Business Association Chemistry Pharma Life Sciences

140 years of innovation

Focus on social and environmental responsibility

Chemistry Pharma and Life Sciences industries over the course of time

15.07.2022

The chemical accidents around 50 years ago led to the strengthening of the environmental responsibility of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Today, aspects of safety and sustainability are integral components of operational management, and companies are making significant contributions to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the Responsible Care programme ensures that products are handled safely throughout their entire life cycle and contributes to a better quality of life and more sustainable development.

The dioxin accident at Seveso in 1976 and the fire at Schweizerhalle in 1986 were turning points. Ecology and environmental hazards became dominant public topics, and courses in environmental sciences were introduced at several Swiss universities. Chemical and pharmaceutical companies in Switzerland also went through a change in thinking: statements by experts suggest that Schweizerhalle in particular triggered a turnaround in the field of chemical preparedness and disaster control.

Today, the protection and defence services of companies and government agencies are coordinated internationally, and safety and environmental protection have a firm place in operational management processes. This means that not only are the production steps systematically recorded and documented, but also their safety and environmental protection aspects – from the safety-relevant properties of the substances used in the processes to the process for dealing with changes to the plant. Key data are collected and the risks identified as early as the initial stages of plant planning or modification.

Birth of the Major Accidents Ordinance

The major fire at Schweizerhalle showed that activities such as the storage of hazardous materials and the execution of auxiliary processes can contribute significantly to the risk posed by production sites. This includes aspects such as waste water treatment, exhaust air purification and fire-fighting water retention. The basic rules governing the individual responsibility of site owners in avoiding major incidents were laid down in the Major Accidents Ordinance that came into force in 1992.

Today, Switzerland produces fewer standard products (commodities) – the chemical and pharmaceutical industries focus more on high value-added products, including particularly effective ones. Legislation adapts to these trends. For example, the Major Accidents Ordinance has for many years been requiring manufacturing companies with a high risk potential to implement a safety management system. A threshold value was introduced for highly active substances in order to determine when manufacturing companies must take further safety measures.

Expansion of social and environmental responsibility

Fifty years ago, companies focused on the activities on their premises. Today, social and environmental responsibility extends in both directions along the value chain. The Responsible Care programme of our industries continuously deepens our knowledge and understanding of research into the possible effects of our processes, products and waste on people and the environment.

Responsible Care is the global initiative of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry for the safe handling of its products throughout their entire life cycle. This self-committing initiative of the industry emphasises its contribution to improving the quality of life and sustainable development. The initiative was launched in 1985 by the then Canadian Chemical Industry Association (CCPA) and is being implemented in more than 60 countries. In Switzerland, scienceindustries promotes compliance with the Responsible Care principles.

Proactive and effective climate protection

In future, companies will focus even more on circular economy activities, which have enormous savings potential – at the moment, the legislative framework is being defined by parliament. In recent years, scienceindustries has presented a wide range of measures and numerous examples from our member companies in the “Innovation” dossier and the "Proactive and Effective Climate Protection" position paper.

The members of scienceindustries explicitly acknowledge the reality of climate change and support the net-zero 2050 target for greenhouse gas emissions proclaimed by the federal government as a fundamental goal. They are already making a significant contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, this reduction is achieved by optimising processes at companies' own plants and their supply chains. At the same time, many of our members offer solutions to the key challenges of our time, such as demographic trends and climate change.

As an industry, we take our responsibility seriously and develop it further together with society. Ultimately, we need social acceptance in order to drive our business activities forward.

> Read the editorial and prelude to the series of articles by our director Stephan Mumenthaler on the anniversary of scienceindustries Chemistry Pharma Life Sciences.

 


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