I recently had a good conversation with Richard Weissman at Purchasing Magazine about buying chemicals. I can tell you a few things I told him — or you can read the whole article (with good comments also by Tom Brossart, the director of global logistics and trade and compliance at W.R. Grace in Columbia, Md.).

1. Nothing really replaces an in-person supplier visit. Travel budgets are tight, but risks from low-cost country sources are significant.

2. An example of an area of risk is environmental practices. You can no longer “export” pollution to countries that have less stringent laws than the U.S. Organizations are monitoring practices around the globe, and consumers hold companies here accountable for what their suppliers do abroad. Sustainability and the environment are critical issues that reach through the whole chemical supply chain.

3. The chemical supply chain is suffering from the same effects of the credit crunch as other products. Buyers are extending terms. Suppliers are squeezed and risks of disruptions are increasing. We work with clients to run simulations that gives us clues where the stress is greatest, so we know where we ought to line up standby sources.

It is easy to think of chemicals as commodities that need to be evaluated almost exclusively on price, but when you add considerations of risk — environmental, logistical or financial — procurement strategies have to more carefully constructed to accommodate them.


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