To substitute unsafe substances is kind to people and the planet. It can also strengthen a company’s reputation and even its bottom line, as one of Axel Johnson International’s companies, Forankra, is finding out.
Forankra’s goal is to have phased out regulated substances from 80 percent of Forankra’s cargo securing products by the end of 2019 – and to only purchase products free from hazardous substances. Achieving this means putting new demands on suppliers.
Chromium VI compounds are a key focus area. These are used to treat metal surfaces such as hooks and buckles used in cargo lashing equipment. Their high tolerance to rust and corrosion giving them a long operating life. But chromium VI compounds are classed as toxic and have been linked to allergy and cancer making them potentially harmful to people who manufacture or use the surface treated products.
Instead, Forankra has switched to non-regulated, white zinc-surface treated metal parts. These do not last quite as long as those treated with chromium VI. But, as Fredrik Hildingson, Forankra’s Technical Manager, explains, this matters little in the cargo securing industry:
“On lashing equipment, the webbing is always weaker than the metal part and will wear out first. There’s no reason for us not to be chromium VI-free,” he says.
95% chromium VI-free
Forankra has already removed chromium VI from all its lashing equipment, totalling about 95 percent of the company’s surface-treated metal. The company is now working to substitute chromium VI from its remaining small items such as nuts and rivets. They have also developed a new “Chromium VI-free” label.
Hanna Klasson, Sales Controller at Forankra, explains: “The label shows we want to take responsibility for our products and lead our local market. We want customers to see easily that our products are chromium VI-free. It’s a competitive advantage and a signal that we don’t just compete on price but also on quality, health and safety.”
Same same, but safer
One challenge was to convince people internally that the substitute white-zinc plating could match the quality of chromium-VI surface treatment.
Forankra used training to bridge the internal knowledge gap. Axel Johnson International provided valuable support, training and contacts for standard lab tests.
“There was some internal concern that the new coating wouldn’t be as good as what we used to have and maybe customers wouldn’t want it,” Hanna says. “But it was only a matter of time before customers started asking for it. Being prepared is a big advantage.”
Two years after launching its first chromium VI-free products, Forankra has received nothing but praise from customers.
“Winter road conditions in Sweden are pretty harsh for rust and yet customer reactions so far are 100 percent positive,” Fredrik says.
Reliable suppliers and happy clients
Working systematically with suppliers, mainly in China, is an important asset for key end-customers like Swedol, a Swedish store of workwear, tools and small equipment.
“It is important to us that products don’t contain unsafe chemicals. We are working hard to phase out hazardous substances and are very positive about Forankra’s work in this area. We will continue our dialogue if new substances are found,” says Elisabeth Lindén, Swedol’s Quality and Environmental Manager.
Next up: non-toxic dyeing of polyester
What, then, is the next step? Fredrik and Hanna explain that Forankra is currently testing the webbing and the dyes on its lashing equipment to ensure they are free from regulated substances.
The biggest risk in webbing, which is made of polyester, is the presence of heavy metals and other hazardous substances used in the dyeing process. Forankra has tested its webbing for such contaminants and has so far not found any.
“Companies that don’t work in this way will not survive in the future. Who will not choose a more sustainable alternative if there is one?” Fredrik concludes.