Toxic Avengers

Aug. 13, 2010
Manufacturers discover that greener and smaller chemical inventories can save money.

Proposed changes to legislation governing chemicals usage in commerce include incentives and a review process to use materials that are considered safer alternatives to existing substances. Reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, introduced in July by Representatives Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Bobby Rush, D-Ill., are aimed primarily at the chemical content of products. If enacted, the bill could result in lower inventory levels of chemicals that federal regulators consider toxic.

But even without regulation, many manufacturers have taken it upon themselves to cut their chemical inventory levels or substitute products that pose a lower environmental risk. San Francisco-based Chemical Strategies Partnership (CSP) is a nonprofit organization that works with manufacturers to help them cut their chemical-management costs while adopting greener purchasing strategies through a system called chemical management services (CMS).

Chemical Strategies helps manufacturers implement systems where they utilize a third-party CMS supplier to manage their chemical procurement process. "Chemical use is really not a core competency for a lot of these manufacturers," says Jill Kauffman Johnson, CSP's executive director. The concept of a CMS program began about 25 years ago when General Motors Corp. sought ways to optimize its chemicals usage by asking suppliers to manage its chemical inventory, Johnson says. GM was able to cut its chemicals costs each time the company implemented the program in its facilities by reducing inventories and substituting chemicals, according to Johnson.

The company's success led other manufacturers to adopt similar programs. At the same time, CMS can help manufacturers reduce their environmental impact by cutting chemical consumption and using less-toxic products, Johnson says. "These guys are in a position to bring new chemistry and new ideas to the floor," she says. "They get paid to reduce chemical use."

The use of less-toxic chemicals also can reduce the amount of protective equipment operators must wear and safety risks on the plant floor, says Johnson. She notes that one CSP client has reduced insurance payments by having fewer chemicals on site.The CMS providers may become more valuable as U.S. manufacturers seek ways to comply with regulations domestically and abroad. That's what happened in the late 1980s when manufacturers struggled to comply with new laws and reporting requirements, says Bob Napier, a program manager with the chemicals management business at Henkel Adhesive Technologies in Nashville, Tenn. Henkel Adhesive serves as a CMS provider for other manufacturers.

Napier cites a Carrier Corp. plant in Collierville, Tenn., as an example of a Henkel customer that achieved cost reductions by substituting a greener chemical for a more toxic substance. The Carrier plant produces residential air-conditioning equipment and was using zinc phosphate to pretreat metal prior to powder coating. The zinc phosphate required the plant to treat wastewater so the facility would not exceed local metals discharge standards, says Mark Hildenbrand, the plant's senior manufacturing engineer. Treating the water cost money and so did the corrective actions the plant faced when it exceeded the discharge limits, Hildenbrand says.

In 2007 the company began using a nanoceramic coating technology from Henkel that generated less sludge, reduced natural gas required for heating the zinc phosphate and cut disposal fees. The company saved $220,000, or 19 cents per unit, the first year it used the nanoceramic process, Hildenbrand says.

The use of less-toxic chemicals also can reduce the amount of protective equipment operators must wear and safety risks on the plant floor, says Johnson. She notes that one CSP client has reduced insurance payments by having fewer chemicals on site.

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About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Former Managing Editor

Former Managing Editor Jon Katz covered leadership and strategy, tackling subjects such as lean manufacturing leadership, strategy development and deployment, corporate culture, corporate social responsibility, and growth strategies. As well, he provided news and analysis of successful companies in the chemical and energy industries, including oil and gas, renewable and alternative.

Jon worked as an intern for IndustryWeek before serving as a reporter for The Morning Journal and then as an associate editor for Penton Media’s Supply Chain Technology News.

Jon received his bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Kent State University and is a die-hard Cleveland sports fan.

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