January 1, 2004 -- The structure of society, and the world economy that supports it, is changing faster than most of us realise. Effective January 2004, the nickel-producing industry has significantly restructured its international associations to respond to these changes.
Nickel plays an essential enabling role in many key areas of progress, including transport, energy, architecture, telecommunications, food processing, water treatment, and healthcare. This, together with the spread of prosperity to a larger proportion of the world's population, explains the current strong demand outlook for nickel, and instils confidence that current demand is not merely a temporary aberration.
The demands that society places upon industry are also changing. Its members increasingly hold industries accountable for their activities and decisions. While industry has always been accountable for its use of financial assets, the safety of its workplaces, and the performance of its products, in recent years political and regulatory policies have dramatically added to the call for accountability. This trend is being reinforced by the broad political adoption of the objective of sustainable development.
In many ways, the increased emphasis on sustainable development will have a positive impact on the future of nickel. Nickel-containing products are key to the achievement of higher quality of life, in particular, increased energy efficiency, less pollution, safer food, cleaner water and a range of other social and environmental benefits. Generally speaking, nickel-containing products have long and useful lives, and are highly recycled at the end of life. Nickel used today may therefore be seen as a resource for future generations.
The sustainable development agenda is also increasing the demands made on industry for information. Industry is asked to develop information on, and be accountable for, such things as energy efficiency, environmental impact, hazard identification, risk assessment, resource efficiency, waste minimisation and recycling.
Industry is also being pressed to assume responsibility for the performance of its products for their entire life cycle, from the production of raw materials, through manufacturing and use, to the "end of life" (re-use, recycling or disposal). This is a challenge for the nickel industry, as nickel is used (often in small amounts) in thousands of alloys and ten of thousands of products, usually with very long and useful life.
Need for collective action
Progressive companies identify the driving forces behind these increased expectations and work with political authorities to translate expectactions into meaningful, economically proportionate and scientifically justified actions. While a selected course of action often depends on the competence of individual companies, in several cases, the most effective responses come out of collective action by the industry as a whole. In fact, responses are often developed in collaboration with downstream manufacturing sectors and the industries responsible for use and recycling.
The increased need for collective action has dramatically changed the role of industry associations. As a result, industry associations are increasingly taking on the dual role of representing the interest of companies in discussions with governmental authorities and assisting companies in meeting the commitments that have been undertaken.
Responding to the challenge
In response to these challenges, the nickel-producing industry reviewed the structure of ill ets international industry associations and introduced a structure that is better designed to meet future needs. Effective this year, the newly organised Nickel Institute will incorporate the activities that have previously been undertaken independently by the Nickel Producers Environmental Research Association (NiPERA formed in 1980) and by the Nickel Development Institute (NiDI formed in 1984) under one management and membership structure. NiDI and NiPERA were initially established by the industry to fulfil two distinct missions.
- NiDI: to develop and communicate generic knowledge about the properties of nickel and nickel-containing alloys to encourage engineers, architects and designers to use nickel more effectively and to develop new uses for nickel
- NiPERA: to develop and communicate knowledge about the human health and environmental effects of nickel; its original emphasis was on generating information to support scientifically sound and effective workplace regulation.
These initial mandates are still meaningful and necessary. However, in order to meet current and anticipated challenges, the nickel industry must develop and act in an integrated manner:
- health and environmental science activity is now required to support all stages of nickel use, as well as nickel production;
- the requirement for industry to take a broad life cycle view of its products requires that the nickel industry communicate and collaborate with its downstream customers on a business-to-business basis, not just through the specialist dialogue of engineers, researchers or architects; and
- effective political representation requires an intimate collaboration across the nickel life cycle, both internationally and locally.
The organisation of the Nickel Institute brings the collaborative activites of nickel producers together in a common strategic direction. This is an important first step towards improving the nickel industry's ability to act more effectively on an integrated basis. But it is just the first step.
The Nickel Institute will encourage effective regional and local industry organisations with which it can collaborate to mutual benefit. While science and technology may be international, politics and socio-economics are mainly local or regional. The nickel industry needs to have the capacity to represent nickel interests effectively at local level, as well as internationally.
Similarly, the Nickel Institute will encourage strong organisations to represent the business interests of other parts of the nickel life-cycle, especially stainless steels, nickel alloys, plating, foundry, powder metallurgy, batteries, catalysts and recycling. With the help of strong, collaborative partners, we can ensure that nickel gets a fair hearing, politically speaking.
With a strong, knowledge-based Nickel Institute, effective local industry organisations and collaborative business partners, nickel will be able to retain and develop its role as a metal that enables the achievement of a better, more sustainable future for society.
Membership of the Nickel Institute is open to all producers of nickel and nickel containing products.