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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Report on businesses progress towards achieving environmental sound management in chemical industries

1.1 Introduction

This report attempts to analyse global and businesses progress towards achieving global environmental sound management in the chemical industries. Section 1.2 is a summary of the methodology utilised to search for appropriate and applicable sources. The latter sections evaluate and concludes the effectiveness of the frameworks; assessing whether there has been positive progress to meet the target.

1.2 Methodology

Google Scholar was initially used for the searched terms “International frameworks AND SDG 12” resulting in more than 20,000 sources, which the first few pages showed a significant amount of irrelevant academic literatures. Therefore, the searched terms were revised using the ‘Advance search' system to be more explicit towards the report content, altering to “Treaties AND SDG 12.4 AND Chemicals”. This reduced the amount to 576 results and the selection of 3 sources which had a total ‘cited by' of 263.

A similar process was used on Emerald Insight Portal which is a scholarly publisher focusing on business and other related fields academic literatures. The first search terms “sustainable supply chain” resulted in 18,059 articles and chapters. After examining a few pages, 1 source was used which had 54 ‘cited by'. This source was recently added to The Association of Business Schools (ABS)'s Academic Journal Guide 2018 with a rating of 3, which relatively indicates sub-optimal quality with good journal metrics.

Non-academic sources such as indicators of SDGs performances as well as new articles were searched using Google. The selection of these sources is to provide pieces of evidence and key findings which will help in answering the research title.

1.3 Research findings and critical analysis

1.3.1 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the current status of SDG 12.4

The 17 SDGs are one of the four components of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Bengtsson et al. (2018) argues that since the implementation of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it has provided insufficient guidance for governments and businesses to ‘ensure sustainable consumption and production (SCP)', particularly for SDG 12.4 as there is no explicit definition for ‘environmental sound management'. Le Blanc (2015) supports the argument that there is an inadequate integration of SCP and is viewed more as a supplementary.

There are two indicators used to assess SDG 12.4's progress which consists of the number of national governments signing agreements on hazardous waste and chemicals, for example the Montreal Protocol, as well as the amount of hazardous waste generated. Figure 1, shows that between 2010 to 2016, only 14 of the listed countries reduced their amount of hazardous waste generated. The country with the highest increase is Malta and Ireland with the biggest decline.

Figure 2, shows the 4 types of hazardous waste treatments. Interestingly, only Luxembourg treated more than 50% of the waste produced and converted them into energy recovery such as reusing them as fuel. It is common for many countries to dispose their hazardous waste into landfills. Figure 2, showcases a selection of European countries; the differences would be more significant for developing countries where there are less strict regulations and laws on hazardous waste disposal and treatments. Furthermore, it is emphasised by Bengtsson et al. (2018) that businesses and governments should not only focus ‘on the downstream material discharges of systems of consumption and production', but also the production process such as modifying product designs to be more sustainable and to introduce more rigorous regulations for chemical substances waste management.

The lack of indicators makes assessing the progress of this target and the goal overall challenging. Thereby, it is imperative to implement effective treaties and frameworks that provide and utilises various indicators and measures in order to fully judge the target's progress. The next sections will evaluate the effectiveness of existing treaties and frameworks.

1.3.2 Implementation and effectiveness of international treaties and frameworks

The rise of Research and development (R&D) investments has increased the amount of chemical substances created and produced. As the industry continues to grow, this will also result in more hazardous wastes being generated (which Figure 1 exemplifies). Therefore, international agencies such as United Nation (UN) have created environmental agreements, i.e. the Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions. These conventions aims to protect ‘human health and the environment from hazards and… from evidenced risks' (Blum et al., 2017). As Figure 3, illustrates one of the first agreements, the Montreal Protocol (1987) has been accomplished and is considered ‘one of the most successful international environmental treaties' (Nelson, 2017). The objective of this protocol was to reduce the amount of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting chemical substances; 99% of these substances was phased-out. Stockholm convention has already shown some promising progress with ‘nearly 200 countries stopping the production of some 30 dangerous chemical groups and replacing them with safer ones' (Rochman et al., 2013). This demonstrates that with multilateralism, there is positive outlook on achieving SDG 12.4.

Additionally, other frameworks introduce new concepts such as sustainable chemistry that could potentially be effective and impactful in achieving SDG 12.4. One of the first implemented global chemical policy is Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), which aims for the production and usage of chemicals that minimises effects on humans and the environment by 2020. This strategy is used as a building block for sustainable chemistry. Blum et al. (2017) describes sustainable chemistry as a holistic tactic that aims to improve research and development of new sounder chemicals that are less harmful for humans and the environment. However, as this paper implies, the development of safer chemicals is still in the early stages. Thereby, businesses have insufficient amount of substitutes, resulting to continuous usage of hazardous chemicals. Albeit, businesses can minimalise release and exposure of such chemicals through safe management and usage. Furthermore, this concept encourages businesses to innovate and enter new markets as well as improves their corporate social responsibility (CSR) which may increase customer retention and loyalty, especially for environmental activists, which could positively affect company performances. Major companies in the chemical industries such as DuPont and Dow are researching and implementing sustainable chemistry principles into their business vision and models. Businesses have already embarked on this process, an example is an article titled “Green and Sustainable chemistry: an industry in need of a story” (Weber, 2017) showcasing DuPont engaging in a circular economy venture, focusing on ‘packaging materials…and recycling to create lunch packets to fight malnutrition in schools in South Africa'. In continuation, these packets could then be recycled into ‘school desks and houses'. Overall, this concept should boost engagement in SDG 12 and eventually the 2030 Agenda.

Ortas et al. (2014) focuses on the sustainable production aspect by identifying the benefits on company performances through the integration of sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) on business models. The theoretical framework incentivises businesses to improve

their CSR status, which leads to an increase in their social and environmental performances.

However, there has been a debate on whether the prioritisation of CSR and SSCM may induce an increase in costs; ideally businesses attempt to minimise production costs in the supply chain, in order to increase profits. Albeit, the focus on environmental issues as an integral part of business strategy opens new doors for competition and generates added-value to the business. Additionally, the research paper also lists the benefits of enhancing SSCM which are to name a few; ‘improved efficiency, higher product quality, access to new markets (and) improved public relations' (Ortas et al., 2014). Subsequently, if the clarity of the bidirectional relationship is addressed to businesses as well as governments, this may incentivise them to enhance the progression of achieving sustainable production.

1.4 Conclusion

To conclude, businesses progression towards SDG 12.4 target have shown to be overall positive despite the slow start. As mentioned in the previous section, leading companies are now implementing these frameworks and concepts into their sustainable business models, and there are more governments signing agreements in minimalising and preventing chemical waste risks to achieve global environmental sound management.

The limitations of this research, is the lack of high-quality academic literatures and researches. Furthermore, the topic of chemical waste management is less business related and associated more with scientific academics. Overall, this makes it difficult to assess business progress in this area of topic without examining scientific sources.

Analysis of Social Media conversation

2.1 Introduction

The searched terms used were GRIstandard, ISO14001, Sustainability and SDG12, during the period of 26th to 27th October 2018. The searched terms will be briefly explained, followed by the analysis on the results and graphs created on Tableau, which will then be concluded with a summary analysis on social media and addressing the limitations encountered.

2.2 Methodology on searched terms

Initial search terms were “Sustainability” and “SDG12”. Sustainability refers to balancing needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of the future generations. SDG12 is a sustainable development goal targeted to achieve sustainable consumption and production. The results showed businesses' current actions to improve their sustainability and environmental management as well as recent headlines such as 2018 Nobel Prize award winners for their work on the ability of policies in shaping sustainability and climate change issues. The other search terms used were 2 widely-used standards- Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and IS014001, exemplifying that individuals, businesses and organisations use multitude of standards for their sustainability reports. Additionally, results showcased organisations using ISO standards to adhere to GRI guidelines. Overall, 7,411 tweets were collected and will be examined in the latter sections.

2.2.1 Limitations

Albeit, there were limitations of the searched terms, for example, the types of tweets were imperfect as a fraction - 1% of all data available were collected. Also the majority of the tweets were both categorised as @mentions and retweets. Furthermore, the development of Twitter has enabled retweeting easy to use with the retweet button, which allows reposting of the original tweet. Hence, when these data are collected on TAGs, the button is modified into the previous format “[email protected]”, allowing both old format retweets and the modernisation of the retweet button to be captured.

2.3 Analysis on results

As Figure 4 shows, the number of tweets peaked around the evening of 26th October, this may be due to one of the most retweeted user @CaelusGreenRoom; an account which posts news of CSR and sustainability issues. 227 retweets were posted in between 8 to 9 pm, with the majority of users both from North and South America. The increase of activity could be due to the time difference. A similar trend occurred on the 27th but with less than half the amount.

Figure 5, illustrates a breakdown of the type of tweets with retweets as the majority. Figure 6, shows comparable results with 4,759 classified as “retweets”, which spiked to 237 around the evening of the 26th. Additionally, all types of tweets displayed similar patterns, with having peaks at similar times. Albeit, “@mention” generally showed less amount and more stability with the minimum amount of apexes. Figure 6, may also indicate that the recognition lag between “normal tweet” and “retweet” are significantly short, which may be due to the notifications system enabling followers to respond via retweeting to, for instance, news of banning of single-use plastic announced by the European Parliament.

The long-tail diagram showcases the retweets frequency distribution with 271 retweets of @wef (World Economic Forum) addressing a potential development of a high-tech city in India. Figure 7, demonstrates that a small volume of retweets gains more responsiveness than others, which may be determined by number of followers, which the user in this case, has 3.29 million.

The most prominent user is Cary88888888 with 75 “normal tweets”, which marginally contradicts results from the other figures that implies retweeting is the most used form of tweeting. Nonetheless, more than half of the users from Figure 8, have mainly engaged in retweeting. Only a fraction of the users posted “@mention” tweets, which may be due to the ability to respond directly on posts rather than composing a new tweet to respond.

The searched terms were classified into two groups: “SDG12” which contains #SDG12 and #Sustainability. Since sustainability is inevitably associated with the SDGs, it seemed appropriate to categorise these two together. The other group – “standards”, consists of #GRIstandards and #ISO14001. As previously mentioned, many businesses and organisations use both standards in their reports. Both groups were significantly low in comparison to “otherhashtag”, this could be the result of tweeting with other hashtags, which are more issue specific i.e. #health and #cleanenergy.

2.4 Conclusion

Twitter enables users i.e. businesses to use the platform as a ‘medium for marketing, customer engagement…' (Chae, 2015). Thus, businesses are more attentive to their actions especially their environmental management. As the results show, news travels exponentially fast to consumers particularly from users with large amounts of followers such as CaelusGreenRoom and WEF.

A key limitation of using the Tableau software is the requirement of IT expertise which may be a challenge for students who may not have the time to fully learn how to function the software due to other obligations such as writing reports for other modules.

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