By Mindy Costello

The federal government procurement program has developed stricter guidelines of what constitutes sustainable or environmentally preferable products. Using sustainability standards to meet these guidelines increases the likelihood of gaining governmental contracts. In the water industry specifically, interest in more sustainable and environmentally preferable products is also advancing. Municipalities, in attempts to earn grants, have to show sustainable products as part of their proposal. This of course includes water treatment chemicals.

NSF International’s National Center for Sustainability Standards worked with stakeholders from municipalities, water treatment chemical manufacturers, trade associations, consultants, certification bodies, academia and other governmental agencies to develop a sustainability assessment standard for the water treatment chemical industry: NSF 416 Sustainability Assessment for Water Treatment Chemical Product Manufacturing Processes. Sustainability assessments provide manufacturers a pathway to gauge their current status, as well as criteria to include in their future state of sustainability practices. These assessments are meant to be third-party certified and are expected to be recognized by municipalities, federal, state and local governmental agencies and consumers as defining sustainably produced products within water treatment chemicals. The standard certifies that the manufacturing processes and corporate practices are more sustainable for a chemical product; not that the chemical product itself is classified as greener.

Five key categories
In NSF 416, manufacturers meet prerequisites and then choose optional credits to earn points toward achievement levels. The credits cover criteria across product manufacturing from a life-cycle approach (including raw material extraction) through manufacturing, use and end of life. The five categories are:

  1. Chemical product manufacturing process design. Criteria in this section are intended to encourage the understanding of environmental impacts of chemical products by the product designers and developers.
  2. Chemical product manufacturing process. Criteria are intended to encourage manufacturers to quantify the environmental impacts from their chemical product manufacturing and then act to reduce or remove those impacts.
  3. Chemical product efficacy. The chemical product performs at or above recognized industry performance standards, in order to ensure that the incorporation of positive environmental attributes has not been undermined by lower-quality performance.
  4. Chemical product end-of-life management. The intent of the criteria in this section is to ensure that existing and new products can be collected and reprocessed within the established materials recycling infrastructure. Packaging is also included in the end-of-life consideration.
  5. Corporate governance. Criteria are intended to encourage corporate social responsibility, such as providing a desirable workplace, being involved in the local community and demonstrating financial health. Also, criteria in this section demonstrate corporate/organizational leadership in public disclosure and transparency of key environmental and social accountability objectives and data.

Water treatment chemical design for lower impacts

Prerequisites
In order to obtain a minimum level of achievement, all prerequisites must be met. This provides a baseline for all water treatment chemicals for their respective sustainability profiles. Once a company has decided to become more sustainable, it typically looks at energy and recycling of office supplies. This is a great starting point; however, to understand how much of something is being used, an inventory must be created.

Water treatment chemical storage reuse

The prerequisites address water, energy, greenhouse gases and waste inventories as entry-level criteria for this assessment. For example, company ABC has an inventory of its energy and realizes it has been doing a great job at turning off lights and installing auto-shutoff switches; both have been saving energy over the last year. When it looks at its water inventory during production, however, there is a large amount of water being sent to waste. From a sustainability perspective, company ABC ponders what options are available to better manage water use. This is where the NSF 416 standard can help identify options. In the sustainability assessment, credits advance from initial water inventory to water quantity ration measurement and water quality discharge management. Both options provide a method for management of on-site water without discharge, leading the company to more sustainable practices in its manufacturing by limiting the number of resources utilized during processing.

Waste analysis
Another example is in the waste section. Typically, companies recycle as part of their office operations, which is essential for getting started with sustainability. The question then becomes: “How can a water treatment chemical manufacturer optimize material resources both in the office and in manufacturing?” To begin, company ABC needs an inventory of its waste, both hazardous and non-hazardous, to calculate its annual waste generation rate. The next step is to analyze the inventory and determine the most cost effective place to begin to minimize or eliminate waste through more effective material efficiency in production, reuse or recycling.

Storage and transportation
A big part of water treatment chemical management involves the containers used for storage and transport. For some chemicals, there are no alternative methods for packaging due to volatility or reaction potential, for example. In this case, the drum, disposable tote or bulk container may be tracked by the manufacturer and returned or reused onsite for the same chemical. This promotes reduction in waste, as well as reduced packaging manufacture.

Corporate social responsibility
Being a socially responsible corporation is an important aspect of sustainability. In the water treatment chemical industry, there are several methods of tracking social accountability, including:

  • Responsible Care® 14001
  • Responsible Care® Management System
  • ISO 14001 environmental management systems registration
  • National Association of Chemical Distributors Responsible Distribution®

About the author
Mindy Costello, Standards Development Liaison for NSF International’s National Center for Sustainability Standards is the Secretariat for the consensus body overseeing the development of NSF 416 Sustainability Assessment for Water Treatment Chemical Manufacture. Her projects include resilient flooring, business furniture, dimension stone, carpet, water sustain- ability (products/chemicals, plastics, recreational water facilities wastewater and greener chemicals) in the creation of standards and protocols, business development and meeting facilitation. Prior to joining NSF, Costello worked in public health as a sanitarian. She earned a BS in environmental science from the Lyman Briggs School at Michigan State University, is pursuing a Master of Science Degree in management sustainability and is a registered sanitarian through the State of Michigan. For more information on this standard, please contact her at mcostello@nsf.org.

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