Worldwide, the number of areas suffering from water scarcity is on the rise, yet our various facilities are dependent on a regular supply of water. At the same time, legislation governing water conservation is growing increasingly stringent. Our wastewater may contain traces of substances such as heavy metals or pharmaceutical active ingredients, which makes sustainable water management a key focus of our environmental stewardship.
Our approach to sustainable water management
For us, sustainable water management means not negatively impacting the aquatic ecosystems from which we obtain freshwater, or into which we discharge purified wastewater.
To bolster sustainable water management practices, we use an assessment tool from the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) to evaluate water management practices and progress at our facilities. Based on this assessment, our sites draft a list of steps that need to be taken and implement them gradually. This often brings best practices to light which are then shared throughout the company.
In addition, we have set ourselves the goal of reducing our water consumption at sites in water stressed areas by 10% by 2020. To lay the groundwork for this undertaking, we are systematically analyzing our water data utilizing tools such as the Water Risk Filter of the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) and the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas of the World Resources Institute (WRI). These instruments help us determine, for instance, whether a site is located in a water-stressed area, i.e. those regions where the demand for water exceeds the amount available.
However, we also encourage efficient water management at facilities in areas of low or moderate water stress, which is why we are expanding our best practice sharing platform for sustainable water management. This tool provides examples of successful measures and enables our EHS officers to share ideas and lessons learned.
At the same time, it is our responsibility to minimize the impact of our wastewater across all our sites, which is why our regular EHS audits review site-specific water management practices at our production and development facilities.
Our water management efforts focus more heavily on our manufacturing sites than our administrative facilities because they have the greatest potential for impacting local aquatic ecosystems.
How we organize our water management activities
Our Group function Environment, Health, Safety, Security, Quality (EQ) (see also Environmental stewardship) bears overall responsibility for water management. At our individual sites, our engineers work closely with our Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) managers to implement water conservation and wastewater treatment measures.
Our commitment: Standards and guidelines
In 2018, we replaced our EHS “Water Protection” standard with two new Group-wide EHS standards: “Sustainable Water Management Part 1 – Waste water” and “Sustainable Water Management Part 2 – Water use and stormwater protection”. These two new standards detail the way we are integrating modern mechanisms of sustainable water management into our management system. Both are based on the commitments we have made under the global Responsible Care® initiative. Guided by the “Waste water” standard, over the next several years our company will be rolling out a method of assessing our wastewater discharge into the ecosystem. The “Water use and stormwater protection” standard sets out Group-wide requirements for the responsible stewardship of water as a resource. It moreover establishes a way for us to manage the risks that arise from direct or indirect water abstraction. The standard even covers risks such as contaminated rainwater and flooding. Through internal audits, we verify compliance with our standards. All our sites are required to measure and assess the risks and impacts of the hazardous substances in their wastewater. They are moreover committed to handling water responsibly and to analyzing water abstraction and rainwater risks.
In addition to these measures, we are optimizing our production and purification processes to minimize the amount of pharmaceutical active ingredient residue in our wastewater. What’s more, all our pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities have wastewater treatment plants and regularly assess the composition of their wastewater.
Water from our own sources
For the most part, we draw our process water from our own wells and drinking water from local suppliers and never do anything to compromise sensitive water sources. However, in the course of our sustainable water management activities, we keep an eye on trends that could potentially lead to sources being reclassified as sensitive.
The cooling water used for our production processes generally runs in a circular system. Depending on regulatory standards and the energy footprint, we sometimes use freshwater in a once-through cooling system. For certain applications, we treat production wastewater and reuse it. In 2018, we reused a total of 24.4 million cubic meters of water.
New standards and comprehensive analyses
To reach our water management targets, in 2018 we introduced two new standards – “Sustainable Water Management Part 1 – Waste water” and “Sustainable Water Management Part 2 – Water use and stormwater protection”.
We enforce the Flagship Self-Assessment of the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) and utilized it to survey our sites’ water management practices in 2016 and 2017. In 2018, we evaluated this data and started assessing the environmental impacts arising from our discharged water. We constantly analyze the findings from these assessments to take specific steps at individual sites as needed.
Curbing water use
We seek to minimize our impact on the water situation at our sites. In 2018, we consumed 14,7 million cubic meters of water in total, with 883,213 cubic meters originating in water-scarce areas. Sites in areas of high water stress must transparently report their water use and identify the process steps that require a particularly high volume of water. In response to this information, we execute measures to help our individual facilities lower their water consumption.
This approach applies to our manufacturing sites in Mexico City (Mexico), Mollet del Vallès (Spain), Kankakee (Illinois, USA), and Norwood (Ohio, USA), which consume more than 30,000 cubic meters of water per year. At these sites, we aim to achieve a 10% reduction in annual water use by 2020, relative to 2014. The same goes for our facilities in Savannah (Georgia, USA), Hsinchu and Taoyuan (both in Taiwan), which are at increased risk due to local groundwater conditions or seasonal water scarcity. By the end of 2018, we had curbed our water use in water-stressed areas by approximately 10.8%. In 2018, our site in Savannah (Georgia, USA), for instance, cut water use by 3% by optimizing the pigment washing process in the local pressure drum filters. Our facility in Mollet (Spain) installed a filter system that prospectively will reduce local water use by 3% thanks to improved water circulation.
Grading of our water management practices
In addition to reporting on our climate action efforts, since 2016 we have also been reporting water-related data to the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project). This initiative collects environmental data from companies once a year, evaluating their processes and performance on a scale from A to D-. In 2018, we were awarded a “B-” for our water management practices (2017: B).
Water protection measures in India
We also implement measures to minimize our adverse impacts at sites not located in water-scarce regions. Our manufacturing facilities in India, for instance, abide by a zero-discharge policy that requires used water to first be treated before being drained back into the soil. Furthermore, we collect rainwater at our Bangalore site and let it seep back into the soil as well, thereby helping stop the water table from sinking further.
In 2018, we generated 13.6 million cubic meters of wastewater, consisting of around 9.7 million cubic meters of freshwater wich we directly discharged into surface waters, and 3.9 million cubic meters of other water, wich afterwards was treated by external treatment plants or discharged through other disposal methods. Approximately 50% of our total wastewater was discharged by four sites. Our Gernsheim site in Germany discharges its purified wastewater into the Rhine, our Savannah (Georgia, USA) facility into the Savannah River and our Onahama site in Japan into the Pacific Ocean. The wastewater generated at our Darmstadt site is purified in our treatment plants before being fed into Schwarzbach-Ried Creek, a tributary of the Rhine River. In 2018, we discharged a volume of water representing approximately 4% of the average annual discharge of Schwarzbach-Ried Creek. We constantly work to meet the increasingly stringent quality regulations set forth by law, coordinating our efforts with the respective authorities.
Continuously monitoring wastewater
The two sustainable water management standards we introduced in 2018 also cover the topic of wastewater. We are in the process of implementing a method that will lay the groundwork for a comprehensive wastewater assessment. Our individual sites are responsible for identifying the corresponding areas of improvement and must also comply with the respective requirements imposed by local authorities.
Antibiotic residues in wastewater
We process antibiotic active ingredients on a small scale. The wastewater generated from these activities is subject to an additional purification process before being discharged into the environment. In 2018, we conducted a systematic, Group-wide assessment of our ecological impacts from manufacturing and handling antibiotics. As a follow-up, we inspected the wastewater pretreatment facility at our site in Mollet (Spain). The analysis revealed that on site, antibiotic residues are below the detection limit, meaning that the wastewater has a high degree of purification.