A New Responsible Way of Doing the Chemical Distribution Business
Azelis Has Made CSR and Sustainable Innovation an Integral Part of its Business Model
In 2018, for the first time, Azelis was awarded the EcoVadis Gold rating, making the Antwerp, Belgium-based company the first specialty chemicals distributor to receive this award. In 2020, Azelis joined the global Together for Sustainability (TFS) initiative and was awarded the EcoVadis Gold rating for the second time in a row.
Asked by Michael Reubold, Maria Almenar, Azelis’ group Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) and Sustainability Director, explains the importance of both milestones for the company and its relationships with principals and customers.
CHEManager: Ms. Almenar, how has the importance of SHEQ aspects changed in the chemical industry within the past 20 to 30 years, and how has it impacted corporate cultures?
Maria Almenar: In the early eighties, concerns arose over chemical products and their health, safety and environmental impact after chemical accidents occurred such as the major derailment of a train which carried chemicals and explosives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, in 1979, and the gas leak incident in Bhopal, India, in 1984.
The train accident in Canada was at the origin of the development of the Responsible Care program, launched in 1985 by the Chemical Industry Association of Canada. Today, Responsible Care is a global, voluntary initiative developed autonomously by the chemical industry for the chemical industry, and it stands for the improvement of health, safety and environmental performance.
Since the creation of RC, we have witnessed an evolution and increase in health, safety and environmental regulations such as the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, GHS, developed in 2000, and REACh, created in 2006.
Being a global distributor, Azelis has a strong product stewardship policy in order to ensure that our products are compliant with global legislation and that information is provided through the entire supply chain to ensure the safe handling of chemicals and minimize risks to the environment.
Next to GHS and REACh, ISO standards were developed to support SHEQ by providing practical tools to set up SHEQ management processes and certify management systems. These ISO standards have certainly been very helpful for our management processes.
Today, the term ‘sustainability’ encompasses these efforts and a lot more.
M. Almenar: Yes, the term ‘sustainable development’ appeared for the first time in 1987 in the Brundtland report and since then we have seen an increasing number of players get involved in this area; from scientific institutes, NGOs and governments to companies and consumers.
Issues that humanity is facing like climate change, resource scarcity, environmental degradation, pollution, poverty, and social inequality are now being addressed in different agreements and frameworks, such as the ones created at COP 21, and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs. With these frameworks, governments have not only set clear goals but also defined a structure that companies are now using to implement processes to accelerate success. Governments and corporations are increasingly working together in the same direction.
As governments will have to deliver and meet their targets in a timely manner, this could give rise to additional legislation in the fields of climate-related disclosure, energy efficiency, air quality and CO2, and climate risk management. Companies, on their part, will have to review their strategies to cope with these new legislations and incorporate more risk management. Companies now have a strategic choice between being part of a well-planned transition or being subject to more disruptive transition. At Azelis, we have chosen to be part of the group of progressive companies that are planning the transition and are leading this historical change.
What is Azelis’ mindset regarding safety, health, environment and quality, and sustainability? What are the pillars of your Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, agenda?
M. Almenar: Azelis has long been committed to Responsible Care & Responsible Distribution, but being a global distributor, we quickly noticed our scope had to be much broader. We created our Corporate Social Responsibility program in 2015, following the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the UN, and it is based in the UN Global Compact initiative and ISO 26000 and Global Reporting Initiative.
This program comprises 26 KPIs based on four pillars: resources and environment, people, fair business practices and sustainable procurement. This is now helping us to further optimize our existing processes and fair operating practices, as well as obtaining a more resilient supply chain as a result of a good due diligence process and risk management.
How do you rate SHEQ and sustainability aspects — and more precisely the TFS membership and the EcoVadis Gold rating — for your relationships with suppliers and customers?
M. Almenar: We are very excited to have joined ‘Together for Sustainability’. With our membership, we will strengthen our position as a leading innovation service provider towards our customers and suppliers. It will also provide more visibility towards existing and potential partners and will certainly open up a plethora of opportunities.
Furthermore, having received the EcoVadis Gold rating for the second time in a row is a wonderful recognition of our group-wide efforts and commitments to implement the same high standards for our CSR performance across all regions in which we operate.
We are convinced that CSR and sustainable innovation should continue to play an integral role in our business model. We see the growing importance of sustainability in the business decisions of our suppliers and customers as well; it has become a new norm or standard, a new responsible way of doing business.
With our growing global presence and expanding number of suppliers, we must have robust programs in place for our due diligence processes. TFS can help us with this, and this support through our membership is certainly valued by our partners.
So, the CSR performance is not only a ‘nice-to-have,’ but almost a pre-requisite of your partnerships with principals and customers?
M. Almenar: Absolutely. We fundamentally believe that it is not an option any longer to just continue doing what has always been done. No company operates in isolation, and — as both individuals and corporate leaders — we are all very much aware of the climate change, depleting resources and an ever-increasing global population.
Being faced with all those changes simply does not leave any other option but to steer our activities towards sustainable solutions. It is an obligation towards future generations to find a sustainable way on how we utilize the available resources the world has to offer. We strongly believe that sustainability will become the standard — it will become a ‘must-have’, an integral and critical part of a license to operate, and hence not so much a differentiator any longer.
Which segments of the chemical industry or manufacturing industries are driving this trend?
M. Almenar: When it comes to sustainability, all industries are very much concerned and involved in improving standards. We observe that many of our partners are working towards developing sustainable product management procedures and methodologies to assess the impact of their products in the environment, and how their products help in reducing energy consumption or improve recycling.
In general, we are seeing more demand to distribute ingredients coming from sustainable sources or shift away from chemicals with identified health hazards.
The role of chemical distributors — in the past decades — has changed from being traders to being innovation service providers. And innovation today means improving sustainability along the supply chain. How does Azelis support its suppliers and customers in this regard?
M. Almenar: As a distributor, we have a privileged position between suppliers and customers, which gives us the ability to cascade our customers’ requirements — including sustainability — to our many suppliers and leverage our partnerships with both our suppliers and customers to further develop their sustainable product offering. This structure puts us in an ideal position to maximize customer satisfaction on sustainability.
To cater for this sustainable product demand, our application labs strive to offer sustainable innovations and concepts, and we consider the green principles of chemistry when we develop product formulations. By offering the right ingredients and demonstrating innovative formulations created by our lab technicians, Azelis works together with its customers to make our future greener and cleaner.
We believe that working and thinking together for more sustainable solutions can only strengthen relationships with our business partners who are equally responsible and equally dedicated to preserving resources for future generations.