Our business operations impact the environment, generating greenhouse gas emissions, wastewater and waste. In addition, we use materials that can adversely affect the environment if not handled properly. At all our production sites, we meet a strict set of environmental regulations and continually adapt our processes to new regulatory requirements. Due to the growing scarcity of natural resources, we strive to use energy, water and materials as efficiently as possible.
Our approach to environmental stewardship
Minimizing negative environmental impacts and taking meaningful climate action requires a holistic approach. We aim to closely monitor detrimental emissions into the air, water and soil and do our best to prevent them. Our production sites are located in established industrial and commercial zones. Before acquiring a company – and thus its sites – we first conduct an ecological risk assessment, taking into consideration information from publicly accessible sources such as neighbors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
How we structure our environmental stewardship practices
Executive Board member Belén Garijo is responsible for environmental stewardship, which also covers climate impact mitigation, water management, waste and recycling, biodiversity, and plant and process safety. Our Group Environment, Health, Safety, Security, Quality function (EQ) steers all the related efforts Group-wide. At our individual sites, each site director is responsible for environmental stewardship as well as occupational health and safety at the operational level. At larger facilities, the site directors receive support and advice from Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) managers, with EHS coordinators performing this role at smaller facilities. These local EHS organizations report to and work in close collaboration with EQ.
In 2019, our EHS organization comprised more than 200 EHS managers – supported at the local level by further staff members. All new EHS managers are required to complete EHStart-up!, a three-day training course at our global headquarters in Darmstadt (Germany) covering topics such as energy efficiency and climate action, wastewater, occupational health and safety, process safety, and our Rapid Incident Report System (RIRS). All EHS managers participate in regular e-learning courses and classroom seminars on new requirements and regulations.
EQ senior leadership regularly reports on environmental stewardship performance to the Executive Board. Every six months, EQ prepares a report on environment, health and safety for the Executive Board. Focusing on the progress made, the report also covers climate action, water management, waste and recycling, as well as plant and process safety. The Executive Board uses this brief as a source of information and as documentation to support ISO 14001 and BS OHSAS 18001 certification.
Our Executive Board is responsible for approving overarching Group-wide guidelines such as our Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Policy. Operational standards are approved by the head of EQ.
Within our business sectors, the Operations Leadership Committee (OLC) makes strategic decisions on emissions and energy, water and waste. The OLC consists of representatives from Healthcare, Life Science, Performance Materials, and our Group EQ function. Decisions made by the OLC and any resulting actions are implemented at the operational level within the respective business sector.
Whenever we design new sites or plants, we always involve EQ, which is responsible for reviewing the ecological aspects of a project and for advising our sites. Additionally, EQ performs detailed environmental impact assessments for large-scale projects.
Our Group EQ function (Environment, Health, Safety, Security, Quality)
- Develop and implement the Group EQ strategy
- Perform environmental and safety audits
- Conduct compliance audits
- Implement EQ management systems
- Conduct EQ improvement programs
- Provide advice and input on investments, process development and acquisitions
- Provide training
Responsibilities of local EHS units:
- Wastewater treatment
- Waste management
- Environmental analysis
- Plant safety
- Occupational health and safety
- Fire protection/risk prevention
- Approval procedures
Clearly defined incident reporting procedures
To review critical situations, near misses and environmental incidents as quickly as possible and take countermeasures, we have a set of reporting procedures in place that allow us to track the respective incident, its degree of severity and all risk mitigation efforts. We record all incidents Group-wide and report them to the Executive Board every six months.
In the event of major incidents, our digital Rapid Incident Report System (RIRS) promptly notifies the Executive Board as well as our Group EQ and Communications functions. Major incidents could include fatalities, accidents with multiple casualties, incidents that impact neighboring communities, or natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding. Through the RIRS, we can quickly coordinate with all those involved and immediately inform the impacted sites of the respective incident.
Integration of Versum Materials and Intermolecular
In the course of integrating Versum Materials and Intermolecular, two companies we acquired in 2019, we are reviewing their existing management structures, policies, standards, and processes for environmental stewardship and are implementing our internal Group-wide requirements if necessary. We are furthermore reviewing their current process for collecting environmental-related indicators and are working to harmonize methodologies and timelines. Starting in 2020, we will be incorporating the environmental indicators for Versum Materials and Intermolecular into our reporting.
Our commitment: Standards and standard operating procedures
Our approach to environmental stewardship is built on our Group Environment, Health and Safety Policy (EHS Policy), which has been approved by our Executive Board. Closely aligned with the requirements of the chemical industry's Responsible Care® Global Charter and the ISO 14001 environmental management standard, this policy underscores our leaders’ responsibility for environmental stewardship, health and safety. It is also aimed at our suppliers, encouraging them to likewise adopt higher standards of environmental sustainability and safety. Our EHS Policy thus complements the Responsible Sourcing Principles of our Group Procurement function.
Internal guidelines, standards and standard operating procedures define how we put the principles of our EHS policy into practice. For instance, the Merck Group EHS, Security and Quality Manual describes how we organize environmental stewardship and occupational safety Group-wide. In addition to this manual, we have also put in place a number of other internal environmental stewardship standards such as our Air Emissions Standard, Waste Management Standard, Sustainable Water Management Standards, and Energy Management Standard.
Potential EHS risks posed by acquisitions, divestments or site closures are assessed within the scope of due diligence, a process defined in our EHS Due Diligence and Post Merger Transaction Standard. When performing audits, new sites are given priority.
We regularly review our internal guidelines, standards and standard operating procedures. In 2019, we updated and introduced multiple standards and processes such as our Fire Protection standard, which provides our sites with a clear set of fire protection requirements. In 2019, we furthermore established a new Laboratory Safety standard.
Material investments in environmental impact mitigation
Efforts to diligently prevent and monitor air, water and soil emissions entail significant expense on our part, as does proper waste disposal. In addition, we have set up provisions for groundwater and soil remediation to ensure that we can execute all the necessary measures. As of December 31, 2019, our provisions for environmental impact mitigation totaled € 142.7 million, 93% of which was attributable to Merck KGaA.
Assessing environmental impacts and reporting violations
In general, we conduct risk-based assessments along with internal and external audits on all our production sites every three years with the goal of analyzing and minimizing our environmental footprint. Conducted by our Group EQ function, these assessments serve to ensure that our requirements are being met, with appropriate corrective measures being implemented as needed. In addition to audits, we also have grievance mechanisms in place to identify potential violations of our standards. In our Group EHS audits, we assess our sites’ performance on a five-tier scale: “excellent”, “good”, “satisfactory”, “poor”, and “critical”, which in turn determines how frequently an audit is conducted. If the findings are deemed to be good, we audit the facility less often, while significant violations can increase the frequency. In 2019, 93% of the 41 sites audited were rated as “good” or “satisfactory”; no site was rated “critical”.
Apart from using audits to identify issues, we also encourage employees to report potential breaches of our standards to our Compliance unit. In the 2019 period, we recorded no significant violations of environmental laws or regulations Group-wide.
ISO 14001:2015 Group certificate
Since 2009, our company has held a Group ISO 14001 certificate that mandates all production sites with more than 50 employees to implement an environmental management system with predefined indicators for factors such as greenhouse gas emissions and water use. Other facilities are not obligated to undergo certification. The annual internal audit reports and management reviews carried out under the Group certificate afford us a better overview of how all our sites are performing.
of our sites worldwide are currently covered by our ISO 14001 certificate.
Every year we contract a third party to perform a certification audit. In 2019, a sample of ten sites underwent an audit for our Group certificate, with all audited facilities passing the audit. Beyond undergoing external inspections, we also conduct internal audits to ensure Group-wide compliance with our requirements.
Discussing environmental issues
By participating in a variety of industry associations and federations, we engage in a discourse on overarching environmental issues, sharing best practices and lessons learned. Additionally, we contribute to the dialogue on plant and process safety in our capacity as a member of the European Process Safety Center and the Commission on Process Safety of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. Furthermore, we discuss topics of local relevance in meetings with members of the communities in the vicinity of our sites.
Biodiversity at our sites
Unsealed surfaces represent an important habitat for plants and animals. At our facilities, however, we are required to seal certain surfaces to minimize the risk of chemicals entering the ecosystem. Insofar as safety requirements permit, we seek to increase the proportion of unsealed surfaces.