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Article related to: People and perspectives
Thomas Regout - a case of sustainable entrepreneurship
For Thomas Regout International B.V., a downstream user manufacturing telescopic slides, it is important to find a balance between using safe and sustainable materials and managing a profitable business. ECHA Newsletter spoke with Kees Verspaandonk and Peter Stroucken to find out how REACH and CLP advance sustainable development in the company.
As a downstream user, Thomas Regout is dependent on good quality materials, components and chemicals to be able to manufacture their products. Before purchasing any material, their impact on safety, health and environment is assessed by the department of Quality, environment, safety and health. Only materials that pass their scrutiny can be purchased and used in the company's products and processes.
"All products that we buy must fulfil the requirements of REACH. This is important because we respond to questions from our customers, and must be able to prove that we do not use substances that are not REACH compliant in our products," Mr Stroucken clarifies.
The company has a database of 400 substances with their material safety data sheets. These substances comply with REACH and are therefore allowed to be used in the company's products and processes. In addition, there is a list of substances that are not to be used in the company. This list includes, for example, chemicals that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction. "These are substances that we do not wish to use anymore. If any of these chemicals would still be in our products, we calculate how much of the substance is included and estimate whether it can be released from the product when it is used. Based on these estimations, we decide on the measures to be taken," Mr Stroucken explains.
As an example he gives passivation of trivalent chromium which contains small quantities of Cobalt salt. This process is used when galvanising products. To make sure that employees are not exposed to the substance, Cobalt salt is put into the galvanising machine using dosing pumps with fixed mains. The customer is protected by applying a seal coating to avoid any exposure to the substance. Passivation, in general, refers to a material being less affected by environmental factors such as air and water.
Safety of workers and customers
Once the company has approved the purchasing of a new substance, they create a workplace instruction card based on the information from the material safety data sheet. The workplace instruction cards give workers easy access to information, since the safety data sheets are normally lengthy and include very technical details. The cards are created with the help of a software program Stoffenmanager which produces risk analysis and safe use information.
Instructions for safe use are also communicated to the customer. For each new product, the customer receives a manual that describes how the product should be used. It also gives a reference to the material safety data sheet where the customer can find more detailed information.
Demanding safer materials
The example of Thomas Regout shows that downstream users can play a role in getting the hazardous substances replaced with safer alternatives. According to Mr Stroucken they can put pressure on suppliers by demanding safer materials. "All our suppliers must be REACH and CLP compliant. Each supplier must undergo an audit before we can accept them. If we notice that our supplier cannot deliver what we are asking, we will change suppliers. This is something that we have done during the past couple of years, when we have seen that a certain product does not comply with REACH and, therefore, cannot fulfil our requirements."
As an example, Mr Stroucken mentions that they are now asking their suppliers to provide passivation without cobalt and if possible also without chromium. However, he continues, "I think we are too early on this and the suppliers are not yet ready with those developments".
Keeping up with the regulatory environment
The Candidate and Authorisation Lists are followed very carefully and every time there are updates, the company cross-checks the lists with the substances used in their products. In addition, the government in the Netherlands has a website (InfoMil) that informs industry of any updates or changes to the regulatory environment. These changes are also communicated through a weekly newsletter.
"We are happy with the cooperation from the government – they also provide tools and information to improve the sustainability of Dutch companies," Mr Stroucken and Mr Verspaandonk say.
Even though Thomas Regout does not need to apply for any authorisations, some of its suppliers will. The uses, which concern basic chemicals, preparations, oils and greases, will be covered by the application of the supplier.
Culture of thinking in sustainable ways
Although some of the customers do not yet notice the investments made to sustainable entrepreneurship, there are more and more industries, such as the automotive industry, that appreciate the approach.
Mr Verspaandonk explains the importance of an overall company culture that supports sustainable thinking. "It is the responsibility of the whole company and all of its employees," he says.
As an example, Mr Verspaandonk mentions a project they carried out to reduce the amount of metal waste, which made the employees aware of the importance of sustainable thinking and smart ways of working.
"We make our decisions based on the principle of the three Ps – People, Planet and Profit. Therefore, each investment we make must give us benefits on all Ps. Only then we can work in a sustainable way," he concludes.
|Before purchasing any materials to be used at Thomas Regout, their impact on safety, health and environment is assessed. The products of the company are used, for example, in furniture. Image: Thomas Regout.|
Thomas Regout was founded in 1834 when it was manufacturing nails and spikes for the shipping industry. In the 1950s, the company moved to producing and designing customised telescopic slides as their main product.
These slides are used in, for example, the automotive and furniture market, industrial applications and ATM machines worldwide. The headquarters of Thomas Regout International B.V. is located in Maastricht, in the Netherlands.
Interview by Päivi Jokiniemi
Top image: Thomas Regout. Kees Verspaandonk on the left and Peter Stroucken on the right.
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