Water management

More and more regions across the globe are facing potable water supply issues, and the number of areas suffering from water scarcity is also on the rise. Both the United Nations and the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) consider water conservation a major objective for future efforts. At our sites, we too are dependent on a reliable supply of water that meets certain quality standards. We use water in our manufacturing activities as process water as well as for functions such as cooling and air exhaust purification, which makes sustainable water management a key focus of our environmental stewardship. In doing so, our wastewater may contain of heavy metals or pharmaceutical active ingredients. With heightened public awareness of water pollution and increasingly stringent legislation governing water conservation, protecting water as a resource is one of our top concerns.

Our approach to sustainable water management

We seek to lower our water use and have therefore set ourselves the goal of implementing a sustainable water management system at sites with high consumption levels by 2020. Along these lines, we are focusing our efforts particularly on regions where water is growing scarcer and therefore intend to cut water use by 10% by 2020 at sites in such water-stressed areas, i.e. those regions where the demand for water exceeds the amount available. At the same time, it is our responsibility to minimize the impact of our wastewater across all our sites, which is why we oblige each individual site to develop and implement a water pollution response plan.

How we organize our water management activities

Our Group function Environment, Health, Safety, , Quality (EQ) (see also Environmental stewardship) bears overall responsibility for water management. At our individual sites, our Environment, Health and Safety () managers work closely with engineers to implement water conservation and wastewater treatment measures. In 2017, our water management spending, including the costs associated with purification of wastewater and sewage charges, accounted for approximately 9% of our EHS costs.

Our commitment: Standards and guidelines

Our processes and responsibility for clean wastewater are defined in our EHS Water Protection standard, which focuses on trace residues that impact the environment. Through internal audits, we verify compliance with 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 are optimizing our production and purification processes to minimize the amount of pharmaceutical active ingredient residue in our wastewater. All our pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities also have wastewater treatment plants and regularly assess the composition of their wastewater.

Our Group-wide -certified environmental management system also covers aspects of water management. This system places a greater focus on manufacturing sites than administrative facilities since they have the highest potential impact on water.

Water from our own sources

For the most part, we draw our process water from our own wells and drinking water from local suppliers. We never do anything to compromise sensitive water sources. However, within the scope of our sustainable water management activities, we keep an eye on trends that could potentially lead to sources being classified as sensitive.

Water use (millions m3)

The cooling water used for production processes generally 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 2017, we reused a total of 22.4 million cubic meters of water.

Sustainable water management

For us, sustainable water management means not negatively impacting the bodies of water from which we obtain fresh water, or into which we discharge purified wastewater.

In a bid to mitigate our impact on the water supply, we’ve set the goal of implementing a sustainable water management system at all sites with high consumption levels by 2020.

To lay the ground for this undertaking, we are systematically analyzing our water 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, for instance, whether a site is located in a water-stressed area.

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 facilities. Based on this assessment, our sites draft a list of steps that need to be taken and implement them gradually. This often results in the establishment of best practices such as methods to identify water-saving measures at our various sites.

In 2016 and 2017, we conducted water risk assessments on our sites to investigate where they obtain their water from, what it is used for and where the purified wastewater is discharged. To make their internal water consumption more transparent, several sites installed additional water meters.

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

Reducing water use

We seek to minimize our impact on the water situation at our sites, which is why we require facilities in areas of high water stress to transparently report their water use and identify the process steps that require a particularly high amount. In response to this information, we execute measures to help our individual sites lower their water use. We aim to cut water use at sites in water-scarce regions by 10% by 2020.

Our production sites in Mexico City (Mexico), Mollet del Vallès (Spain), Kankakee, IL (USA), and Norwood, OH (USA) are located in water-scarce regions 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 local groundwater conditions and/or seasonal water scarcity. At each of these sites, we aim to reduce water use by 10% by 2020 relative to 2014. By the end of 2017, we had achieved savings of approximately 9%.

High marks for our water management practices

In addition to our climate impact mitigation measures, since 2016 we’ve also been reporting water-related data to the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project). This initiative collects environmental data from companies once a year, evaluating their processes and performance on a scale from A to D-. In 2017, we were awarded a B for our water management, thus moving up two places over 2016. This positive score was particularly attributable to three factors, namely our Water Protection standard, the strategic water use goals we set in 2016, and the concrete steps we took to conserve water.

Water stewardship

We also implement measures to minimize our negative impacts at sites not located in water-scarce regions. Our manufacturing facilities in India, for instance, abide by a zero discharge policy that requires used water to first be treated before being drained 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 prevent the water level there from sinking further.

Our wastewater

In 2017 we generated a total of 12.3 million cubic meters of wastewater, with around 50% of our total wastewater being discharged by four sites. Our Gernsheim site in Germany discharges its purified wastewater into the Rhine, our Savannah, GA (USA) facility into the Savannah River and our Onahama site in Japan into the Pacific Ocean. The wastewater generated at our Darmstadt site is purified in our treatment plants before being fed into Schwarzbach-Ried Creek, a tributary of the Rhine River. In 2017, we discharged a volume of water representing approximately 5% of the average annual discharge of Schwarzbach-Ried Creek. We constantly work to meet the increasingly stringent quality regulations set forth by law, coordinating our efforts with the respective authorities.

Wastewater continuously monitored

In 2017 our wastewater management practices were monitored and reviewed in line with our Water Protection standard. As such, 43 internal EHS audits were conducted along with 12 ISO 14001 audits performed by an external certifier. Improvements for self-monitoring were pitched at several of our sites.

Antibiotic residues in wastewater

We manufacture antibiotic active ingredients on a small scale. The wastewater generated from these activities is subject to an additional purification process before being discharged into the environment, as is the case, for instance, in Darmstadt. At this site, analyses showed that the amount of active ingredients contained in the wastewater was roughly comparable with that contained in household sewage.

Stakeholder dialogue

Starting in 2018, as part of our sustainable water management efforts we intend to engage other local water users in an exchange aimed at further reducing water use.

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.
ISO 14001
This international environmental management standard sets globally recognized requirements for an environmental management system.
Environment, Health and Safety describes environmental management, health protection and occupational safety throughout the company.

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