Can Responsible Care Thrive in India?

Debra M Phillips
Managing Director, Responsible Care and Value Chain Outreach, American Chemistry Council
In October 2012, the global Responsible Care community travelled to India for its annual leadership meeting and an opportunity to engage in dialogue with the country's chemical industry leaders. During the course of these meetings, representatives of domestic companies and multinationals operating in India were able to network with their international peers and discuss the challenges and opportunities the chemical industry is facing in India. Debra M Phillips, Managing Director, Responsible Care and Value Chain Outreach, American Chemistry Council, writes.

While Responsible Care has been a part of the Indian chemical industry for nearly 20 years, it can still, at best, be described as a work in progress. In order to fulfill its potential, chemical industry leaders in India - companies and their CEOs - need to re-commit themselves to Responsible Care and become an active part of the environment, health and safety excellence movement as its growing chemicals portfolio suggests it should be.

The International Council of Chemical Associations' (ICCA) Responsible Care Leadership Group (RCLG), which includes representatives of more than 57 industry federations, chose to meet in India last year as part of its efforts to support Responsible Care in key economies. In cooperation with the Indian Chemical Council (ICC), the RCLG held three days of meetings which included participation by a number of local industry leaders, Indian government officials and representatives of intergovernmental organisations such as the World Bank. A formal dialogue session between members of the RCLG and Indian CEOs allowed participants to explore the possibilities for growing Responsible Care in India. Highlights of the RCLG meeting included the acceptance of two new Responsible Care countries and programmes: Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Prior to the Goa meetings, the ICC held a well-attended, one-day Responsible Care conference in Mumbai which featured speakers from domestic companies, multinationals and representatives of other national federations who shared their Responsible Care experiences and plans for the future.

In my opening remarks to the participants at the Mumbai conference, I took the opportunity to share the ICCA's concerns about the slow progress of Responsible Care in India. Despite two decades of membership in the Responsible Care community, ICC's efforts to date have not kept pace with its peers in other federations which adopted Responsible Care in the early 1990s. In fact, more recent adopters of the initiative such as the Dubai -based Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA) have demonstrated that with strong leadership, broad member buy-in and a commitment of resources, significant progress can be made on Responsible Care in a short period of time. Given the essential position India holds as an emerging global chemical powerhouse and as a critical link in global supply chains, ICCA believes that it is imperative that Responsible Care in India begin making significant strides forward in the coming years.

Concern about the status of Responsible Care in India is not limited to chemical industry insiders. Stakeholders in the UNEP's Strategic Approach for International Chemicals Management (SAICM) programme repeatedly inquire about the status of Responsible Care in India, citing the fact that only three Indian-based companies have signed the ICCA’s Responsible Care Global Charter. These critics assert that Responsible Care has stagnated in one of the very places where it needs to be thriving. Stakeholders will continue to monitor the progress of Responsible Care in India and other countries to ensure that the programme is truly delivering important environmental, health and safety benefits, consistent with the commitments made in the Responsible Care Global Charter.

How can the ICC and its members lead to improve implementation of Responsible Care in India? Based on experiences in other countries, the key to Responsible Care's success is sustained, active and visible corporate support.

The Indian chemical industry must find Responsible Care champions from its most influential companies and company leaders need to engage their peers in a frank discussion about why Responsible Care is important to the success of their individual companies, the success of the Indian chemical industry as a whole and that of the larger global industrial community. Responsible Care is not a one-time activity, but rather a long-term culture of performance excellence that seeks to continually set higher expectations and achieve them.

In a number of countries and regions, there are excellent examples of Responsible Care programmes that have adjusted and grown over time. In the Americas and Europe, trade federations have repeatedly relied on CEO-led Task Forces to identify and propose improvements to Responsible Care and see these proposals through to full implementation.

For example, here in the US, the American Chemistry Council’s Responsible Care programme has undertaken three Strategic Reviews which over the past twenty years have transformed the programme from one which initially relied on company self-assessments and aggregate metrics reporting to one which required third-party certification audits and public reporting of individual company performance data.

I encourage Indian chemical company leaders to come together and create a common vision and driving force for Responsible Care advancement in India.

Leaders must set a strategic vision, employ a project management mentality, and dedicate appropriate resources to get this important programme in place, just as they would implement any infrastructure project in their own companies.

Were ICC and its members were to embark on CEO-led review of Responsible Care in India, a good starting point for discussion might be to measure the programme's progress against ICCA's Responsible Care Fundamental Features. The Fundamental Features identify eight required elements for all Responsible Care programmes. More importantly, ICCA has adopted five- and ten-year implementation milestones for each of the Fundamental Features which federations can use to benchmark progress since Responsible Care's adoption. In 2011, India's Responsible Care programme was assessed against these fundamental features and it has fallen significantly off pace.

During the ICCA meetings India in 2012, there was considerable discussion about the benefits that Responsible Care brings to implementing companies. Companies benefit from implementing Responsible Care in many ways. But all benefits are derived from real, meaningful, sustained implementation of environment, health and safety performance programmes that are central to Responsible Care.

In the US, an independent study was released in late 2012 showing that participation in Responsible Care reduces the likelihood of accidents by 69 .3 percent. Participation also was shown to reduce the likelihood of process safety by 85.9 percent. These reductions in accidents due to Responsible Care in turn contribute to economically significant averted losses, with savings of about USD 61,000 per facility per year. In addition, the US government has granted liability protection to Responsible Care companies in the event of a terrorist act on a chemical facility or product in transit.

I've been part of many discussions in the past two years with local and global chemical industry representatives who express a great desire to see Responsible Care thrive in India. I am certain that this sentiment is shared by many members of the Indian Chemical Council staff and their committee members. But the time for action is now. ICCA and its member federations want to see Responsible Care reach new levels of excellence in India and stand ready to lend support.

I implore Indian chemical industry leaders to begin to truly lead and join the global chemical industry community in a sustained commitment to performance excellence through Responsible Care.