Umicore, which has been part of the ChemScore ranking since 2020, has maintained a relatively stable performance over the past four years, this year resulting in a C- grade with 13 points. Umicore’s portfolio contains 30 SIN List substances but no persistent chemicals. However, it’s important to note that only 57 per cent of the company’s sold production is registered in the EU/US markets, which affects transparency.
The company stands out with its systematic approach to hazard assessment for low-volume chemicals, utilizing an internally defined hierarchy of data sources, which ranges from in-house data to publicly available information. Umicore states its intentions for chemical substitutions but lacks clear-cut criteria for harmful substances in new products. Umicore actively markets products and services that offer specific sustainability benefits and advertises safer alternatives on ChemSec’s Marketplace. The company is committed to developing alternatives for fossil-based chemistry, for example with the use of tall oil fatty acid.
Opportunities for improvement
- Reduce hazardous portfolio
Scientists agree that chemical pollution has crossed a planetary boundary and become an urgent global crisis, threatening both ecosystems and human health. Since Umicore has 30 hazardous chemicals in its product portfolio, a key improvement point for the company is to reduce this number. Umicore should therefore identify all uses, as well as publish the share of revenue and production volume of hazardous chemicals (or products that contain them).It should also publish a reduction road map of each hazardous chemical together with an annual progression report. Ideally, the company should commit to having a toxic-free product portfolio within the next decade. If the company decides to continue producing a hazardous substance, it needs to present a rationale for its essential use and prove that no feasible alternatives are available at present. In such a case, the company should also state the share of the R&D budget spent on finding a safer alternative for that particular substance.
- Prevent further controversies
Over the last five years, Umicore has been involved in incidents leading to fatalities and should re-design or dramatically improve its Environment, Health and Safety strategy. This would help the company to better avoid incidents and make sure that controls – functioning even when human errors occur – are in place. If an accident or spill should happen, it is important that Umicore identifies the cause and publishes a document on strategies that will be implemented to avoid similar occurrences in the future. It is possible to prevent human suffering and environmental pollution when producing chemicals, but it requires a thorough Environment, Health and Safety system.
- Enhance transparency and circular commitment
Umicore has room for improvement by enhancing transparency regarding the absence of hazardous chemicals in recycled metals. Clear and public statements in this regard would increase confidence in its recycling practices. Additionally, the company should develop clear circular targets and key performance indicators (KPIs) and provide annual reports on the progress made toward achieving these targets. These steps would not only enhance Umicore’s environmental performance but also bolster its commitment to circularity and sustainability.