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Water management

TAG overview

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 protection efforts. Our wastewater may also contain trace substances, such as pharmaceutical active ingredient residues. We continuously aim to improve our water protection activities. This includes adapting our practices to increasingly strict legal requirements.

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 in a water-stressed area, we apply a risk factor of the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas of the World Resources Institute (WRI). We want to reduce the environmental impact of our wastewater and make our processes more water efficient. In the medium term, we will also consider water-related risks in our supply chain when purchasing important raw materials. In the long term, we aim to transparently map water use and environmental impacts throughout the entire life cycle of our products.

To this end, we have defined two targets: Firstly, we originally aimed to achieve a 10% reduction in our Water Intensity Score by 2025 compared with the baseline of 2020. In 2023, we met and surpassed this target, successfully lowering the Water Intensity Score by 25%. Consequently, we have set a new target based on a new and more transparent calculation. By 2030, we strive to achieve a 50% reduction in our water efficiency ratio of water intake per revenues compared with the 2020 baseline. The new target covers the complete water intake of our company. Our 2020 baseline year was chosen to align this new target with other existing environmental goals.
Our second objective focuses on mitigating our environmental impact. Specifically, we are committed to reducing potentially harmful residues in our wastewater to levels below the established no-effect threshold.

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 as production generally poses a higher risk to aquatic ecosystems.

Roles and responsibilities

The Group function Corporate Sustainability, Quality and Trade Compliance is responsible for water management. At our sites, engineers work closely with our EHS managers to reduce water use and treat wastewater. Further information can be found under Environmental protection.

Our commitment: Standards and procedures

Our Sustainable water management principles set the framework for three Group-wide standards that detail how we integrate mechanisms of sustainable water management into our management system: Sustainable Water Management Part 1 – Wastewater; Sustainable Water Management Part 2 – Water Use; and Sustainable Management Part 3 – Water Risk Management. All three standards are based on the commitments we made under the Responsible Care® initiative.

Our Wastewater Standard defines criteria for assessing our wastewater discharges into ecosystems. It also helps us achieve our targets regarding trace substances in wastewater from our operations. The Water Use Standard sets out mandatory Group-wide requirements for the responsible use 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 covers risks such as contaminated rainwater and flooding. We perform internal EHS audits to verify that our sites comply with our three standards. All sites are 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 withdrawals from our own wells and local suppliers

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 water extraction to impair any protected areas, sensitive ecosystems or habitats. We extract less water from our own wells than the amounts permitted. We simultaneously monitor potential trends that could lead to the reclassification of water sources, which involves assigning heightened levels of protection to specific regions.

Water withdrawals (millions of m3) – 2023

Water withdrawals (millions of m3) – 2023

Water withdrawals (millions of m3) - 2023 (Graphic)

The cooling water used in 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. However, this is only done in regions with high freshwater availability. For certain applications, we treat production wastewater and reuse it. In 2023, we recycled a total of 20.5 million m3 of water (2022: 20.7).

Using water more efficiently

We seek to minimize our impact on water availability in the vicinity of our sites. In 2023, we withdrew 12.1 million m3 of water in total (2022: 13.2). We assess local conditions to determine whether a sufficient water supply is available. In our water conservation efforts, we pay particular attention to sites in water-scarce areas. To measure how we improve our water efficiency, we have defined the Water Intensity Score, which relates the amount of water either purchased or withdrawn from our own wells at a site to the number of hours worked, taking local water availability into account. In 2023, we already exceeded our target set for 2025 to lower the Water Intensity Score by 10% (baseline year 2020). Initiatives that helped us reach our original goal include effects from shifts in product mix as well as initiatives such as recycling of wastewater in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), St. Louis (USA) and Mollet del Valles (Spain).

We have therefore set ourselves a new target: By 2030 we will reduce our sales-normalized water intake by 50% compared with 2020 (2020: 792 m3 per million € net sales (100%), 2023: 580 m3 per million € net sales (-30%)).

In the past, our Gernsheim site in Germany was excluded from both the score and our water conservation efforts because we must extract a minimum water quantity from our own wells to meet regulatory requirements. Our new target will cover the entire Group, including Gernsheim.

Our site in Mollet (Spain) is one example of how we mitigate the risk of water scarcity in local communities. In Mollet, have we invested in multiple projects such as retrofitting pumps for water circulation, reusing water for cooling and changing to dry technology dedusters. This has reduced our absolute water intake in Mollet by around 20% since 2018.

Our wastewater

In 2023, we generated a total of 11.1 million m3 of wastewater (2022: 12.4 ). This comprised around 7.6 million m3 of “direct discharge” water (2022: 8.6) into surface waters. 3.4 million m3 was classified as “indirect discharge” (2022: 3.8) water and treated at external treatment plants. We take extensive measures to ensure that we comply with respective legal requirements when directly discharging wastewater into aquatic ecosystems. Before we obtain a discharge permit, the local authorities review the profile of the local aquatic ecosystems on site to ensure they will not be compromised by our activities.

In 2023, 53% of our total wastewater was discharged by three of our sites. Our Gernsheim site in Germany discharges its treated wastewater into the Rhine River, and our Onahama site in Japan into the Pacific Ocean. The wastewater generated at our site in Darmstadt (Germany) is treated in our own treatment plants before being released into the Schwarzbach/Ried Creek, a tributary of the Rhine River. We are preparing for a potential tightening of the statutory requirements on discharging treated wastewater.

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% (2022: 98%) is to be further increased in the future thanks to activated carbon filters. We commissioned the improved plant at the end of 2023.

Residues in wastewater

We continuously work to optimize our production streams and purification processes to conserve water and minimize residues. We have appointed an expert for each of our business sectors to provide guidance for our sites. This approach aims to reduce the amount of pharmaceutically active ingredient residues as well as all substances with water-hazardous properties. All wastewater from relevant sites is processed in wastewater treatment plants before being discharged into the environment. This is done either in our own plants or by offsite third parties such as municipal wastewater treatment plants.

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 is strictly segregated and undergoes an additional purification process. Only then do we discharge it into the ecosystem, thereby minimizing remaining antibiotic residues.

When discharging wastewater, we strictly adhere to government regulations. However, even when meeting 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 aim to reduce potentially harmful residues in our wastewater to below the no-effect threshold. To achieve this objective, we are executing a series of project steps. In 2023, we initiated risk assessments for pertinent substances at designated sites, evaluating deviations from the no-effect threshold and implementing corrective measures. Notably, eight out of the 79 sites under consideration, have established that concentrations of all water-hazardous substances in their effluents are below the no-effect threshold. The remaining sites are currently in the assessment phase, evaluating the impact of their effluents.

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 and evaluates their processes and performance on a scale from A to D-. As in the previous year, we were awarded a B for our water management practices in 2023.

Short for “Environment, Health and Safety”, this refers to environmental management, health protection and occupational safety throughout a company.
Water containing 1,000 mg or less of dissolved solids per liter.
No-effect threshold
The no-effect threshold is defined as the concentration of a given substance below which no adverse effects to species in water can be expected. The respective values are derived from eco-toxicological studies according to recognized scientific standards.
Trace substances
Substances dissolved in water that are present only in minute amounts. Also referred to as micropollutants, these are synthetic substances present in concentrations ranging from one nanogram to one microgram per liter of water.

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