As the regulatory landscape of the chemical industry continues to evolve, regulators face new challenges and continue to learn from existing ones. How can manufacturers in this space make sure to stay ahead of these hurdles to optimise their regulatory process?
We interviewed members of the Cornelius regulatory team: Simon Moran, Group Head of Quality and Regulatory (Q&R), and Danielle O’Connor, Group Regulatory Specialist, to get an insight into the world of chemical industry Q&R, exploring the far-reaching impact of key geopolitical events, and the sustainability strategies that are now a necessity in the sector.
Q&R: the new strategic partner?
With 94% of regulatory professionals stating that their teams have become more of a strategic partner within their organisation , it is clear that there has been a change in focus on Q&R in recent years. Less than 5 years ago, there were still regulatory aspects that were hidden in a business. The regulatory process was a tick-box exercise with very little exposure. Now, consumers want increased transparency of an organisation’s Q&R evaluations, they want to be informed about what is going into the products they purchase – a sentiment only growing in a world where information is so accessible. To meet this demand for information, commercial teams are building stronger, more strategic partnerships with their associated regulatory teams. Which allows them to join and support Q&R teams throughout the process.
Exposure to Q&R in the performance chemicals industry has also heightened, with louder conversations surrounding the implementation of key legislations in sectors such as cosmetics, which have the main objective of protecting the consumer and environment. The importance of Q&R to this legislation is suddenly being recognised and as a result, regulatory groups have been given a better platform in the industry.
The impact and influence of Covid-19
Covid-19 has been a huge part of the geopolitical landscape in recent years and has had an undeniable effect on our current manufacturing processes by changing the pace of vaccine regulatory processes, as well as causing supply chain challenges during its height. However, Covid-19’s impact has been more far-reaching than is often thought. By building obstacles in the usual supply chain process, companies have been forced to adapt and prioritise. With a common goal and universal struggles, the chemical industry saw companies begin to band together into a close-knit network to collectively overcome the challenges they were facing. This overwhelming increase in communication and cooperation has inevitably brought greater transparency to the sector, with a plethora of support and information suddenly being available. The well-established secrecy between competitors has diminished.
Furthermore, when the pandemic sent many into lockdown, new forms of communication became necessary. Covid-19 has been a huge driver in the shift to digitalisation. This has allowed Q&R teams to liaise more effectively with suppliers, as well as departments in their own company, improving business relationships and internal strategies. Overall, the increased communication that the pandemic prompted has seen the chemical industry benefit from faster development and improved transparency.
The disadvantages (and surprising benefits) of Brexit
Another geopolitical shift that has left its mark on current Q&R strategies is Brexit. It is estimated that the European market accounts for 57% of the UK chemical industry’s £31.4 billion worth of exports . It is therefore unsurprising that the recent divergence between the UK and the EU has created barriers in the chemical industry – an issue that was largely underestimated by the UK government. Businesses are now expected to provide a different product for the UK shelves vs the EU markets, adding a strain to regulatory teams. These challenges mostly stem from the overwhelming amount of legislation that constantly drifts through approval. The ever-changing regulations in the sector, and the lack of clarity surrounding them, can leave many businesses at a disadvantage. Unable to keep up with new laws, organisations struggle to plan ahead and implement effective financial planning, jeopardising their security in the industry. Furthermore, Q&R teams have faced difficulty in accessing the data required to continue and streamline the regulatory processes. Without a clear plan on the method and cost of this data transfer, regulatory teams are left in the dark.
Chemical distributors and manufacturers have also been affected by disrupted supply chains. In the distribution sector, organisations are facing increased legislative obligations since Brexit as they are now deemed an importer sourcing from the EU. Consequently, distributors have had to implement REACH volume management/tracking systems. Additionally, distributors rely heavily on suppliers for regulatory information and therefore delays are common. Although manufacturers have also felt the impact of Brexit from a supply chain perspective, they often have more control over their regulatory processes as information is largely sourced in-house.
Nevertheless, similar to the lasting impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit has initiated conversations amongst industry networks. To overcome challenges, regulatory teams have built a strong network of communication, and have successfully lobbied for the UK government to understand the problems Brexit has created for regulators. Now the government is undergoing consultation to help the chemical industry tackle the supply and data issues.
Ultimately, by sharing knowledge with trade associations and a network of chemical manufacturers, as well as building efficient internal platforms to communicate between regulatory teams and other departments, knowledge can be centralised. It is this that allows chemical manufacturers to remain compliant in the midst of political and regulatory change.
Putting sustainability on the agenda
Implementing sustainable practices in the chemical industry has gone beyond a luxury offering by companies and is now almost an obligatory requirement that customers search for. With legislation such as the EU Green Deal, focusing on the decarbonisation of industry and circular products, sustainability is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Organisations are implementing sustainable strategies by hiring specific environmental teams to ensure a greener process that is compliant with new legislation, as well as developing products designed to fit the eco quota. An example of this is Cornelius’ Cor-Sil Avance product, which utilises less energy and water than equivalent water-in-silicone formulations.
Many companies are approaching the sustainability agenda by breaking down their carbon footprint and focusing on what they can control, such as employing solar panels/renewable energy into their processes. Having an open dialogue with employees and competitors is also crucial. By involving staff and encouraging a culture that challenges the status quo, companies can embed sustainability into their business model rather than just treat it as a tick-box exercise. Companies are also drawing upon methods applied by others in the industry and encouraging competitors to join the shift towards sustainability. Reflecting advocacy for this overall mission, Cornelius – along with many other chemical manufacturers – is an active member of the UN Global Compact. The UNGC is a pact which encourages businesses and firms worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, while also reporting on their implementation.
It must be recognised that achieving a successful sustainable strategy in balance with the business’s goals requires significant input from Q&R teams as they are often the drivers behind the action.
The future of Q&R in the chemical industry
We have already seen lots of change in recent years across the chemical industry, with more sustainable options emerging, and alternative testing methods and sources becoming mainstream. However, what can we expect from the future of Q&R in an ever-changing landscape? The recently introduced plastic tax has highlighted the need for chemical manufacturers to start preparing for further legislative alterations. Whether it is environmental permitting regulations, restrictions surrounding forever chemicals, or the upcoming Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme that is due to come into effect in 2024.
Already, the industry has become more robust to these changes. Since Brexit and Covid-19, companies have implemented dedicated teams and networks to help them adapt. Nevertheless, there are further steps that Q&R teams can take when preparing to be more resilient to novel challenges. Implementing futureproof Q&R strategies that foresee changes and being more transparent and vocal about Q&R approaches ensures that chemical manufacturers really are staying ahead of the curve.
 Chemical Industry Journal (Accessed 2022) 2021 Regulatory Trends Report: 6 Key Takeaways. https://www.chemicalindustryjournal.co.uk/2021-regulatory-trends-report-6-key-takeaways
 UK Parliament (Accessed 2022) UK Chemical Industry: Regulatory Divergence. https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-02-26/debates/3C1BA50E-679C-4FA6-8BCB-E34279ACCFDC/UKChemicalIndustryRegulatoryDivergence