ChemScore 2022: Key Findings

ChemScore, the annual ranking of the largest global chemical companies in the world based on their environmental impact and treatment of hazardous chemicals, sets the benchmark for a sustainable chemicals industry.

In this text, we outline the global rankings and methodology behind our scores, as well as some key case studies, differences between global regions, the human impacts of hazardous chemicals, and our recommendations to chemical companies and investors.

Go to chemscore.chemsec.org to view the full ranking.

Introduction

Hazardous chemicals are everywhere. They are present in cleaning products, cosmetics, packaged foods, plastic containers, shopping receipts, children’s toys and even household dust. They are released in large quantities across the Earth, accumulating in nature and wildlife and threatening to disrupt fragile ecosystems. Even the remote Antarctic is contaminated by hazardous chemicals and microplastic waste.

Measurable levels of hundreds of man-made chemicals are routinely found in people of all ages and locations around the world. Paediatricians have called chemical pollution a “silent pandemic”. Children in the womb have been found with hundreds of toxic chemicals in their bodies resulting in birth with diseases, disabilities, and sadly, premature death.

Earlier this year, scientists warned that chemical pollution has crossed a “planetary boundary” and threatens the biological and physical processes that underpin all life on Earth. The crisis is so severe that global leaders are setting up a UN scientific body to advise governments on how to manage chemicals and waste and prevent pollution, similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Legislation is being tightened worldwide, particularly around so-called “forever chemicals”, known as PFAS.

PFAS, often found in cosmetics, furniture, carpeting, non-stick pans and waterproof jackets, are chemicals that accumulate in the environment and cause health impacts for generations. They are linked to cancer, lung disease, diabetes, reproductive abnormalities, learning difficulties and other health impacts. Growing awareness of the risks PFAS pose has triggered a surge in lawsuits, which could cost chemicals companies as much as $30 billion.

We need nothing short of a radical transition to a more sustainable chemical industry. If we are to limit the impacts of chemical pollution on current and future generations, chemical companies should:

  • provide transparent information about their full portfolio so the public and investors understand the risks from the hazardous chemicals they produce and use;
  • publish a time-bound phase-out plan to end production of persistent PFAS chemicals;
  • develop safer alternatives to the hazardous chemicals in their portfolio.

Now, some of the largest investment firms on the planet are starting to realise this as well. Investors with $8 trillion under management or advice are calling on chemicals companies to publish a timetable for phasing out “forever chemicals” from their production, to fully disclose which hazardous chemicals they produce and how much of each one, and to work to improve their ranking on ChemScore by reducing their chemical footprint.

“As investors, we believe that companies’ licence to operate is dependent on the public understanding of risks and impacts,” they wrote in a letter to CEOs of the world’s biggest chemicals companies, coordinated by Aviva Investors and Storebrand Asset Management.

“We believe that the stricter regulatory environment on both sides of the Atlantic will eventually require chemical companies to phase out most persistent chemicals. We encourage you to lead, not be led, by phasing out and substituting these chemicals. In addition to the financial risks associated with litigation, producers of persistent chemicals face the risk of increased costs associated with reformulating products and modifying processes, which can have significant implications for company performance.”

ChemScore, produced by independent non-profit ChemSec, is the annual ranking of the world’s largest global chemical companies based on their environmental impact and treatment of hazardous chemicals. It provides investors and the public with information to assess which companies have strong chemicals management strategies and which do not. The third annual ChemScore rankings cover 54 companies, up from 50 last year.

Key findings

ChemScore assesses the world’s largest chemical companies on their environmental impact and treatment of hazardous chemicals, setting the benchmark for a sustainable industry. The third annual ranking reveals that the industry as a whole is taking little or no action to halt the unfolding global chemical pollution crisis, despite the risks to public health, the environment and shareholder value. While there has been significant progress in some areas, overall, the results are no better than last year.

Few companies have made significant positive changes and nearly half have scored worse than in 2021. Although most European companies have improved their scores, driven by tough legislation and progressive investors, the average score is still only 17.7 out of a possible 48, showing just how much remains to be done. Companies in the US and Asia have actually gone backwards, with average scores of 12.6 and 10.7 respectively.

Indorama (Thailand), again tops the overall rankings with a score of 30. It is one of only four companies with a public strategy to phase out hazardous chemicals from its portfolio. DuPont (US), comes last: it has been named in more than 6,100 PFAS lawsuits since 2005 and has now removed all details of its portfolio from public view. It is the first company assessed as “impossible to rate”.

 

Hazardous chemical portfolio

This year’s ranking reveals that only four companies publish a strategy to phase out hazardous chemicals from their portfolio: Indorama(Thailand), SABIC (Saudi Arabia), Yara (Norway) and Solvay (Belgium). In a disappointing step backwards BASF (DE) and DSM (NL) have stopped publishing phase-out plans.

Some companies are actually increasing the number of hazardous chemicals in their portfolio, becoming more exposed to the risk of lawsuits and the expense of reformulating products to comply with stricter legislation. This is particularly true in the US: at Sherwin-Williams SIN (Substitute it Now) chemicals are up from 18 to 24; at Westlake they are up from five to 12.

However, in a milestone for the industry, Lanxess (DE) and Ecolab (US) have become the first companies to explicitly state that they will not develop or market new chemicals or products that contain Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs). This is a significant move away from hazardous chemicals and sends a powerful message to other companies.

Development of safer chemicals and circular products

There has been little sign of companies accelerating their work to develop safer chemicals over the last year.

Some global companies have started to report circular economy strategies and circular products, but this needs to be taken more seriously and must be incorporated into their strategies.

Plastic-producing companies are starting to develop chemical recycling technologies. However, this is not rewarded in ChemScore because it risks being used as a cover for greenwashing. Companies use mass balance accounting methods to claim products are made of “recycled” plastics when they are entirely made of virgin fossil feedstock. Chemical recycling often takes place at a location with no physical connection to the claimed recycled product, with only a certificate that changes owner.

 

Chemical management and company transparency

A growing number of companies recognise the need to report on their chemical footprint to investors and the wider public. In total 36 companies actively engaged with ChemScore and provided detailed information. Companies are much clearer in their reporting and are aligning it with ChemScore’s scoring system.

Eastman (US), and Lanxess (DE), have provided public statements regarding their use of hazardous chemicals world-wide, giving investors and the public full information about their chemical portfolio. Eastman states clearly that “no additional chemicals are produced in their manufacturing processes in Latin America and Asia.” This is significant because only the EU and US require companies to report on their hazardous chemical portfolio, and it sets the standard of transparency expected of global companies.

However, DuPont (US), has removed all details of its portfolio from public view in the US. It has not explained its reasons other than claiming there is a legal possibility to do so under US chemicals law, but there is speculation that it is because of the rise in litigation relating to PFAS. It is only possible to do this in the US, as it is much harder for companies to claim confidentiality in EU markets due to stricter regulations within EU REACH legislation.

 

Leaders and laggards

Gas companies are among the top performers in our rankings, probably because chemical substances in gas form are delicate to handle. Air Products (US), AirLiquide (FR) and Linde (UK), ranked 2nd, 4th and 6th, all have limited amounts of hazardous chemicals in their portfolio.

Consumer companies using chemicals in areas like nutrition, paints and adhesives also perform well. DSM (NL), Avery Dennison (US), Covestro (DE) and Akzo Nobel, ranked 7th, 8th, 10th and 11th, all have a reputation to lose and customers that demand healthy and safer products. It is surprising to see consumer laggards: DIC (Japan) 47th, 3M (US) 38th and Sherwin-Williams (US) 36th all have high numbers of hazardous chemicals in their portfolios.

ChemScore 2022 ranking

ChemScore assesses companies’ performance in four key areas with a maximum possible score of 48:

  • hazardous chemical portfolio (max 18 points);
  • development of safer chemicals and circular products (max 12 points);
  • chemical management and company transparency (max 12 points);
  • response to controversies, lawsuits and regulation (max 6 points).

Where companies fail to guide researchers to relevant information ChemScore assesses them by researching public sources including annual and sustainability reports and corporate websites. Authorities in the EU and US also gather and make public information on the production and sale of hazardous chemicals in their markets but this is not required elsewhere in the world.

For more details of our Methodology see https://chemscore.chemsec.org/methodology/

                 View the full ranking

Regional trends

ChemScore rankings reflect broad regional differences: Europe is improving, North America is stagnating, and Asia is falling behind. However, there is a wide variation between leaders and laggards in all parts of the world and no company or region comes close to the maximum possible score of 48.

 

Europe

Europe leads the rest of the world, with an average 17.7 score across its 16 companies, and is the only region that improved its overall score since last year. Johnson Matthey (UK) is the regional leader, ranked 3rd overall scoring 24.4 out of 48 marginally ahead of Air Liquide (FR) 4th with 24.2. All companies are in the top half except LyondellBasell (NL) 29th and Bayer (DE) 39th with 12.1 and 9.9 respectively. All European companies except Sika (CH) and Bayer (DE) have actively engaged with this year’s ChemScore).

The EU Green Deal including its Chemical Strategy for Sustainability plays a key role in driving forward sustainability, aiming to step up regulation of the production and use of chemical substances in order to stop the pollution crisis and protect human health and the environment. Progressive European asset managers have also stepped up engagement with companies: Aviva Investors and Storebrand coordinated the letter from 47 investors mentioned in the introduction. Europe is also the region where a circular economy is best understood.

Solvay (BE), Europe’s worst performer in 2021, has doubled its score from 8.0 to 16.0, the biggest improvement in this year’s rankings, and now ranks 15th, thanks in part to its commitment to phase out hazardous chemicals. DSM (NL), which has dropped this public commitment has fallen from 2nd to 7th place.

Average score across the key regions

North America

North American companies have gone backwards with an average score of 12.6. Air Products is the regional leader, whose 25.6 score puts it second in the global rankings. It is followed by Avery Dennison (8th) with 20, and Canada’s Nutrien (13th) with 16.6.

Without the legislative incentives that drive action in Europe, companies’ behaviour reflects their corporate commitment to sustainability. Eight of the 12 US companies are in the bottom half of the table and DuPont’s decision to remove details of its portfolio from public view puts it last in the rankings. However, every company actively engaged with ChemScore except Mosaic. (DuPont responded but its move makes it impossible to check authoritative data.)

Asia

Asia accounts for nearly half the ChemScore rankings with 23 companies, including 13 in Japan. Thailand’s Indorama comes tops overall with a score of 30 out of 48, but the average score across Asia’s companies is 10.7. In the bottom quarter of the table, 13 companies score less than 10 points: 11 are Asian, including six from Japan. The worst performer, China’s Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical, scores just 2.4.

Data on chemical production is missing for many Asian chemical companies, which leads to lower scores across the region. Unlike companies in Europe and the US they are not required to make public reports on their chemical portfolios in their home market. Only eight Asian companies actively engaged with ChemScore. To improve their scores, companies in Asia must publish registers of chemical production and be transparent about what and how much they produce.

Economic analysis

ChemSec has commissioned an economic analysis of the ChemScore rankings which suggests that poor chemical management strategies can affect companies’ performance.

Companies that are known to produce PFAS and persistent chemicals are suffering on the stock market. Growing numbers of lawsuits make these companies increasingly risky for investors and it appears this is being priced into their stocks. Performance has fallen in 2022 across the board but companies producing larger numbers of persistent chemicals are performing worse than others.

The economic analysis also finds that there is no evidence that good sustainability practices hurt companies’ performance. In fact, the analysis shows a slight positive correlation between their return on average assets and score in the ChemScore rankings, although this is not statistically significant.

ChemScore also appears to fill a gap in ESG data. Companies that score well on other environmental rankings often score poorly on ChemScore – and vice versa.

More information

In this fact sheet, we have only chosen to highlight some of the most significant findings from ChemScore 2022. In-depth information on individual chemical companies is available on the website. Each company has a detailed report card with a short summary and analysis as well as three unique improvement points. It is also possible to view report cards from previous years and see if a company has reduced its chemical footprint or not.

ChemSec has received funding from the Swedish EPA for the development of ChemScore, but is fully responsible for the output.

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