Environmentally conscious businesses have an ever-growing number of EH&S philosophies and ideals to choose from when deciding on their overall management mission statements. Some of the more familiar ones are ideas like “carbon neutral” or the increasingly popular “zero landfill” in which facilities aim to recycle or reuse all materials that would otherwise be shipped into a landfill.
Today we’re introducing another one of these EH&S ideals that we’ve come across through our work with manufacturers and their chemical suppliers: 100% Chemistry.
100% Chemistry is a focus on achieving a complete understanding about which chemicals are in each and every one of the materials you bring into your facility. It’s a concept that some environmental managers are striving for and using as a guiding ideal on how they collect key performance indicators and how they manage their supply chain relations.
It’s also a key component of accurately accounting for the true environmental footprint of your facility’s operations. The further away your chemical inventory management is from achieving 100% Chemistry, the more your environmental reports and internal benchmarking are like best guesses and estimations. It takes complete knowledge of your own products and what goes into them to be able to drive accurate Life Cycle Analyses (LCA), Environmental product declarations (EPDs), and environmental impact reports for manufacturing actions.
Simply put: if you don’t know exactly what goes into your finished product, how can you properly account for the exact environmental outputs and truly improve your performance?
That’s the motivating force behind 100% Chemistry.
Why 100% Chemistry Matters
In most cases, a manufacturer is left in the dark about the majority of the chemicals funneled through his or her facility: at best they get accurate chemical data from their Tier I suppliers, but any deeper down the supply chain and information gets lost or the data just never gets sent in the first place.
100% Chemistry as an operating principal is about working with the entire supply chain, and not just those Tier I and II suppliers that are easier to get chemical information from. This sometimes entails choosing to purchase from vendors that take a similar approach and do the work of collecting chemical data from their suppliers, all the way down the chain.
In the past, having only a general understanding of the chemical constituency of your materials was enough to get by, but increasingly global regulations have manufacturers and their suppliers scrambling to fill in the blanks before it gets too costly or too late. Today the bar has been raised for what regulators and consumers expect from the businesses that manufacture goods: there is an increased demand for complete transparency about what goes into every product.
The more complicated and interconnected a supply chain, the more difficult achieving that transparency is: the prime example being the challenges facing the automotive and aerospace industries in today’s market which can be 8-10 tiers deep.
How the 100% Chemistry Ideal is Taking Root Already
At the moment, the concept of 100% Chemistry remains an industry ideal rather than a concrete set of guidelines, and that’s because each industry is still in the process of figuring out the best way of collecting their data and communicating it in an effective manor to both management and clients.
But that doesn’t mean that some businesses aren’t already taking steps to achieve 100% Chemistry’s goals, regardless of whether they use the terminology of 100% Chemistry. For example, many companies regularly perform SDS reviews for all incoming chemicals and are working to implement corporate bans on certain substances. Others are paying more attention to not just what chemicals they purchase, but also which chemicals are embedded in the components that get purchased.
This type of approach to data management can be incredibly empowering, but for the majority of manufacturers this increased level of data resolution is also an unmanageable burden: current enterprise information systems cannot properly manage the influx of data quantity and variable formats. Part of following the 100% Chemistry path is understanding that data collection and management needs to utilize sophisticated tools in order for the data collection to be timely, cost effective, and readily available to be put to use.
What the above examples boil down to is that the key principle driving the 100% Chemistry ideology is communication. All of the chemical information needed for 100% Chemistry is in circulation and available in theory – it just takes the hard work of capturing and communicating it across the entire supply chain. Chemical barrels have to come with SDS information, plastics have known chemical compositions and performance specifications, metals and alloys have metallurgical reports and sampling data per batch… all the raw materials that manufacturers use have metrics attached to them. Somewhere in your chain of vendors and customers is a report or data sheet that can give you the information you need – the challenge is finding it and translating it into a format that is communicable to interested stakeholders. Where industries fall short is in failing to ensure that same data gets passed along every step of the way throughout the manufacturing process in a format that is uniform, useful, and understandable.
There’s also the question of resource allocation and cost: because chemical data for just one product can be quite complex, communicating this type of information for hundreds of dozens of products is a full-time job, and one that requires some increased technological investment – we’re talking about going above and beyond simple chemical data spreadsheets into something closer to advanced supplier surveys and automated electronic data retrieval systems.
100% Chemistry is most achievable through a complete industrial paradigm shift, which is slowly but surely being driven forward by industry business leaders and group efforts like the Suppliers Partnership for the Environment or groups like the new sustainability focus-group the B Team led by environmentalist and business mogul Richard Branson.
How You Can Start Using 100% Chemistry to Your Advantage
100% Chemistry is an immediately useful philosophy, regardless of where in the supply chain you sit or how large your business is. That’s because it puts more focus on the depth of the data you collect and share with your clients, which makes both environmental self-assessments easier and gives you an increasingly important competitive edge when it comes to moving product.
How you start applying 100% Chemistry practices is up to you, and will depend on your current level of engagement with data collection and sharing: the first step is to closely examine your own internal data management and chemical inventory tracking for your own products: are you able to give a fairly accurate account of the chemicals you put into your products or use to manufacture your products? Can you accurately track your air and water emissions back to their originating chemicals? If there are any gaps, where does the missing data originate from? Are you getting poor quality data from a supplier? Or are there gaps in your internal processes and your facilities contribution to the impacts? Are you passing on poor quality data to a client because of those gaps?
Next, start a dialogue with your supply chain, both those links above and below you, about how you transmit data and what each of you would like to see happen in that area. What data collection gaps are they experiencing? What challenges are they facing that inhibit their ability to reach 100% transparency? Importantly, what common sustainability goals can you find that would be mutually beneficial?
This is also a good opportunity to discuss collaborative projects like cooperative phase outs of certain substances from the supply chain. It will be far easier to successfully implement a program or practice if you lay out the groundwork at this early point.
The next step is to figure out the more technical details about your information management and sharing goals. What methods of data collection do entities in your supply chain find is most effective? In which format do your clients and suppliers store the data they collect? What is the easiest way for data to get communicated up and down the supply chain?
It’s not enough to agree that data sharing is important – 100% Chemistry requires a systems approach, creating standards and practices that work for each supplier tier that ensures that material information doesn’t get lost or obscured.
Take the first Step toward 100% Chemistry Today
If 100% Chemistry sounds like something that would benefit your business, either today or in the near future, now is the perfect time to take that first step and begin to take a closer look at your own data management practice and start to assess them for weaknesses and opportunities.
We’ve compiled a list of our own resources that explain the data management techniques we’ve come across that manufacturers have found useful in this process. The best place to start is by reading through some of these materials and learning more about EHS data management best practices.
About the Author: Alex Chamberlain is a writer and blogger who regularly contributes to ERA Environmental Management Solutions' blog. You can find Alex on Google+, LinkedIn & ERA's Environmental Compliance Blog