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Pacia: Rethinking the future

Australia’s Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association (PACIA) has not only embraced the philosophy of sustainability - it’s maturing it, developing it and proactively promoting it, along with tangible, industry-specific how-to advice to its 200-plus member companies.

These companies make up Australia’s fourth largest manufacturing sector, directly employ more than 82,400 people and sell more than $30.5 billion worth of product each year.

In September 2007 PACIA launched a Sustainability Leadership Discussion Paper that describes the complex issues companies face when incorporating sustainable practices into their operations.

PACIA Chief Executive Michael Catchpole said that while sustainability offered clear benefits for the environment, it was important to present companies with a business case for adopting sustainable goals - and to help them move from short term solutions to medium and long term goals that involve more profound changes encompassing economic, social and environmental impacts of the business.

He described the 56-page Discussion Paper as the first step in the development of a framework that would form the basis of consultation with members, employees and other stakeholders, such as local communities, consumers, governments and peak environmental groups.

As PACIA members include importers, distributors, raw material suppliers, chemical manufacturers, plastic fabricators and compounders, plastic and chemical recyclers and service providers, this means a lot of consultation to make the final framework flexible enough to fit all, but firm enough to mould business practice.

In its current Discussion Paper form, the framework presents seven specific and quantifiable bottom line benefits of a sustainable business approach, categorised within four key business areas: Staff, Operations, Revenue, and Regulatory Issues.

It’s been a long haul to get it this far. The process began in 2003 and was formalized in January 2004 when PACIA signed a Sustainability Covenant with Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA Victoria).

Following the 2004 commitment, PACIA began consulting with its members and embarked on the long process of creating an industry framework. This included a series of roundtables with stakeholders facilitated by Dr Paul Tebo, former global Vice President of Safety, Health and Environment for pharmaceutical giant DuPont.

Having successfully reduced DuPont’s toxic air emissions by 92%, carcinogenic emissions by 75%, greenhouse emissions by 67% and energy use by 9% (while the company’s global business grew by 30%), Tebo has become a consultant, helping companies and associations like PACIA integrate sustainable thinking and practices.

PACIA Sustainability Director Maree Lang gives Tebo credit for inspiring PACIA’s energetic approach to the issue saying: “Paul Tebo has a multifaceted way of looking at sustainability and very strong credibility. He made it clear that PACIA can play an important role in supporting companies and helping them to develop and achieve goals that will lead them to being more sustainable as businesses in the long run.”

Lang added that while the increased awareness of climate and water issues over the last year had increased acceptance among plastics and chemicals companies of the need to start implementing sustainability programs, it had also brought concern about higher costs for energy and raw materials and about increasing regulation.

“To respond to these challenges, the plastics and chemicals industries have to think beyond the plant fence and look creatively at products, technology and materials that multiply value.”

Lang says one of the most rewarding aspects of the process has been recording how far many PACIA member companies have come towards their sustainability goals.

She said: “Stretch goal and target setting are common within many PACIA member companies across key areas such as productivity, health and safety, in-house waste generation and recycling - for example, a goal of zero injuries or zero waste can stimulate new and transformational approaches and guide actions by companies.”

PACIA has also been thinking outside the usual box when it comes to sustainability, with initiatives concerning illicit drugs and terrorism - arising from consideration of social-sustainability - being central to its work.

In October 2007, PACIA - in partnership with Federal Attorney-General’s Department, Australian Crime Commission and Science Industry Australia (SIA) - launched a National Awareness Raising Campaign on Illicit Drug Diversion, involving a series of national industry forums promoting the latest edition of the PACIA/SIA Industry Code of Practice for Supply Diversion into Illicit Drug Manufacture.

At the launch, Catchpole said: “PACIA is keen to continue working closely with Government and law enforcement agencies to focus on the controls and systems industry needs to adopt to foil attempts to use industrial chemicals for illegal purposes, whether for illicit drug manufacture or to support possible terrorist acts.”

This application of the term sustainability, taking in social and financial concerns as well as the higher-profile issue of ecological awareness, is in line with the philosophy adopted by the UK Chemical Industry Association, the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) and progressive major multinationals, such as US-based Dow and DuPont and Europe’s BASF.

According to Catchpole, these organisations have been trail blazers in the field of sustainability for some time, although it hasn’t always been called sustainability. He dates the global industry’s coming of age on the issue to the launch more than 20 years ago of a community and employee health, safety and environment program called Responsible Care - created by the international chemical industry in response to high profile chemical incidents and waste problems around the globe.

PACIA is the Australian administrator of Responsible Care® and in that capacity it licenses member companies to use the Responsible Care® logo, subject to compliance with the program’s Codes of Practice as confirmed by both internal and external audits.

According to Catchpole, Responsible Care® will remain an important part of the operation of the plastics and chemical industries in Australia, incorporated into the overarching sustainability framework that is currently being forged and negotiated.

He explained: “One sits within the other, and they complement each other. Companies that want to show that they are doing the right thing by their employees and with the people in their stakeholder communities will continue to use the Responsible Care® logo and that will help to make them long-term, viable, sustainable organisations.”

Summing up the framework development process, he said: “We can’t create a sustainable society in isolation, but by developing a Sustainability Vision for the plastics and chemicals industries we can influence the contribution these industries will make to a sustainable society.”

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