With water scarcity affecting more and more regions worldwide, sustainable water management is a key focus of our environmental stewardship. After all, we too depend on the availability of water. However, our wastewater may contain traces of substances such as heavy metals or active pharmaceutical ingredients. Our water management practices comply with all applicable water protection laws, which are becoming increasingly stringent.
Our approach to sustainable water management
To us, sustainable water management means not negatively impacting the aquatic ecosystems from which we obtain freshwater, or into which we discharge treated wastewater.
To promote sustainable, efficient water management practices, we use an assessment tool from the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) to evaluate the water management systems across our facilities. Based on this assessment, our sites draw up an action plan and implement it step by step.
Besides evaluating our approach to water stewardship, we have also set the goal of reducing our water use at sites in water stressed areas by 10% by 2020, relative to the 2014 baseline. To this end, we are systematically analyzing our water use 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 These help us determine whether a site is located in a water-stressed area, which occurs when the water withdrawn exceeds the amount of water renewed.
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 also 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 a greater potential for impacting local aquatic ecosystems.
How we organize our water management
Our Group Environment, Health, Safety, Security, Quality (EQ) function (see also “Environmental stewardship”) bears overall responsibility for water management. At our sites, engineers work in close collaboration with our EHS managers to conserve water and treat wastewater.
Integration of Versum Materials and Intermolecular
In the course of integrating Versum Materials and Intermolecular, we are reviewing their existing management structures, policies, standards, and processes for water management, and implementing our internal Group-wide principles if necessary. We are furthermore reviewing their current process for collecting water and wastewater-related indicators and are working to harmonize methodologies and timelines. Starting in 2020, we will incorporate the water and wastewater indicators for Versum Materials and Intermolecular into our reporting.
Our commitment: Standards and procedures
Our Group-wide “Sustainable Water Management Part 1 – Wastewater” and “Sustainable Water Management Part 2 – Water use and stormwater protection” standards detail the way we integrate modern mechanisms of sustainable water management into our management system. Both are based on the commitments we made under the global Responsible Care® initiative. Our “Wastewater” standard provides us with a method of assessing our wastewater discharge into the ecosystem, while “Water use and stormwater protection” sets out Group-wide requirements for the responsible use of water as a resource. In addition, it establishes a way for us to manage the risks that arise from direct or indirect water abstraction and also covers risks such as contaminated rainwater and flooding. We perform internal audits to verify that our sites comply with these standards. They are all required to measure and assess the risks and impacts of the hazardous substances in their wastewater and to analyze water withdrawal and rainwater risks.
In addition to these efforts, we are constantly optimizing our production and treatment processes to minimize, for instance, the amount of active pharmaceutical ingredient residues in our wastewater. Furthermore, all our pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities have wastewater treatment plants and regularly assess the composition of their wastewater.
Water withdrawn from our own sources
For the most part, we draw our process water from our own wells and source drinking water from local suppliers. In no instances do we 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.
1) The figures exclude Versum Materials since the integration process is still underway. More information can be found under Report profile.
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 for cooling in a once-through system. For certain applications, we treat production wastewater and reuse it. In 2019, we recycled a total of 23.3 million cubic meters of water.
We make use of the Self-Assessment of the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), which was initially utilized to survey our sites’ water management practices. We continuously analyze the environmental impacts from our discharged water, and, as needed, take site-specific steps to address potential issues.
Curbing water use
We seek to minimize our impact on the water situation in the vicinity of our sites. In 2019, we consumed 14 million cubic meters of water in total, with 784,661 cubic meters originating in water-stressed areas. This figure includes our manufacturing sites in Mexico City (Mexico), Mollet del Vallès (Spain), Kankakee (Illinois, USA), Norwood (Ohio, United States), Savannah (Georgia, United States), Hsinchu and Taoyuan (both in Taiwan). These seven sites must both transparently report their water use and identify the process steps that require a particularly high volume of water. Building on this information, we draw up action plans to help our individual facilities lower their water consumption. We aim to achieve a 10% reduction in annual water use in water-stressed regions by 2020 (2014 baseline). By the end of 2019, the respective sites had curbed their water use by approximately 21% versus 2014. The sharp increase over the previous year (2018: 11%) was partly due to production declines at our site in Savannah (Georgia, United States).
Assessing our water management practices
In addition to reporting on our climate action efforts, we also report water-related data to the CDP (formerly known as 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 2019, we were awarded a “B” for our water management (2018: B-).
In 2019, we generated 13.2 million cubic meters of wastewater. This consisted of around 9.3 million cubic meters of freshwater, which was directly discharged into surface waters, and 3.9 million cubic meters of other water, which was treated at external treatment plants or disposed of in an ecologically sustainable manner. Approximately 50% of our total wastewater was discharged by three sites. Our Gernsheim site in Germany discharges its treated wastewater into the Rhine River and our Onahama facility in Japan into the Pacific Ocean. The wastewater generated by our Darmstadt (Germany) site is purified in our treatment plants before being discharged into Schwarzbach/Ried creek, a tributary of the Rhine River. The volume of treated wastewater we discharge represents approximately 4% of the average water volume of the Schwarzbach/Ried creek. At the end of 2019, we were issued a new discharge permit for the period from 2020 to 2034; we meet all the requirements stipulated by the permit. We constantly invest resources in our various sites to meet the increasingly stringent quality standards set forth by law, and consistently coordinate our efforts with the respective authorities.
Wastewater continuously monitored
Our two sustainable water management standards also cover the topic of wastewater. Our individual sites are responsible for assessing their wastewater management practices and identifying the areas that need improvement. They must also comply with the respective requirements imposed by local authorities. An expert has been appointed for each of our business sectors to provide guidance for our sites.
Antibiotic residues in wastewater
We process antibiotic active ingredients in small quantities. 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. The results confirmed the efficacy of our water treatment procedures: across the board, antibiotic residues were minimal and fell below local detection thresholds.