“The reputation of a thousand years may be undermined by the conduct of one hour.”
The sentence above is a Japanese proverb that many people like. It is pertinent to a lot of areas, such as customer service and business development. Another area where this proverb is relevant is product stewardship. A company can become successful through years of developing a product and bringing it to market, and mobilizing thousands of employees to manufacture, sell, market and support the product. But one public scandal can undermine all that. Whether it is the presence of a toxic ingredient in a product that results in a fatality or injury, or a failure to comply with a regulation designed to protect the public or the environment, today’s 24-hour news cycle and widespread use of social media can put a company under the public spotlight for the wrong reasons. Corporate and brand reputation can suffer, leading to a flight of customers and shareholders, and great delight for competitors. The two most recent and dramatic examples that come to mind are the fatal April 17, 2013 fire and explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in Texas, and the August 12, 2015 Tianjin explosions in China that killed 173 people.
The importance of product stewardship is well established. It helps achieve regulatory compliance, improve EHS performance and protect brand reputation. Many vendors today offer solutions for product stewardship and two of its subsets: chemical management and product compliance. But it is important to appreciate the value of addressing product stewardship through a fully integrated enterprise platform used for EHS, Risk and Sustainability. Companies that select solutions from vendors offering only standalone product stewardship solutions, or from vendors offering a disparate and disjointed enterprise solution due to acquisitions of systems with different technologies and architectures miss out on opportunities to improve product stewardship.
Let’s see some examples how an integrated platform improves product stewardship. These examples have the following in common: They establish a “single version of the truth”, bring greater automation resulting in time and cost savings, reduce risks of human error that can lead to non-compliance, and improve collaboration.
1) Compliance Assessments Based on Supplier Disclosures
Many people view product stewardship and supply chain stewardship as two distinct functions. Certainly both have elements unique to each other, but it is a mistake to not realize how the latter affects the former. To assess the compliance of products for such regulations as REACH in the EU, RoHS (including EU RoHS and ), and Conflict Minerals rules (including Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank in the U.S., voluntary guidelines in China, and the upcoming EU legislation), a company needs to leverage data disclosed from the supply chain for product stewardship purposes. Having an integrated platform that uses the same data requested and gathered from the supply chain to assess the compliance status of products reduces the risks of non-compliance and saves valuable time.
2) Full Composition Information From Suppliers Used for SDS Authoring
Safety Data Sheet (SDS) content from suppliers is needed for the creation of finished product SDSs. Information on ingredients is needed to calculate the total composition of the final product. The product composition and the classifications of ingredients are then used to calculate the classifications of the finished product. But SDSs from suppliers have 3 potential limitations: 1) They may contain only ingredients that are regulated, hazardous, or above a threshold specified by regulation, 2) They may display ranges of percentages that prevent precise calculations (e.g. an ingredient shown as being present at 10%-20% rather than a more precise percentage), and 3) Trade secrets might prevent the disclosure of full composition details. An enterprise platform that also offers capabilities to request and gather information from suppliers of raw materials can benefit product stewardship. A company can obtain full disclosure on composition from the supplier of an ingredient, through a supplier portal integrated with the enterprise platform. The same platform then allows the information to be reflected in the composition of the finished product, thus allowing the creation of accurate finished product SDSs in a timely way.
3) Regulatory Content Throughout the Entire Lifecycle of the Product
There is more to “regulatory content” than the content required to author SDSs (substance data, templates, algorithms, phrase libraries, pictograms), SDS data on products, and regulatory lists of banned, restricted or authorized substances (i.e. “positive” or “negative” lists). Throughout the lifecycle of a product, including the design phase and the disposal phase, there are compliance obligations that must be taken into account. Think about RoHS obligations in the EU and that extend beyond the restriction of substances (labeling and documentation requirements) and the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive. An integrated enterprise platform also provides a central compliance registry where all regulations, citations, policies, requirements and interpretations are stored and managed. Thus product stewardship professionals have centralized access to a single version of the truth and the regulatory obligations that need to be taken into account for all products across all global sites and throughout the entire lifecycle of the products.
4) Objectives Management, Action Plans and Task Management
Product stewardship is not just about regulatory content, software, data and products. It is also about people. People succeed if the importance of their tasks are given visibility at the corporate level, and if there are action items assigned with action owners and deadlines. Through an integrated platform, product stewardship objectives are given the attention they deserve. Executives can see the compliance and reputational risks associated with a badly-managed product stewardship program. This in turn helps product stewardship professionals obtain the resources and assistance they need. An integrated platform also allows management to ensure that product stewardship objectives are met through the central management of action plans and action items. When product stewardship is part of an integrated platform, the benefits flow both ways. Product stewardship professionals can raise awareness to the challenges they face and the importance of their work with management; and management can track progress to make sure that product stewardship objectives are met, and therefore compliance and reputational risks are mitigated.
If you are considering a product stewardship solution, be sure to take a serious look at vendors that offer a fully integrated enterprise platform used for EHS, Risk and Sustainability, where the same data is leveraged throughout the organization. For additional information on product stewardship solutions, download Verdantix’s report Smart Innovators: Product Stewardship Solutions. The report provides more information on the following:
- Current product stewardship issues encountered by firms and future challenges.
- Verdantix’s capability analysis of the 36 main software and services-based product stewardship solution providers.
- Trends defining the market of product stewardship solutions and its segmentation.
- Key insights for the selection of a best-fit software or services-based solution for mandatory and/or voluntary compliance.