher in performance and safer for the environment and the people, in creating more resource efficient production techniques and processes, in new manufacturing technology, in assessing the impact on environment and developing new ways of minimising that impact.

Overall, research and development is a specialised function that calls for allocated resources in terms of financial investment, infrastructure like laboratories etc and qualified people (technicians, scientists, environment engineers). Ideally this should be a centralised function at the core of the organisation where every business unit and every employee can participate in a consistent manner. New ideas for resource optimisation can come for anywhere within the organisation.

Constant assessment, measurement, analysis of impact and controlling the outcome entails sustainable development. Not just the organisation but the entire supply chain dealing with the organisation must be geared up to meet the enhanced standards of sustainable development, staring from its own employees to suppliers and vendors, customers, end users among others.

At LANXESS, we believe that it is possible to do good business in the chemical industry, while protecting the interests of the community and the environment. All risks related to the health and safety of all stakeholders and environmental protection can be minimised to a great extent by adopting the following measures:

• Comply with applicable legal requirements and other requirements that relate to plant and process safety, occupational health and safety hazards and environmental protection.

• Continuously analyse and improve practices and processes to reduce their risk and adverse impacts on the health of the people and the environment

• Encourage employees to actively participate in hazard identification, risk assessments, incident investigation and change management that may affect plant and process safety, occupational health and safety hazards and environmental protection.

• Provide appropriate information and training on the plant and processes, work related safety and the need and means of environmental protection to everyone working at the site.

• Provide an ergonomically safe work environment to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses to everyone working in the plant.

• Investigate and analyse the cause of work-related injuries and illnesses as well as environmental related incidents or damages; and take preventive action to eliminate the root cause of occurrence.

• Regular ly audit the quality of final products, raw materials, emissions and waste etc and take action in case their composition does not comply with the set standards.