The higher the risk, the deeper the conscience: Strict regulations and external pressures lead to proactive initiatives and dialogue with stakeholders.
High risk firms, especially chemical ones, are those that work most actively to limit their environmental impact. This according to an international survey conducted by DNV GL - Business Assurance, a world leading certification body, and the research institute GFK Eurisko, on more than 3,500 professionals from businesses in different sectors in Europe, North America, Central and South America and Asia.
92% of high risk companies, i.e. those companies whose environmental impacts might be of significant nature and gravity, consider environmental issues an integral part of their corporate strategy. Among them, chemical firms show the highest commitment, reaching 98%, about 14 percentage points more than the global average.
Green conscience is not merely a cosmetic issue; it translates into the concrete application of a formal policy for 96% of chemical firms. In addition to generically protecting the environment (79%) and containing guidelines to prevent pollution (83%), policies adopted by chemical businesses define rules to keep improving environmental performance too (77%).
Main environmental risks
Globally, across continents and sectors, the main risks are related to waste disposal (60%), with an increasing awareness of the problems caused by packaging and scraps.
For chemical businesses the handling of hazardous materials (64%), the discharge of waste waters (62%) and waste disposal (61%) are key concerns. Moreover, they are particularly worried about the release of atmospheric emissions (42%). On the other hand, they are quite advanced in handling operational aspects: structural deficiencies of facilities (12%), for instance, score below average rates.
Key initiatives undertaken
The chemical sector confirms its status as the most active industry when it comes to environmental protection. In addition to monitoring compliance with legal and other requirements (92%), 82% of chemical businesses conduct assessments to identify all potential impacts on the environment, 76% resort to management systems and 63% to monitoring of particular environmental trends. Moreover, they are engaged in innovative initiatives linked to external communication (48%) and in design processes aiming at minimizing environmental impact (62%).
Drivers, benefits and obstacles
Laws and regulations (90%) is the main driver leading chemical firms to safeguard the environment. Business continuity (45%), brand reputation (43%) and public concern (37%) come immediately after, highlighting how external pressures from community and institutions are able to influence their performance, interrupt or even prevent operations.
External stakeholders’ consent is essential for these businesses to keep operating and environmental initiatives undertaken proved to be useful for this purpose. 70% of chemical companies reported improved relations with authorities and with other stakeholders (40%).
The main factor that seems to prevent businesses from making more progress in environmental management is lack of financial resources (33%). But the percentage drops to 26% for chemical firms and 36% don’t perceive any barriers to improvement.
Future risks are expected to decrease. The capability to manage issues such as waste disposal is somewhat taken for granted and firms will concentrate attention on long term matters, likely as a consequence of increased pressure from authorities to consider future impacts, especially in the chemical sector.
In fact, more than in any other sector, chemical firms will resort to proactive activities such as impact assessments (+8% vs. average), monitoring of environmental indicators (+13%) and design processes aimed at minimizing environmental impact (+18%).
Focus on the environment will not diminish going forward. 92% of people surveyed will maintain or increase investments. In particular, almost 1 in 2 chemical firms confirm that they will increase investments for environmental protection in the next three years.
Luca Crisciotti, CEO of DNV GL - Business Assurance, commented: “Companies operating in the most dangerous fields and most often subjected to strict regulations and controls, are those doing more, going beyond what is required by law. These corporations, especially chemical firms, have learnt that they have to maintain a dialogue with stakeholders in order to stay in the market. More importantly, they have started to develop a long term environmental approach making an effort beyond the short term mechanics governing their profit and loss.”
Methodology and survey sample
The survey was conducted in March 2014, on a sample of 3,539 professionals who work at prominent companies in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors across different industries in Europe, North America, Central & South America and Asia.
The sample is qualitative and not statistically representative.
24% of the firms involved employ less than 50 people, 33% from 50 to 249 and 43% 250 or more.
The sample includes 578 high risk companies (177 belonging to chemical sector).
The classification of a company in the “high risk” group is based on the list of high complexity business sectors defined by IAF “the world association of Conformity Assessment Accreditation Bodies.” The list includes: mining and quarrying, oil and gas extraction, tanning of textiles and clothing, wood pulp manufacturing, oil refining, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, metals, selected non-metal processing and products, coal-based electricity generation, civil construction and demolition, hazardous and non-hazardous waste processing, effluent and sewerage processing.
The questionnaire was administered using the CAWI (Computer Assisted Web Interviewing) methodology.