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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D
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Classical Guitar:
"The Other Profession
"

 

 

 

A Valedictory Message from the
American Chemistry Council
Public Advisory Panel

July 23, 2001


SUMMARY

The American Chemistry Council has disbanded the Public Advisory Panel as part of restructuring its public dialogue process at the national level. The Council has indicated that a new advisory body is being recruited to interact directly with ACC president and CEO Fred Webber. The outgoing Panel is pleased that some of its suggestions have found their way into industry policies and practice. However, say Panel members, in recent years the Council provided selected information to the group, but did not effectively seek out or utilize Panel insights and feedback on important changes. If the new body is not made an important and integral part of Council decision-making, they say, the chemical industry will not gain public confidence. The Panel urges the Council to move from "justification of previous action" to acknowledgment of present challenges and the need for public help to meet those challenges.


Contents:

  • Introduction and Panel History

  • Critical Next Steps for the Chemical Industry

  • To Future Advisors to ACC and its Members

  • ACC Public Advisory Panel (1989-2001)


Introduction and Panel History

While disappointed with the decision of the American Chemistry Council to disband our group, the Public Advisory Panel understands that the concept and practice of Responsible Care® evolves and the Council's perception of priorities can change. We acknowledge the Council's prerogative to acquire information from whatever sources it judges to be appropriate, but we also note the Council's responsibility to look to sources that are unbiased, informed and scientifically sound. Our main concern at this point, however, is that the integrity of Responsible Care be maintained through whatever structural changes the Council carries out. Responsible Care captured our imaginations when we first joined the Panel, and we continue to see it as the best hope for a chemical industry that could truly contribute to a sustainable future. That is why we will continue to be engaged as individuals in chemical industry issues, and why we take this opportunity to review the history of our involvement in Responsible Care and offer some advice for the future. 

The Public Advisory Panel has been involved in Responsible Care since the chemical industry first committed itself to the initiative in 1989. In particular, the Panel has played a role in:

  • Shaping the Codes of Management Practices

  • Advising the chemical industry on code implementation

  • Convincing the industry of the need to take the first step in external evaluation by instituting Management Systems Verification (MSV)

  • Offering suggestions for meaningful performance measurement and evaluation 

  • Encouraging the development of community advisory panels (CAPs) and programs to assist CAPs in learning from each other

  • Pressing the industry association on the need to ensure congruency between industry advocacy and Responsible Care


Since it was first brought together in 1989, the Panel has met over 49 weekends. In all, the Panel as a whole has invested an estimated 10,000 person hours in Responsible Care, including meetings, site visits and travel. Over its 12-year history, a total of 33 individuals have served on the panel. Panel members have offered advice on all topics that have been brought to the table for discussion, and have themselves initiated a number of agenda items. In addition, individual Panel members have made presentations to industry audiences and to community groups on aspects of Responsible Care.

A particular delight has been those interactions with community advisory panels and groups of CAPs in a variety of the communities visited over the years. It remains the Panel's view that those dialogues between sites and their neighbors are the backbone of Responsible Care, and represent a most powerful potential mechanism for addressing current and future issues. Panel members have been involved in all three "Building Communities Together" conferences. We see this type of mechanism as a vital means of supporting, developing and sustaining community dialogue to its fullest potential. 

Early in the evolution of Responsible Care, the Panel began the tradition of creating an annual message to the chemical industry. In its 1993 message, the Panel captured the essence of a complex initiative by formulating the Four Building Blocks of Responsible Care:

Cultural Change                 External Evaluation

Public Involvement             Responsible Advocacy

In subsequent messages, the Panel often returned to the Building Blocks to clarify the meaning of their comments and to indicate relative successes and failures. Each of these four Building Blocks remains vital to the success of the industry into the longer term. 

The mandate of the Panel has reflected the breadth of Responsible Care, and the bulk of the Panel's work has been focused on that initiative. Indeed, it is hard for Panel members to contemplate what it is that the industry does that is beyond the scope of Responsible Care. For this reason, the Panel has significant concerns about the Good Chemistry campaign inaugurated last summer. We have no quarrel with the Council's efforts to raise public awareness of the industry's research activities, the benefits of chemistry and Responsible Care. But we are profoundly concerned that relegating Responsible Care to a subset of the Good Chemistry effort will detract from the goal of imbuing the industry's research policies, advocacy, communications and day-to-day business with the ethic of Responsible Care. We had always conceived of Responsible Care as the overarching ethic under which all other programs and activities take place. The rationale for the Council's reconceptualization of the status of Responsible Care is not clear to us. 

Our experience indicates that, after 12 years of Panel operation, the ACC has still not recognized the need for the Panel and the public in general to become an integral and important part of Council functioning, necessary for the industry's ability to gain and maintain public confidence. We wonder if the proposed new structure of public advice – and the broader changes represented by the Good Chemistry Campaign – are any more than a reorganization under an old way of thinking. We see the need to move to a new way of thinking – informed by the concept of sustainability. 


Critical Next Steps for the Chemical Industry

In recent years the Council has recognized the need for the chemical industry to integrate Responsible Care into the broader goals of sustainable development. The sustainability challenge involves nothing less than a new way of thinking, a paradigm shift from a narrow defense of industry interests to an integration of industry goals with those of the broader society. Full participation of the public with industry in all aspects of this process is necessary for its success. We also see the following as critical next steps on the path to a new way of thinking: 

  • Understand sustainability. The industry needs to recognize that its viability is bound up with the sustainability of the communities and environments in which it operates. It needs to develop a clear understanding of ecological sustainability and conform its goals and operations accordingly.

  • Think ecologically. The industry needs to acknowledge that economics are a subset of ecology and dedicate significant resources to working within, rather than against or in spite of, requirements for healthy local, regional and global biosystems. Understanding and preventing adverse effects of multiple chemicals on whole ecosystems, for instance, is a necessary part of systemic thinking to build a healthy and sustainable planet. Occupational and community health are important aspects of healthy ecosystems. 

  • Think globally. The Panel notes with disappointment the failure of the Council to respond appropriately to the prospect of global climate change, brought about by the release of "greenhouse gases" into the atmosphere. In view of the overwhelming scientific validation of this grave threat to the global environment and to the welfare of future generations, the Panel urges the Council to reconsider its policy and to join the coordinated efforts of governments, non-governmental organizations and the scientific community to counteract this global threat. 

  • Think holistically. ACC member companies are getting more efficient, i.e. they are improving the numbers in terms of negative environmental impacts, but much more dramatic changes could be achieved through holistic approaches, e.g. closed-loop systems and industrial metabolism.

  • Think service rather than product. Instead of selling dangerous chemicals that require a major stewardship effort, consider ways to sell the service provided by the chemical to the customer, and take steps to systematically reflect the reality that the industry is in a service relationship to communities and society at large.

  • Think outside the box. The industry is committed to building on current technologies to solve the problems it perceives. Look for opportunities to develop new technologies based on natural models (biomimicry), ecological economics, etc. 

  • Standardize public reporting. The Panel has persistently urged standardized public reporting from member companies. We are pleased to note that the Council has proposed new performance measures in the areas of energy, greenhouse gas emissions, water, volatile organic compounds, contractor safety and hazardous waste. The Global Reporting Initiative has developed quantification methods for each of these measures that would provide an excellent basis on which to begin standardized sustainability reporting. 

  • Involve workers at the national and international levels. Workers and their unions have been involved in safety and health committees, MSVs, and advisory panels at the plant level of many ACC member companies. However, it is now clear that the Council does not see workers and workers' representatives as partners at the national or global levels. The new advisory process should include a significant role for chemical industry workers and unions. In addition, the Council should reconsider its decision not to endorse a global agreement on Responsible Care between the International Council of Chemical Associations and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers Unions. 

  • Acknowledge past misdeeds and present challenges. In its messages to the public, the Council has emphasized how well it has done in Responsible Care and how important the chemical industry is. This is not enough to achieve public confidence and ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry. The Council needs to admit and take responsibility for past misdeeds and take effective steps to correct not just public perceptions but the underlying beliefs and attitudes within the corporate culture which allow (and often seem to make inevitable) such problems. The Council needs to address openly the challenges it faces, such as those of biotechnology, acknowledge it needs public help and transparently and actively seek that help. 

If the new advisory group is to be credible, the Council will need to involve non-industry parties in the member-selection process. 


To Future Advisors to ACC and its Members

The following comments are offered from the "old" Panel to those who will give public advice to the Council or its member companies in the future. We believe the Council and the chemical industry need effective critics at all levels in their processes who will: 


Demand processes that allow for genuine input…

  • Be a full partner with the Council in setting the agenda and identifying issues. Emphasize the need for the Council to recognize that the "right answers" are without meaning if the advisory process lacks the input needed to develop the right questions. 

  • Insist on the opportunity for early input into projects and policy development. There is little point in commenting on a process after the Council has been essentially committed to a certain direction. 

  • Identify areas that need attention and offer appropriate work the advisory body can do. Add relevant stakeholders as issues develop.

  • Insist on meeting frequently enough to allow effective input into the work of Council committees. 

  • Insist that all of the activities of the Council, including advocacy activities, are transparent and receptive to the influence of stakeholder advisors. 


Be independent…

  • Treasure your independence (as we have done). Anything less makes you less valuable to the Council and the public interest. 

  • Insist that third party facilitation, an essential component of the advisory process, be provided. 


Reflect diversity…

  • Remind the Council that maintaining the diversity of its advisors is the key to ensuring that a broad range of perspectives and concerns are included in the dialogue process. It is crucial that there be some reflection of the ethnic, cultural and economic diversity of the population among the stakeholder advisors to the Council. Just as importantly, Council advisors must include more skeptics and critics than boosters, more people active in communities than leaders from the bastions of power in our society. 


Be advocates for Responsible Care…

  • Be on the alert for further downgrading of the influence of Responsible Care as the Good Chemistry campaign proceeds, and as the chemical industry develops initiatives in biotechnology or other new areas.

  • Pay particular attention to making industry advocacy consistent with Responsible Care at the national, state and local levels; our experience has been that it has too often been at odds with the ethic.

  • Challenge the Council and its members to explore new ways of thinking. 


Get into the communications loop…

  • Insist on regular communications from the Council between meetings and confirmation of agendas reasonably in advance of meetings. 

  • Consider ways of encouraging communication between different advisory processes. 

  • Ensure that industry spokespeople are not the only source of information on industry activity; invite NGO representatives and other external sources to share their knowledge and perspectives at meetings.

  • Have direct communication with company decision-makers, plant management and employees. 


In closing, we want to recognize the vision of those involved in initiating Responsible Care and the immense effort undertaken by so many at all levels in the industry to entrench the ethic. In particular, we note former CMA chairmen and other industry leaders who deliberately sought out the Panel's viewpoints on topics they considered important. 

There must be a commitment of the current and future industry leadership to broaden and renew the intensity of the Responsible Care effort. Anything less would be a failure.

As involved citizens, we will continue to follow the progress of Responsible Care with keen interest. 

The Public Advisory Panel

For further information contact: 
John Vincett
Principal, PDA (Public Dialogue Alternatives)
Tel: 416-961-4006 (If busy: 416-961-0303 ext. 307)
e-mail:
jvincett@pdapartners.com


ACC Public Advisory Panel (1989-2001)


Over its 12-year history, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) Public Advisory Panel drew from different constituencies and different parts of the country a total of 33 Americans actively involved in a range of public issues. Approximately 15 individuals served on the Panel at any one time. The Panel provided independent advice to the industry on the development and implementation of Responsible Care®, and helped to broaden the Council's understanding of public concerns surrounding the use of chemicals in our society. 

The Panel met three to four times a year, alternating between Washington, DC and other cities. Meetings often included tours of local chemical industry sites and interaction with local community representatives. Each meeting took place on a weekend and involved a total of 8-10 hours of discussion. Panel members reviewed briefing material in advance of meetings to give them an opportunity to consolidate their thoughts on an agenda subject prior to discussion. Panelists were not paid for their participation.

In addition to their regular meetings, Panel members participated as individual presenters at industry workshops and meetings across the country, acting as resource persons for the Council.


Pat Breysse, Maryland
Environmental Health Scientist with a research interest in general environmental health as well as workplace health and safety. Currently a Professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, where he directs the Industrial Hygiene Graduate Training Program, is Director of the Center for Information Technology and Health Research, and is Deputy Director of the Center for Childhood Asthma in the Urban Environment. 


Chuck Cubbage, Michigan
Environmental advocate and private consultant. Recently retired Science Advisor, Office of Agricultural Development, Michigan Department of Agriculture. Maintains strong State and federal agency ties relating to sustainable development. Involved in the development of Michigan Water Quality Trading Rules, a market based watershed improvement effort. Pioneered Michigan soil contaminant air stripping techniques and initiated Michigan's first agricultural pesticide collection in 1988. 


Brenda Cude, Georgia
Professor in Department of Housing and Consumer Economics, University of Georgia. Leading consumer educator. Designed and delivered nationally recognized consumer environmental education program. Has represented consumers at FTC hearings on environmental marketing claims, on the former DowBrands environmental advisory panel and other bodies.


Phyllis R. Elston, New Jersey
Former environmental consultant, grassroots lobbyist, mayor, Director of Community Outreach for NJ Assembly Speaker, Director of Community & Legislative Affairs for New Jersey's public transit agency, and Chief of Staff for NJ Assembly representative. Currently works as an independent consultant in the fields of community relations and government affairs. 


Elaine Giessel, Kansas
Ecologist, environmental consultant and community advocate in the Kansas City metro area. Member, Bayer Corporation Community Advisory Panel. As an activist in Sierra Club and League of Women Voters, has worked in emergency response planning and served on many citizen advisory panels to government and industry, primarily in south Texas.


Michael Gregory, Arizona
Director, Arizona Toxics Information. Involved in advocacy for reductions in toxics exposure throughout materials' life cycles, with particular focus on international policy issues related to right to know, pollution prevention and sustainable development.


Edith Heller, Tennessee
State Coordinator, Keep Tennessee Beautiful, University of Memphis. State director and trainer in volunteer management, community partnership structure and public education. Established local and state Keep America Beautiful chapters and lectures nationally on integrated waste management solutions.


Sarah Meginness, Massachusetts
Project Manager, Healthy Cities Initiative, Boston Public Health Commission. Majored in International Relations and Environmental Studies at Tufts University. Past experience includes work with Ozone Action, a Washington, DC-based non-profit organization dedicated to the global warming issue, and with U.S. EPA Region 1 on their Superfund Community Involvement Team. 


Pamela L. Nixon, West Virginia
West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection (WV-DEP) Environmental Advocate. Member, Kanawha Putnam Emergency Planning Committee. Was instrumental in the chemical industry releasing the Worst Case Accident Scenarios in the Kanawha Valley, West Virginia.


Juan Parras, Texas 
Community organizer at environmental justice clinic, Texas Southern University Law School. Worked for an international organization for labor unions for 15 years. 


Ernest Partridge, California 
Research Philosopher at the University of California, Riverside. Consultant, lecturer and writer in the fields of moral philosophy and environmental ethics, with a specialty in the issue of the responsibility to future generations. Active in environmental and scholarly fora in North America, Europe and Russia.


Ellie Skokan, Kansas
On teaching staff of Department of Biological Sciences, Wichita State University. Community activist and university educator. Member, Vulcan Community Involvement Group, Wichita.


Andy Smith, Pennsylvania 
President, Earth Ethics, an independent consulting firm specializing in sustainability. Former Director, Social and Ethical Responsibility in Investments, American Baptist Churches, USA. Active for many years in CERES and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. 


Ross Vincent, Colorado
Environmental consultant and chemical engineer. Long-time environmental activist. Currently chairs the committee responsible for coordinating the Sierra Club's pollution-related issues work at the national level. Chair, Environment Section, American Public Health Association (1997).


Bios updated July 23, 2001

 


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .