Taking The Next Step: Interview with Hendrik Abma
FECC Expands its Responsible Care Policy
Accountability - The Responsible Care (RC) program is not just for makers of chemicals; distributors also see themselves called upon to do their part in promoting environmental and health and safety initiatives within the industry and beyond. The year 2009 has been a busy one for Hendrik Abma, director general of the European Association of Chemical Distributors (FECC); he recently gave CHEManager Europe an update on the progress that has been made within the FECC regarding RC.
CHEManager Europe: Why is RC important for the FECC?
H. Abma: FECC believes that a credible implementation of RC in the chemical industry is crucial in order to improve standards for customers and the general public.
What have been the recent developments in FECC's RC policy?
H. Abma: In March, the dialogue between the International Council of Chemical Associations- ICCA - and the International Council of Chemical Trade Associations - ICCTA- on the promotion and cooperation on RC was strengthened with the signature of a memorandum of understanding. It is also the 10-year anniversary of the FECC-Cefic agreement on mutual promotion and implementation of environmental, health and safety initiatives such as RC. This close cooperation was further cemented with the joint announcement of the FECC European RC Program for distributors at the European RC conference in Prague on Oct. 22. On the same occasion, FECC also signed the ICCA's RC Global Charter. In addition, FECC and Cefic have had a very successful cooperation on the RC and SQAS Distributor/ESAD since 2004.
What do you anticipate can be achieved through the charter?
H. Abma: The FECC European RC program complies with the ICCA Global Charter. This signature is FECC contribution and commitment to harmonize and improve environmental, health and safety standards in distribution across Europe, and to strengthen the commitment to sustainability.
It's important to note that both distributors and manufacturers are united in their commitment to RC and sustainability. This is also incorporated into the FECC European RC program using regular reporting of industry's key performance indicators, presence of an improvement action plan, regular exchange of best practices, and interaction with general public.
What role do chemical manufacturers play within such initiatives?
H. Abma: Chemical distributors need the commitment and support from chemical manufacturers to make distributor initiatives - such as RC, Product Stewardship and SQAS Distributor/ESAD - work. Manufacturers' active role in support and partnership with distributors on RC activities correspond to their own commitments to sustainability.
What does the new FECC European RC program add to existing RC activities in distribution?
H. Abma: The program offers harmonized implementation in Europe tailored for distribution sector. Its requirements offer appropriate tools to demonstrate distributors' responsible handling and use of chemicals. The program is especially focused on distribution companies in countries where no chemical distributor associations exist. The other key element of the program is mandatory third-party verification of compliance with the program. In this regard, the program takes advantage of the rapid growth of SQAS Distributor/ESAD assessments as one of the possible tools for third-party assessment.
In which countries that previously had no national RC program can distributors start applying RC?
H. Abma: There are several European countries where either no chemical distribution association exists or there is no critical mass to support it. This concerns mainly the new member states, in particular in Central and Eastern European countries such as Poland, the Baltic States, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria. Existing distributor national associations can also use the FECC European RC program as their own national program, or they can outsource their RC activities to FECC. Distributors having to apply an RC program that was not specifically tailored for them has been an issue for a long time. In addition, this program provides for pan-European companies that can apply the FECC European RC program with the authorization of the relevant national associations if applicable.
How long has the new scheme been planned? Is this a step towards achieving consistency in RC practices throughout Europe?
H. Abma: At national level, the FECC associations implement national RC program s in line with the ICCTA Joint Responsible Care/Responsible Distribution program. However, there are substantial differences in implementation of RC within Europe. We are addressing this issue with the FECC European RC program.In order to improve the implementation of RC across Europe, FECC started a review of RC in Europe in November 2007. This process finished with the FECC board agreeing on the FECC European RC Program in November 2008. Now, we have reached an agreement with Cefic - owners of the RC trademark in Europe - and implementation can start. With the program's harmonized approach - and by being tailored for distributors - it is the optimal tool for achieving consistency in RC across Europe.
A review of the SQAS assessment scheme has been initiated for completion in 2010. What progress has been made? Has the scheme proved successful to date?
H. Abma: SQAS Distributor/ESAD gives an insight into a company's health, safety and environment performance. The core questionnaire of the SQAS Distributor/ESAD is structured around the eight guiding principles of RC and is therefore a suitable tool to verify companies' compliance with the RC principles.
The number of assessments has been growing consistently since 2004, when the SQAS Distributor/ESAD was updated. The steady increase in the number of assessments also shows the chemical distribution sector's commitment to RC. A total of 423 assessments have taken place from 1999 to the present. There were 66 assessments in 2008 and already 90 in 2009. The countries with the most developed and biggest chemical distribution sector also have the largest number of assessments. Germany leads with 98 assessments, followed by France with 46; the UK with 42; and Spain with 37.
This year, a record 90 SQAS Distributor/ESAD assessments have already been conducted and 17 more are planned, bringing the total to 107.
What is SQAS Distributor/ESAD?
ESAD, the European Single Assessment Document, was created to provide a voluntary assessment
system to evaluate the quality, safety and environmental performance of chemical distributors in a
uniform manner through single standardized assessments, carried out by independent assessors
using a standard questionnaire.
For the benefit of suppliers and distributors ESAD has been upgraded to ESAD-II following addition
of two new sections and improvement of both the structure of the questionnaire and the
guidelines. ESAD has also been fully integrated in the SQAS scheme and is therefore now often
called SQAS Distributor.
Objectives and Benefits of SQAS Distributor / ESAD
- It avoids multiple assessments by individual chemical suppliers/producers.
- It offers a tool for assessing the health, safety and environmental standards of their operations while simultaneously providing a third-party assessment system for the distributors' compliance to their RC programme.
- It offers a mechanism for dialogue about continuous improvement, in partnership with the suppliers.
- It avoids multiple assessments of distributors.
- It offers an independent and uniform assessment of the safety, health and environmental performance of their distributors.
For the Chemical Industry at large:
- It is a tool for risk management as it encourages adoption of quality standards and good Practices.
- It contributes to the sustainability of the sector, as it enhances the society's confidence in chemical products.