Sustainable Products and Product Stewardship
Strategy, Management, and Implementation
A sustainable product portfolio plays a key role for us in implementing our Sustainable Future strategy. The continued expansion of such a portfolio is supported by our research- and development-based innovation portfolio. In accordance with our sustainability goals, 80% of project costs for research and development are to be allocated to areas that contribute to reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the year 2025. Support will go particularly to product innovations whose contribution to the SDGs drives sustainable development, taking account of our circular and climate neutrality goals.
At the same time, we are revising our methodology to assess also the sustainability of our existing products, especially in relation to the circular economy and climate neutrality, and are aligning our product portfolio even more closely in this direction, while taking legal requirements into account. We also report on how and the extent to which our activities are associated with economic activities which qualify as environmentally sustainable economic activities under the European Union’s Taxonomy Regulation.
It goes without saying that our products can only be sustainable if handling them is safe for people and the environment. For this reason, our sustainable product portfolio, too, reflects product stewardship requirements. We have an established management system for our activities in this area to ensure that our requirements and standards are met.
While the business entities manage their product portfolios independently, the ESG Governance Body on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues dealt with matters in the reporting year such as progress in revising the sustainability assessment methodology for our product portfolio.
Our work is focused on aligning our product portfolio even more closely with sustainability and circular economy targets. Covestro is building a future-proof, innovative, and sustainable product portfolio using the Product Sustainability Assessment (PSA) based on the methodology developed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). This process entails identifying changes in the regulatory and market environment early on with the help of the PSA and considering these as part of the decision-making processes. The results of the PSA are to be integrated in decisions about the product portfolio and in relation to corporate governance. The findings of the pilot project on the evaluation method conducted in the year 2021 were used in the reporting year to review the method in collaboration with an external provider and, for example, to integrate more deeply aspects of the circular economy and climate neutrality. The review of the method is expected to be completed in the year 2023 and will be followed by another pilot using the updated method in the same year. The majority of our new products are already aligned with the SDGs. To drive the development of our circular product portfolio, we announced in the reporting year our long-term intention to offer all products in a climate-neutral version that pursues the principles of the circular economy. Our Circular Intelligence (CQ) solutions are based on alternative raw materials and sources of energy as well as chemical recycling; they contain at least 25% alternative or recycled raw materials.
- See “Strategy.”
- See “Marketing and Sales.”
- See “Labeling of Circular Solutions in the Product Portfolio.”
To Covestro, product stewardship means comprehensively evaluating health, safety, and environmental risks in connection with the use and handling of our products. We want our products to be safe throughout their entire life cycle – from research to production and marketing to their intended use by customers and all the way to disposal. Product stewardship is also a focus of our human rights due diligence activities.
Monitoring the quality of our products and their suitability for particular applications is anchored in our corporate functions and segments. Safe transportation, qualification for specifically regulated applications, and marketability are centrally managed at Covestro, as is the obligation to report to the Board of Management on these matters.
The safe use and application of our products have high priority. It is very important to us to communicate product safety information transparently and comprehensively. In addition to the legally required documentation, we also provide further information and offer training in line with the Global Product Strategy of the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA). Furthermore, specially trained employees throughout the company work closely with suppliers, customers, industry associations, and the public. Covestro thus aims to ensure the effective communication and observance of health, safety, and environmental information along the entire supply chain.
Management of Product Stewardship
Product stewardship involves both compliance with statutory requirements and voluntary commitments. Here we also take into account the so-called precautionary principle as explained in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration of the United Nations and communication COM(2000) 1 of the European Commission. This important means of protecting consumers and the environment within the context of general risk management may be used in special situations in which, according to an objective and comprehensive scientific evaluation, material or irreversible harm to people and the environment may occur, but the risk of this cannot be determined with sufficient certainty. In this regard, we follow the corresponding principles of the European Commission when applying the precautionary principle. These include especially the proportionality of the protective measures taken, an examination of the benefits and the disadvantages of all relevant options, as well as the review of the measures taken in light of new scientific developments. Arbitrary decisions cannot be justified by invoking the precautionary principle.
As a contribution to the safe handling and use of chemicals, risk assessments are carried out applying recognized scientific principles such as those described by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in its Guidance on Information Requirements and Chemical Safety Assessment. A determination is made based on a hazard assessment and exposure estimation as to which additional information is required for the risk characterization of a product.
All product groups at Covestro undergo a multiple-step product assessment process. At first, we identify chemicals that are subject to statutory regulations and document the corresponding regulations. We then examine the risk potential of our products. During this process, we also identify substances for which only limited use or marketing are permitted based on the applicable laws and regulations. These include, for example, substances of very high concern (SVHCs) as classified in accordance with the European Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and substances covered by European regulation on GHGs. Substance compositions in all regions are checked with the help of IT systems against lists of regulated substances so that noncompliance with regulatory requirements would be identified reliably. Should the assessment or new findings reveal that it is not safe to use a certain chemical, we take the necessary risk mitigation measures. Those can range from technical measures such as protective gear and revised application recommendations to the withdrawal of support for a certain application or the substitution of a substance. In this case, an adequate replacement must be sought which can be produced in an economical and technically feasible way. Finally, we produce safety data sheets and labeling for all chemicals in up to 40 different languages, including chemicals that are not subject to any legal obligation. In this respect Covestro also exceeds the statutory requirements by making these safety data sheets publicly available.
We collect, document, and analyze all information about the safe and compliant use of our products in a global information system, which provides the basis for further improvements. This includes product surveillance and reporting on product-related and compliance incidents. Our global regulations for the Group contain rules and guidance on when and how this information is to be used. For example, this has helped us improve the information on the safe handling of our products and provide customers with specific training. Furthermore, workshops, and online training sessions for our employees contribute to solidifying the understanding and importance of product stewardship in the company.
For fiscal 2022, we know of no material incidents of noncompliance with regulations or voluntary codes – either concerning the health and safety impacts of products and services, or relating to product information and labeling.
The optimization of products and processes is a continuous task of the chemical industry and is integral to our commitments as part of the Responsible Care™ initiative. This is an initiative by the chemical industry that aims for continual improvement by companies in the areas of environment, safety, and health, regardless of the legal requirements. We also participate in the further development of scientific risk assessments through our involvement in associations and initiatives. International associations such as the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) and the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) are working to improve the scientific assessment of chemicals and research new testing methods. Moreover, they monitor implementation of legal regulations. Covestro is actively involved in industry association activities. Furthermore, we endorse the initiatives of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Union (EU) to improve health and the environment, for example with the further development of human biomonitoring through an alliance with the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI) and the German Federal Ministry of the Environment.
Implementation of Regulations and Voluntary Programs Pertaining to Chemicals
Covestro adheres to the applicable regulations pertaining to chemicals, such as REACH in Europe and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in the United States. These regulations are aimed at protecting human health and the environment from the risks posed by chemicals, and thus shape our activities as a manufacturer, importer, and user of chemicals. We have established internal regulations to adequately address the range and complexity of the relevant requirements. They guide our employees in how to fulfill regulatory requirements.
Substances registered according to REACH are assessed by regulators. This can result, for example, in additional testing requirements, new risk management measures, or inclusion in the REACH authorization or restriction procedure. A number of Covestro substances are also affected by this procedure, which restricts the use of particularly hazardous substances or can lead to their substitution or prohibition. The restriction on diisocyanates published in the Official Journal of the EU in August 2020 is one example of a restriction. In this case, labeling of diisocyanates had to be modified by February 2022, but this will not affect their availability. However, all users of products containing diisocyanates at a concentration of more than 0.1% of the residual monomer must be trained in their use by August 2023. Covestro supports this process and advocates for the practical and effective implementation of this requirement, for instance in the preparation of training materials. As part of the European chemical industry, we furthermore made a voluntary commitment to review and improve the REACH registration dossiers by the year 2026.
We ensure that substance assessments comparable to those meeting the high standards of REACH or the TSCA will also be applied at Covestro sites that are not subject to these regulations. The relevant procedure is established in the directive on “Product Stewardship” in the attachment entitled “Substance Information and its Availability.” When it comes to purchased substances, we are dependent on information provided by our suppliers.
Another example of our commitment to Responsible Care™ is the worldwide support we provide for customers for safely handling large quantities of reactive products through tank-farm safety assessments.
Covestro has also committed to compliance with animal welfare policies during toxicological and ecotoxicological testing.
We support the Global Product Strategy (GPS), a voluntary commitment by the chemical industry initiated by the ICCA. Its objective is to improve knowledge about chemical products, especially in emerging countries and countries of the Global South, and thus increase safety in the handling of these products. GPS is accessible at Covestro through the Product Safety First internet portal and is available worldwide. On this website, we inform our customers and other interest groups about safety-relevant properties and the safe handling of our products.
Substances That Are the Subject of Public Debate
Covestro is following the scientific discussion about the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), an important raw material for various plastics, e.g., polycarbonate. Critics, but also some authorities, are concerned that risks could result for people and the environment if traces of BPA are released from products.
Based on numerous scientifically valid and high-quality studies, Covestro is confident that BPA can be safely used in all areas of application supported to date. By participating in regulatory processes, Covestro works actively to dispel uncertainties and answer open questions. In addition, we continue to advocate for more objective discussions based on all of the scientific data in cooperation with the Plastics Europe association, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), and the China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Federation (CPCIF). Covestro is involved in the discussions and provides information to customers and the public on this issue through associations, on the Covestro website, and through direct contacts.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a subject of public discussion due to possible undesirable effects on people and the environment. PFAS are essential chemicals in a number of mainly industrial products, including many high-tech applications, often on account of their ability to resist heat and chemicals. PFAS are a challenge for all segments of industry, including chemicals, because various regulatory initiatives intend to limit the use of PFAS.
As a user of PFAS, we monitor the regulatory debate and support proportionate, implementable, and enforceable regulations based on robust scientific results and a reliable assessment of risks. We already include in our safety data sheets in the EU any PFAS that are classified as SVHC by REACH and are contained in our products at a concentration of more than 0.1% by weight.