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Chemical companies tout green credentials whilst developing hazardous chemicals behind closed doors

Sustainable Finance

Chemical companies tout green credentials whilst developing hazardous chemicals behind closed doors

Published on 09 Dec 2021

PRESS RELEASE: Chemical companies around the world are actively marketing their greener, more sustainable products, whilst holding back details on the mass production of hazardous chemicals, ChemSec’s ranking of chemical companies reveals today.

ChemScore finds that 38 out of 50 companies (76%) are actively marketing greener, sustainable products on their website. Yet no companies were found to have public information on global hazardous chemicals production; only 4 out of 50 (8%) showed evidence of a public strategy with plans to phase out existing hazardous chemicals; and all continue to produce hazardous chemicals in dangerously high numbers.

ChemScore is the annual ranking of the world’s 50 largest global chemical companies based on their environmental impact and treatment of hazardous chemicals, setting the benchmark for a sustainable chemicals industry. It helps investors to assess which companies have strong chemicals management strategies, and which do not. The ranking covers companies’ hazardous chemical portfolio; their development of safer chemicals and circular products; their chemical management and company transparency; and their response to controversies, lawsuits and regulation.

Eugenie Mathieu, Senior Analyst and Earth Pillar Lead at Aviva Investors, said: “The chemical industry has a significant environmental footprint. At a time of climate crisis and the devastating decline in biodiversity globally, investors expect the industry to reduce its impact on the environment and human health. As an investor, we are keen to identify which chemical companies are leading in the transition to a more sustainable future by providing solutions and greater transparency, and which are stuck in ‘business as usual’.”

The report reveals that:

  • BASF (Germany) touts its “environmentally friendly solutions” on its website, yet there is no mention of the global production of hazardous chemicals in its 30-page “safety in production” report. BASF has at least 127 different hazardous chemicals in its portfolio.
  • Dupont de Nemours (USA) claims on its website that it is always striving to find “new materials and technologies that will shape an even better world”. Following a New York Times investigation condemning its use of PFAS chemicals, the company now explains that it’s “actively pursuing alternatives to PFAS where possible in our manufacturing processes”. Nonetheless, Dupont still has at least 36 different hazardous chemicals in its portfolio, and no public strategy with phase-out plans for its existing hazardous chemicals.
  • Indorama Ventures (Thailand) tops the rankings, followed closely by DSM (Netherlands) – scoring 29 and 28 respectively out of 48. Both score highly for demonstrating a lack of controversies, and developing safer chemicals through circular production.
  • Sinopec (China) and Formosa Chemical & Fibres (Taiwan) come joint last, scoring 3.6 points out of 48, and receiving a D-minus. Both are making little effort to develop safer chemicals, and greatly lack transparency.

Click here to go to the full ranking

The chemical industry is a trillion-dollar business. UNEP estimates the size of the global chemical industry exceeded $5 trillion in 2017, and is projected to double by 2030. The fifty companies assessed in ChemScore have a combined revenue of over $860 billion.

Emine Isciel, Head of Climate and Environment, Storebrand Asset Management, said: ”For the past decade, ESG investors have focused mainly on climate change and carbon emissions. But these issues are not isolated; the sustainable investor’s perspective needs to be more holistic. The chemical industry is not only a huge energy consumer – many of the chemicals it produces also have detrimental effects on human health and the environment. At the same time, the chemical industry is also an enabler; the world needs it to be progressive and help solve the current climate crisis.

Synthetic, man-made chemicals are now a permanent fixture of modern life, with properties which help make products flame-retardant, waterproof or stain-resistant. Consequently, people around the world are found to have digested measurable levels of hundreds of hazardous chemicals – from PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as ‘forever chemicals’) found in microplastics, to HHPs (highly hazardous pesticides) used in food production.

Scientists have linked the fact that men in the Western world produce half as much sperm as they did 40 years ago due to exposure to toxic chemicals. Studies show that exposure to toxic chemicals results in girls entering puberty earlier, increasing the risk of getting breast cancer later in life.

Hazardous chemicals are also released in large quantities across the Earth, accumulating in nature and wildlife and threatening to disrupt fragile ecosystems. A recent expedition to the Antarctic found microplastic waste and persistent hazardous chemicals such as PFAS in even the most remote and pristine habitats of the Antarctic.

Sonja Haider, Senior Business and Investors Advisor at ChemSec, said: “Almost all major chemical companies have made claims about green products – yet very few have a clear strategy to wind down their hazardous chemical portfolio. Year on year the industry continues to produce hazardous chemicals, and is failing to enact sustainable practices, even despite an ever more urgent environmental crisis and tightening international regulations. Chemicals are an essential part of modern everyday life – but the health of our people and ecosystems can no longer be an afterthought.”

ChemScore offers companies three recommendations to reduce their impact on human health and the environment:

  • Companies must reduce their hazardous chemical portfolio by innovating safer alternatives – since last year’s inaugural evaluation, there has been very little movement from the chemical industry in this area.
  • A circular economy needs an active chemical industry at the start of the supply chain to provide material that can be reused and recycled. The race has started, but must be accelerated.
  • Much more transparency is needed to in order for investors to feel safe supporting chemical companies, and to understand which hazardous chemicals they are currently producing.

Yash Lohia, Chief Sustainability Officer at Indorama Ventures, said: “We are honored that Indorama is at the top of the ChemScore ranking this year. Our vision is to be a world-class sustainable chemical company making great products for society. We continue our efforts to provide safer chemicals and greener alternatives that support a circular economy. We would also like to thank our employees and partners for their support in building the chemical industry’s sustainable future.”

Click here to go to the full ranking