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2020 Outlook: Advancing the safety and sustainability of the chemical industry

The Responsible Care commitment continues to set the agenda for making the chemicals industry safer and more transparent. Learn how they're preparing for the next decade.

7 min read


2020 Outlook: Advancing the safety and sustainability of the chemical industry

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Tara Henriksen

As Responsible Care® enters its fourth decade, the program continues to provide a roadmap to help make the chemical industry safe, transparent and sustainable. People around the world want to understand what’s in the products they buy, that they’re being produced safely and how the industry is working to improve the manufacturing process. Here we talk with Tara Henriksen, managing director of Responsible Care for the American Chemistry Council, about the progress made over the last 30 years and the industry’s priorities in the coming decade.


Responsible Care has been around for more than 30 years. How is the initiative continuing to evolve, particularly as we move into a new decade?

Responsible Care has been the backbone of the chemical industry’s commitment to making facility safety, security, environmental protection and product stewardship top priorities for the last 30 years.

It’s evolved from a simple risk management framework to include a robust management system that incorporates third-party review and certification; transparent reporting of our environmental, health, safety and security performance; and application of a comprehensive framework to drive chemical product safety and stewardship.

As sustainability concerns have risen worldwide in recent years, ACC introduced a comprehensive initiative to continue to drive progress in our industry. It started with a set of Sustainability Principles written by member company CEOs and centered on a commitment to promote the safe use of chemicals, protect the environment, and empower people and communities.

As we look forward to the next decade, we remain committed to our core obligation of driving safety in our processes and facilities. We are applying lessons learned from past process safety incidents to build an enhanced, user-friendly mechanism that ACC member company employees can use to more seamlessly integrate Responsible Care guidance into their daily operations.


As we are talking about sustainability, can you elaborate on the role that Responsible Care has in furthering sustainability initiatives and creating value for shareholders, investors, employees and communities?

Over the past decade, product manufacturers, retailers, brand owners and others along the supply chain have been making public commitments to sustainability for a variety of reasons:  to differentiate themselves, to market new products and technologies, and because they, like us, are committed to addressing sustainability challenges.

The chemical industry plays an essential role in addressing and overcoming our world’s most pressing sustainability challenges and enabling a sustainable future. Our innovations help provide clean and safe drinking water, improve food quality and enhance crop yields, and produce clean energy resources that help power energy-efficient vehicles, homes and businesses around the world. ACC members recognize the importance of responsibly managing chemicals today in ways that protect human health and the environment for future generations.

ACC’s sustainability initiative reflects a natural progression of the Responsible Care ethos, building off its solid foundation to address the issues that consumers and stakeholders care most about – the safety of chemicals and their potential impact on human health. It is important that consumers know the products they use every day and their manufacturing processes are safe. ACC members recognize the importance of living up to the expectations of our customers, neighbors, consumers and employees.

In the coming year, ACC will work to develop an expanded set of sustainability metrics to measure and report member company performance on a range of issues including water management, waste minimization, air emissions, process safety, diversity and human rights. These metrics will complement our current Responsible Care reporting metrics to help further convey the positive benefits and the potential impacts chemical industry has on the world around us.


Community engagement is important, especially around public safety. Could you give us an example of how Responsible Care companies are working to engage with communities?

For chemical facilities, building a strong relationship with their local communities is invaluable and ACC member companies strive to play a positive role where they operate.

ACC members regularly engage with employees, plant neighbors and emergency responders on issues surrounding safety in a number of ways. These include community advisory panels, first-responder training programs and local emergency planning committees, as well as meetings and discussions with local community organizations, legislators and regulators. These sorts of engagements help raise awareness of potential hazards and coordinate emergency response planning between companies and local authorities, and address concerns the community might have about operations and products.

In addition, ACC members are committed to transparently sharing clear, accurate, meaningful information about chemicals used in products. We know that consumers and value chain stakeholders want to better understand the make-up of the products they purchase and use, as well as the impacts these materials may have on their health and the environment.


In the U.S. all ACC members are required to participate in Responsible Care, but that’s not necessarily the case in other countries. How can national associations work to expand the program in places where it’s not mandatory?

Responsible Care is a global initiative, practiced in nearly 70 economies in six continents around the world. ACC works with the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) to expand and strengthen the Responsible Care initiative globally, with a focus on education, capacity building and engagement with small- and medium-sized chemical companies. ACC companies lend their time, resources and expertise to further the mission of Responsible Care and the sound management of chemicals. They also share knowledge of the business value that practicing Responsible Care can provide. A key element of this is expanding our information sharing capabilities, so that countries in one region can access and learn from successful initiatives that their peers have undertaken.

ICCA is also focused on expanding Responsible Care in areas where it has not yet fully taken root, particularly in Africa. At a recent meeting with ICCA representatives in Morocco, representatives from seven West African nations expressed strong interest in committing to Responsible Care, and ICCA and national associations are allocating resources to help build and grow capacity for Responsible Care and sound chemicals management in these regions.


How do chemical companies work with their partners, distributors and others along the supply chain to further the Responsible Care mission?

Responsible Care is defined by its commitment to progress, leadership and continuous improvement. As we enter the fourth decade of Responsible Care, we will continue to build on our successes while also working to spread the Responsible Care ethic throughout the chemical manufacturing process and supply chain.

Responsible Care offers a way to drive performance excellence, not only in our own company operations, but also throughout the entire value chain. 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Responsible Care Partnership Program, which engages more than 100 companies that transport, store, handle logistics and participate in the chemical supply chain.

The more than 100 Responsible Care Partner companies adhere to the same Responsible Care requirements as ACC members – including undergoing headquarters and facility audits and publicly reporting their performance – and play a critical role in extending chemical safety and security along the supply chain, Moving into the next decade we will continue to engage chemical industry service providers and promote the benefits of Responsible Care Partnership.


Tara Henriksen, Ph.D., is the managing director of Responsible Care for the American Chemistry Council. She leads and manages all aspects of ACC’s world-class environmental, health, safety and security performance initiative, develops strategies to enhance the value of Responsible Care to member and partner companies, and oversees the direction and execution of the key elements of the initiative, including management system and performance reporting requirements.