Chemical-maker group starts 'green' campaign


As the Chemical Manufacturers Association launches a $10 million public awareness campaign aimed at showing how environmentally aware its members have become, the industry still is getting mixed reviews from a broad spectrum of green groups.

Some organizations, while adopting a wait-and-see attitude, say they hope the chemical industry can improve its environmental performance. Others, such as Greenpeace, say that CMA's environmental programs, showcased under the title "Responsible Care," are merely a public relations exercise to improve an image of an industry that makes "toxics."

Across the board, however, the main concern raised by environmental groups is that CMA's program, which includes reducing toxic emissions and promoting plant safety, is largely self-monitoring, allowing companies to report their own programs.

The National Audubon Society, for example, would prefer some sort of "public monitoring" of individual companies' environmental performance, said Graham Cox, vice president for public affairs.

"The greatest single weakness [of Responsible Care] is the reliance, at the present time,on a self-enforcing mechanism," said Don Lesh, president of the Global Tomorrow Coalition, who served on CMA's 15-member advisory panel for Responsible Care. "The panel made that very clear, and CMA is looking into other modes of administering [monitoring]."

Mr. Lesh, whose coalition includes about 100 environmental and social groups, said that "time will tell" whether the chemical industry is successful in reaching its environmental goals. "But something positive is going on," he added.

Responsible Care is the heart of CMA's environmental program, which is being promoted in a $6 million advertising campaign that began this month. The project, which began in late 1988, includes pollution prevention, safe chemical processing and distribution, greater community awareness and emergency response.

The environmental tenets of Responsible Care are being adopted as requirements for membership in the 185-member group, said Jon Holtzman, CMA vice president for communications.

The advisory panel, which spent two years reviewing CMA's environmental program, had suggested that the industry group make a public commitment to improve its environmental performance -- then report progress as it is made.

"They [the panelists] want us out there in front of the public so we can't back off," Mr. Holtzman said. "Once we say publicly that we will do something, we can't back off."

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