Water management

An increasing number of regions across the globe are facing potable water supply issues. At our sites, we too are dependent on a reliable supply of water that meets certain quality standards. We use water in our manufacturing operations as process water as well as for functions such as cooling and exhaust air purification, which makes sustainable water management a key focus of our environmental stewardship. Because our wastewater may contain of heavy metals or pharmaceutical active ingredients, protecting water as a resource is one of our primary considerations.

Our principles

Reducing use, minimizing impacts

We seek to lower our water use, especially in those regions where water is growing ever scarcer. At the same time, it is our responsibility to minimize the impact of our wastewater across all our sites.

The Group function Environment, Health, Safety, , Quality (EQ), which is in charge of environmental stewardship, bears overall responsibility for water management. At our individual sites, technicians collaborate closely with our Environment, Health and Safety managers on implementing measures to reduce water use and furthermore receive regular training from EQ.

Sustainable water management

We systematically analyze our water use data utilizing tools such as the Water Risk Filter of the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) and the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas of the World Resources Institute (WRI). These tools help us determine whether a site is located in areas of high water stress, meaning regions where water consumption exceeds the supply. At the beginning of 2016, we set the goal of implementing a sustainable water management system at sites with high consumption levels by 2020.

For our sustainable water management efforts, we use an assessment tool of the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) to evaluate water management practices and progress at our sites. Based on this assessment, our facilities draft a list of steps that need to be taken and implement them one at a time.

But we also encourage efficient water management at facilities in areas of low or moderate water stress, which is why we are continuously expanding our best practice sharing platform for water management projects. Through this medium, our officers can share ideas and lessons learned.

Reducing water use

Sites in areas of high water stress must transparently report their water use and identify the process steps that require a particularly high amount. We then define measures to help our individual facilities reduce their water use.

Our production sites in Mexico City (Mexico), Mollet del Vallès (Spain), Kankakee, IL (USA), and Norwood, OH (USA) are located in areas of high water stress and consume more than 30,000 cubic meters of water per year. Furthermore, our facilities in Savannah, GA (USA), Hsinchu (Taiwan) and Taoyuan (Taiwan) are at increased risk due to the local groundwater shortage or seasonal water scarcity. At each of these sites, we aim to reduce water use by 10% by 2020, relative to the 2014 baseline.

Water Protection standard

Our processes and responsibility for clean wastewater are defined in our EHS Water Protection standard, which is based on the commitments we've made under Responsible Care®. In line with this global initiative, all our sites are required to measure and assess the risks and impacts of the hazardous substances in their wastewater.

We regularly conduct internal audits to check with our EHS Water Protection standard. Our Group-wide -certified environmental management system also covers aspects of water management, with a greater focus on manufacturing sites than administrative facilities.

Minimizing residues

We seek to minimize the residues in our wastewater. In support of this goal, all our sites develop and implement a water pollution response plan.

Our EHS Water Protection standard particularly focuses on trace residues that impact the environment. For instance, we are optimizing production and purification processes to reduce the amount of pharmaceutical active ingredient residue in our wastewater as much as possible. All pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities also have wastewater treatment plants in place and regularly measure the composition of their wastewater.


Water from our own sources

For the most part, we draw groundwater from our own wells and drinking water from local suppliers. We never do anything to compromise sensitive water sources.

In the 2015-2016 period, our water use was broken down as follows:

Water consumption (millions of m3)

For the most part, our cooling water for production processes runs in a circular system. Depending on regulatory standards, we sometimes use fresh water in a once-through cooling system if it improves our energy footprint. For certain applications, we treat production wastewater and reuse it. In 2015, we reused 23.0 million cubic meters of water, with 22.7 million cubic meters reused in 2016.

Water stewardship

At the end of 2015, we developed a new process that enables bismuth oxychloride products to be manufactured at our site in Savannah, GA (USA) without the use of nitrates. Thanks to this innovation, we no longer utilize hazardous materials such as nitrate and nitric oxide and have reduced water usage by approximately 85%, meaning 21,500 cubic meters per year. At our Hsinchu site in Taiwan, we started recycling HVAC water condensate in 2015, enabling us to reduce water usage by 5% per year in the 2015-2016 period. In 2016, we thus saved more than 1,300 cubic meters of water.

Our facility in Kankakee, IL (USA) also uses a great deal of water. In 2015 and 2016, we achieved approximate savings of 30% by optimizing our own fresh water treatment plant.

We also implement measures to minimize our negative impacts at sites that are not located in high water stress regions. Our manufacturing facilities in India abide by a zero discharge policy that requires used water to first be treated before being allowed to drain back into the soil. Furthermore, our Goa site collects rain water and lets it seep back into the soil as well, a process that has enabled us to stop the water level there from sinking further.

China: Simultaneously reducing energy and water

A project at our site in Suzhou, China shows how the consumption of different resources can be interconnected. Through a single measure, we have cut down the water and energy used for recycling a solvent mixture by distillation. We leave a portion of the water in the solvent mixture that would otherwise have to be discarded as wastewater. In doing so, we have reduced wastewater by nearly 633,000 cubic meters per year, which represents a 66% decrease in wastewater. When customers reuse the solvent mixture, they need not add more water, creating additional water savings. This change furthermore allowed us to save more than 390,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity (around 22% less) and approximately 263,000 cubic meters of liquefied gas (around 57% less).

Wastewater continuously monitored

In 2015 and 2016, our wastewater management activities were continuously monitored and reviewed in line with our Water Protection standard. As such, 77 internal EHS audits were conducted, as were 18 external ISO 14001 certification audits.

In 2016, we generated 12.1 million cubic meters of wastewater, with 11.8 million cubic meters in 2015. The wastewater generated at our Darmstadt site is treated in our state-of-the-art treatment plants before being fed into Schwarzbach-Ried Creek, a tributary of the Rhine River. In 2016, we discharged a volume of water representing approximately 5% of the average annual discharge of Schwarzbach-Ried Creek. We continuously work to meet the increasingly stringent quality regulations set forth by law, regularly coordinating our efforts with the respective authorities. In the 2015-2016 period, we did not discharge any other wastewater into bodies of water.

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.
This term stands for all necessary measures and governance activities to detect, analyze, handle, and mitigate security- and crime-based threats to the company. This helps to protect employees as well as the tangible and intangible assets of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.
Environment, Health and Safety describes environmental management, health protection and occupational safety throughout the company.
Adherence to laws and regulations as well as to voluntary codices that are internal to the Group. Compliance is a component of diligent corporate governance.
ISO 14001
This international environmental management standard sets globally recognized requirements for an environmental management system.