Water is becoming increasingly scarce globally. Since our company also depends on the availability of water, sustainable water management is an important part of our environmental stewardship. Our wastewater may also contain trace substances, such as heavy metals. We conscientiously observe water protection laws and immediately adapt our practices and processes if these laws are tightened.
Our approach to sustainable water management
To us, sustainable water management means obtaining freshwater or discharging treated wastewater without negatively impacting aquatic ecosystems.
We are also concerned with addressing water scarcity. To determine whether a site is located in a water-stressed area, we use the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas of the World Resources Institute (WRI). A water-stressed area is created when the water withdrawn exceeds the amount of water renewed.
We want to reduce the environmental impact of our wastewater and make our processes more water efficient. In the medium term, we will also take into account water-related risks that exist in our supply chain when purchasing important raw materials. In the long term, we intend to transparently map out the water use and environmental impacts throughout the entire life cycle of our products.
Our regular EHS audits at our production and development facilities also review site-specific water management practices.
Our water management efforts focus more heavily on our manufacturing sites than our administrative facilities because production generally poses a higher risk to aquatic ecosystems.
Roles and responsibilities
The Group function Corporate Sustainability, Quality and Trade Compliance (SQ) is responsible for water management. At our sites, engineers work in close collaboration with our EHS managers to lower water consumption and treat wastewater.
Further information can be found under Environmental stewardship.
Our commitment: Standards and procedures
Our Group-wide “Sustainable Water Management Part 1 – Wastewater”, “Sustainable Water Management Part 2 – Water Use” and “Sustainable Management Part 3 – Water Risk Management” standards detail the way we integrate mechanisms of sustainable water management into our management system. All three standards are based on the commitments we made under the Responsible Care® initiative. At the same time, our “Sustainable water management principles”, which were published in 2021, set the framework for the three aforementioned standards. Our “Wastewater” standard defines criteria for assessing our wastewater discharges into the ecosystem. It also helps us to achieve our target as regards trace substances in wastewater from our operations.
The “Water Use” standard sets out mandatory Group-wide requirements for the responsible consumption of water. The “Water Risk Management” standard establishes a way for us to manage the risks that arise from direct or indirect water extraction and also covers risks such as contaminated rainwater and flooding. We perform internal EHS audits to verify that our sites comply with our three standards. They are all required to measure and assess the risks and impacts of the hazardous substances in their wastewater. Moreover, they must also analyze withdrawal and wastewater risks and comply with the respective requirements of the local authorities.
Water withdrawn from our own sources
For the most part, we draw water used for our production processes from our own wells and source drinking water from local suppliers. In doing so, we do not want to impair any protected areas, sensitive ecosystems or habitats. Nevertheless, we keep an eye on trends that could potentially lead to sources being reclassified in the future.
The cooling water used for our production processes generally runs in a circular system. Depending on regulatory standards and the energy footprint, we sometimes use freshwater for cooling in a once-through system. For certain applications, we treat production wastewater and reuse it. In 2021, we recycled a total of 23,5 million cubic meters of water.
Using water more efficiently
We seek to minimize our impact on the water situation in the vicinity of our sites. In 2021, we withdrew 13,4 million cubic meters of water in total. In the reporting year, we carried out a water recirculation project at our site in Rio de Janeiro. This project contributed to saving around 30000 cubic meters of groundwater - 29% more than in the previous year.
Local conditions determine whether a sufficient supply of water is available. In our water conservation efforts, we are particularly concerned with sites in water-scarce areas. To improve our water efficiency, we therefore defined an intensity score – the "Water Intensity Score". The score relates the amount of water purchased at a site to the number of hours worked, while taking the local availability of water into account. To calculate this, we use the local water stress factor according to the “Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas” of the World Resources Institute (WRI). We aim to lower our water intensity score by 10% by 2025 compared with 2020. We changed the baseline year from 2019 to 2020 in order to align it with our climate action target, thus also seamlessly connecting to our previous target. Since our water consumption already decreased from 2019 to 2020, our adapted target is even more ambitious.
In 2021, we generated a total of 13,3 million cubic meters of wastewater. This consisted of around 9,5 million cubic meters of freshwater, which we discharged into surface waters. 3,8 million cubic meters was classified as other water and was treated at external treatment plants or disposed of in an ecologically sustainable manner. When directly discharging wastewater into aquatic ecosystems, we comply with the respective legal requirements. Before we obtain a discharge permit, the local authorities review the profile of the local aquatic ecosystems on site to ensure that they will not be compromised by our activities. 57% of our total wastewater was discharged by three of our sites. Our Gernsheim (Germany) discharges its treated wastewater into the Rhine and our Onahama site (Japan) into the Pacific Ocean. The wastewater generated at our Darmstadt site in Germany is treated in our own treatment plants before being released into the Schwarzbach/Ried Creek, a tributary of the Rhine River. The volume of treated wastewater we discharge represents approximately 3,3% of the average annual water volume of the Schwarzbach/Ried Creek, which complies with all statutory regulations. We are preparing for a potential tightening of the statutory requirements on discharging treated wastewater.
Since November 2021, we have been expanding our central wastewater treatment plant in Darmstadt by adding a fourth purification stage. Its current treatment performance of up to 98% is to be further increased in the future thanks to activated carbon filters. We are planning to commission the improved plant at the end of 2023.
Residues in wastewater
We continuously work to optimize our production streams and purification processes in order to conserve water and minimize residues. An expert has been appointed for each of our business sectors to provide guidance for our sites. At our pharmaceutical production sites, our top priority is to prevent or reduce pharmaceutical active ingredient residues in our wastewater. All such sites have their own wastewater treatment plants and regularly analyze their wastewater to check for harmful substances.
We also process antibiotic active ingredients on a small scale. To prevent adverse effects on people and the environment, the wastewater generated from these activities undergoes an additional purification process. Only then do we discharge it into the ecosystem, thereby minimizing remaining antibiotic residues.
When it comes to discharging wastewater, we strictly adhere to government regulations. However, even though we meet all applicable requirements, slight amounts of trace substances still end up in the ecosystem. Our target therefore goes beyond the stipulations of legal requirements: By 2030, we plan to reduce potentially harmful residues in our wastewater to below the no-effect threshold, a scientifically defined limit below which no negative environmental impacts are to be expected.
Assessing our water management practices
In addition to reporting on our climate action efforts, we also report water-related data to the CDP, which collects environmental data from companies once a year, evaluating their processes and performance on a scale from A to D-. In 2021, we were awarded a “A-” for our water management practices (2020: B).