Steps to industrial social responsibility

Jon Lawson

Bernard Daymon explains how industrial companies can take small steps to have a big social impact

Recent years have seen a rise in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

A growing number of companies across a range of sectors regularly fundraise or donate sums of money to charities, support social welfare causes or invest in fair trade.

In the past two decades, there has been a movement of companies working to change the way society perceives business.

Possibly as a result of the age-old stereotype of businesses as being profit-oriented and self-motivated, many business leaders feel they must invest in activity that not only reflects positively on them, but helps all stakeholders in the supply chain.

The way in which they do this is varied. For some, CSR encourages the procurement manager of an office to purchase only fair trade coffee for the kitchen.

Others, such as the Virgin group of companies, actively support a number of charities and even partner with initiatives to change their own services.

Virgin airlines, for example, has a partnership with the Carbonfund organisation to give passengers the option to offset the environmental impact of travel.

However, part of the challenge for industrial businesses is properly investing in CSR. It is commonly thought that CSR activity should be sizeable displays of social conscience, such as running plants solely on renewable energy sources to be as environmentally-friendly as possible. While this certainly raises awareness and may prompt others to follow, it's not the only way.

Industrial companies can make incremental changes to operate in a more socially responsible manner.

For example, many industrial applications will require maintenance engineers to be very hands-on with equipment and cleaning products. In order to effectively remove residue from their hands, they must use an exfoliating industrial handcleaner.

Unfortunately, many handcleaners deliver this exfoliation by using a high concentration of plastic microbeads. In some cases, there can be as many as 100,000 microbeads in a single application. Plastic microbeads are too small to be effectively filtered in wastewater plants and, as a result, they end up in our oceans.

It has not yet been determined how long it takes plastic microbeads to fully degrade when in the ocean, but when they do decompose they release harmful toxins that can poison marine animals and plants.

These toxins can even end up in our own food chain if a poisoned fish is caught, which has repeatedly been the case.

Of course, the release of toxins is a long-term effect of microbead usage. In the short-term, there have been multiple reports of fish being caught with whole microbeads present in their stomachs. This brings the implications of plastic microbead use direct to our plates.

Therefore, plant managers for industrial companies have a social responsibility to minimise this impact on the environment.

A small change like moving to a natural alternative to plastic microbeads, such as the sustainable olive stone pieces in products like NCH Europe’s HDHC Natural handcleaner, would provide a substantial benefit.

While more and more countries across Europe are slowly implementing bans on plastic microbeads, companies should make the change before any bans are enforced.

Switching hand cleaning products from plastic microbeads to safely biodegradable exfoliants is only a small change, but one that can be even more beneficial in the long-term than just a one-off donation to a social welfare charity.    

Bernard Daymon is president and CEO of global water, energy and maintenance solutions provider NCH Europe. 

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