Leveraging EHS Data and Tools for a Safer and Greener Supply Chain

Environmental health and safety (EHS) regulatory compliance programs and strategies, by definition, traditionally have been aimed at preventing violations, fostering safety and reducing risk.

New goals for EHS regulatory compliance programs include minimizing the adverse life cycle impacts of products and operations and require integrating EHS practices and expertise into core business processes. At the same time, a more complex regulatory imperative has evolved as global regulations become more complicated and dynamic. This new imperative creates an important shift in focus from violation prevention to embedded compliance.

Conformance has evolved to become less about reactionary tactics and more a part of a strategic business plan that includes supply chain actions with measurable success factors rather than vague attempts to preserve and promote brand image. This is evidenced by recent studies in which respondents identified competitive advantage/corporate brand as a less substantial driver for participation in enterprise sustainability as compliance with regulatory requirements.

How can you help your company integrate EHS principals and intelligence into core business processes to actually procure, use and create safer, greener products, thus supporting your organization in its efforts to competitively operate in an ever-changing regulatory and business climate? Is it possible to leverage existing EHS data and tools to reduce toxic footprint and develop better products?

ANALYZING THE SUPPLY CHAIN

As the volume and complexity of regulations increases worldwide, companies are forced to consider the safety, regulatory obligations, components and footprint of raw materials and non-process chemicals to which their employees, communities and customers are exposed. When combined with an intense focus on concepts such as greening the supply chain and running cleaner operations, companies are examining every phase of the product lifecycle to ensure they efficiently and cost-effectively are managing the full spectrum of their hazard communication and product stewardship requirements. In addition, it can be extremely important to ensure that suppliers are socially and environmentally responsible operators and if not, to discontinue relationships or apply pressure to encourage them to change.

This challenge is complicated by the fact that each phase of the product lifecycle has unique compliance and product stewardship requirements. From the cradle of research and development to the grave of waste disposal or cradle of recycling, a complete and detailed analysis of the compliance and sustainability requirements associated with each stage must be performed. In doing so, companies develop a better understanding of the types of data that are required to fuel compliance performance and product stewardship initiatives throughout the product lifecycle.

Consider the following issues during your supply chain analysis:

Research and development (R&D) and formulation laboratories perhaps can make the biggest impact in making progress toward green product creation. It is far less expensive to design a low-impact product than to manage or retrofit a high-impact one. Scientists and engineers working in R&D must track global regulatory requirements as well as available toxicological and eco-toxicological data. Data aggregation tools can be used to facilitate or enhance the flow of information.

The challenge, however, is to identify solutions that provide more than just a compilation of regulatory text. Value comes from data and information solutions that distill regulatory information into normalized content that seamlessly can be integrated into platforms and tools. Generating and maintaining such data in-house can be time consuming and highly inefficient.

Formulators should be encouraged to use environmental profiles to evaluate products prior to market release. The types of data maintained by EHS departments that are of greatest importance include:

  • What components may be banned or regulated in certain markets?

  • What means of transportation will be allowed for given formulations?

  • What components trigger more intense regulatory scrutiny and obligation due to high-profile, negative attributes such as carcinogenicity? Can less impactful components be substituted?

  • Will the components of these formulations require more elaborate safe handling measures than other formulatory options?

  • Can the final product have a smaller toxicological carbon or water footprint by substituting one component for another?

The discussion of the importance of regulatory content equally applies to the manufacturing function. Data management and analysis during the manufacturing phase of the product supply chain involves a myriad of variables.

During this phase of the lifecycle, a wide variety of compliance tasks and activities can be implemented to enhance product-related sustainability and workplace safety initiatives. These include accurate and regularly updated inventory of products; training for employees on proper handling, communication of product information to other stakeholders; regulatory reporting to local, state and federal agencies on chemical related activities; proper preparation of materials for safe transportation; appropriate measures for waste management; and waste minimization. Other tasks companies can implement include providing support for safety and environmental emergencies involving their products on a 24/7 basis to their stakeholders, and effectively responding to workplace emergencies involving chemicals used or manufactured.

Distribution-related compliance and sustainability activities can vary widely, depending on the activities undertaken by the distributor. Non-asset-based distributors are faced with much less complexity when compared with asset-owning distributors. Further, the scope of functions performed — ranging from formulation and blending to re-branding — also has an impact on compliance and sustainability initiatives.

A distributor also often has responsibilities associated with the registration of products with the appropriate governing bodies in the countries to which they are imported. A well-maintained EHS database and or data provider keeps data and intelligence related to national inventories and country-based approval of substances for specific uses. This information should be leveraged when determining distribution schemes and methods and when considering market/product combinations.

Transportation also offers a variety of challenges. The compliance and sustainability responsibilities vary, depending on your company's role in the supply chain. Companies that perform the role of the shipper typically have the responsibility to ensure that the product has been prepared for transportation in compliance with national and international regulations.

They also are responsible for ensuring that the product is transported in an environmentally friendly manner. Access to transportation regulatory data enables all supply chain management systems to be populated with the most current regulatory data for global transportation.

The end-usage stage includes the chemicals used in the workplace and the retailing and selling of regulated products containing chemicals directly to consumers. Again, access to regulatory content is paramount.

At the local level, it is important because many local agencies have jurisdiction over chemical storage, dispensing and handling. Other regulatory content includes information on limitations, such as selling certain products containing restricted ingredients only to authorized customers who can present appropriate approvals and required identification and information.

Compliant and environmentally friendly disposal also mandates access to regulatory content. For example, when disposing waste, companies must consider waste streams, waste codes and information relevant to waste classification and documentation.

It is extremely important to communicate the approved-use scenarios of your products to your customers and to understand and document the use scenarios of your raw materials that have been approved by your supplier. The EU REACH regulation presently is driving the inclusion of approved uses and exposure scenarios on material safety data sheets (MSDS). But in the near term, teaming with a reliable vendor data provider or establishing communication with your suppliers are the best ways to ensure that you have all data that is available so that you may leverage it for decision making.

KEY DATA AND TOOL REQUIREMENTS

While each phase of the supply chain boasts its own unique requirements, there is a common thread throughout: access to comprehensive and accurate regulatory data is required during each and every phase, as this data is one of the most essential requirements for green and sustainability initiatives. The importance of this information cannot be overstated. In fact, it absolutely is critical for assessing the EHS sustainability footprint of chemical products. If properly applied, it also can be used to aid in the development and selection of safer and more environmentally friendly products.

But what exactly should companies look for when evaluating existing data or when researching possible outsourced data alternatives? If the goal is accessing and managing data for green or sustainability initiatives, then users will need access to chemical profiles and substance data to analyze and compare products by toxicity, environmental impact, use type and cost. Also consider examining competitive products and developing comparisons of your company's finished goods to that of similar products in the market place.

Think about the results from a customer perspective, from a liability perspective and from a sustainability perspective. If your competitors' products gain better ratings based on your analysis, how can you improve? If yours are better, let your customers know! Also consider choosing a data source that leverages global CAS-level regulatory profiles and chemical classification information.

Companies also must consider the system into which they are inputting the data. Ideally, this calls for utilizing a flexible system that allows users to utilize pre-determined criteria to calculate ratings and group products into categories, and even includes material costs to create direct and meaningful comparisons. While green procurement and product evaluation are important to companies, without a universally-accepted standard for sustainability, it can be difficult to develop and implement a successful green program. The right tool can provide a baseline scoring methodology that can be completely customized to suit the requirements of a specific company or industry.

These tools must be flexible while also providing guidance to those who might still be defining their parameters. In addition, the tool should integrate seamlessly with enterprise chemical and regulatory data in a way that enables decision makers to quickly assess the sustainability footprint of raw materials or finished goods, compare products to evaluate more environmentally friendly alternatives for greener purchasing decisions and create a simple baseline methodology to measure improvement.

SAFER, MORE SUSTAINABLE CHOICES

The right EHS data and tools can support sustainability initiatives throughout the enterprise, product life cycle and supply chain. By better tracking and managing chemical inventories and ensuring that the materials being used conform to corporate and regulatory standards throughout the product lifecycle, companies can reduce their toxic footprint and facilitate the development of a greener supply chain.


Isaac Powell is product manager for 3E Co.'s Technical Services, which includes emergency response, hazardous waste management, transportation, classification and regulatory reporting services. He has been certified as hazardous materials manager and is a member of the AHMP, NFPA and International Code Council. Connie Prostko-Bell is a solutions engineer with 3E Co. She has 16 years of EHS and chemical industry experience, spanning the project management, product safety and product stewardship sectors. She believes environmental professionals will play a key role in raising the standard of living and general prosperity to new heights worldwide.

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