Engaging with companies in the strategy on this topic is something we have done since 2012. There has been progress, at least in terms of transparency, but there is still a long way to go in delivering a real reduction in the prevalence of hazardous chemicals on the market and in the wider environment. Hence, we believe that collaborative efforts are required to enable further progress.
Achieving increased transparency around the use of hazardous chemicals and a reduction in their use within the chemicals industry
In December 2021, WHEB was one of a number of investors representing $41 trillion in assets that called for chemical manufacturers to phase out hazardous chemicals, particularly persistent and prior-informed-consent (PIC) substances. As part of this initiative, we lead on engagements with Ecolab and Linde.
- Ecolab: In mid-May 2022 we hosted a call on behalf of the investor group with Ecolab’s Head of Sustainability. The company clearly acknowledged the need to move away from hazardous chemicals and had identified nonylphenol, a product used in their detergents, as a candidate to phase out. Ecolab has worked with other companies to identify alternative products such as enzymes to replace nonylphenol and has set a date of 2030 for complete phase-out. The company has also been proactive in sharing more data – for example with the Chemical Footprint Project – and for pushing the phase-out agenda with others in the industry. However, as little of this data is publicly available, we encouraged the company to be more proactive in sharing this information publicly. We also understand from ChemSec that the company uses 15 other substances that are classified as substances of very high concern (SVHCs), which the company disputes and so we are seeking additional clarification and this remains an ongoing engagement.
- Linde: Like Ecolab, Linde is scored relatively highly by ChemSec, the NGO that is supporting our engagement. However, in recent years Linde has seen its ranking fall. We met with the company’s Head of Investor Relations and Head of Sustainability in early May 2022 to discuss the company’s approach. Most of Linde’s products are derived from ambient air and are not therefore considered to be toxic. However, the company does provide three products that are considered hazardous – which it was keen to stress that together these products account for c.1% of sales. Linde does also have a commitment to phasing out hazardous chemicals ‘where possible’ and has committed to finding alternatives to hexavalent chromium for example – but have only set a target to find alternatives by 2028 (with phase-out at an unspecified future date). We are keen to see Linde adopt a more proactive stance on the phase-out of these chemicals and believe, like Ecolab, that they could be much more open about their exposure to hazardous chemicals and the issues that make phase-out a challenge. We later wrote a letter to the Chair of the company’s new board-level Sustainability Committee with these points and continue to pursue further progress with the company.
Partially successful and ongoing. As noted above, we are at various stages of progress with each company and the two initiatives. The very nature of the requirements mean that this continues to be a long-term engagement campaign for WHEB and the industry.