5 Big Impacts of Product Stewardship on EHS Performance

September 10, 2015

Product stewardship is fashionable again…or did it ever go out of fashion? For companies in the chemicals industry, product stewardship (or “product compliance and stewardship”) was always a central part of operations and EHS management. But for companies in other industries, product stewardship was mostly seen as an offshoot of their compliance efforts and treated as a specialized domain.

However, a number of developments, such as the REACH Regulations in the EU and the U.S. Conflict Minerals Rule; and highly publicized scandals, such as product recalls or questionable practices by supply chain actors, have made product stewardship an important part of an EHS management program.

More recently, just last month, two big explosions happened at a warehouse storing dangerous chemicals in the Chinese port of Tianjin. At least 159 people died, and the blasts sent shockwaves through apartment blocks kilometers away. Even more startling, chemical safety problems were already highlighted in China before the Tianjin blasts. A state-backed research paper warned of chemical industry risks; and safety issues in China’s chemical supply chain have long been a source of concern. This is troubling when you consider that China has become the world’s largest producer and consumer of chemicals used in industries such as automotive, construction and textiles.

Furthermore, contrary to what people may think initially, most companies, regardless of industry, use chemicals to maintain facilities (e.g. cleaning agents, grease and lubricants, combustibles) or as raw materials processed and transformed to manufacture finished goods (plastics, metals, paints, glues, processing agents). Companies in various sectors sometimes learn the hard way that chemicals legislation impacts them more than expected.

Product stewardship is not just about chemicals management and product lifecycle management. It can also positively enhance a company’s EHS performance, thus leading to operational excellence. This is achieved in many ways and we provide below five big impacts of product stewardship on EHS performance.

Achieve regulatory compliance

Among all categories of EHS-related regulations (air emissions, incident management, water permits, etc.), chemical and product regulations are among the ones that are the most: 1) Severe and stringent, 2) Long-standing (i.e. chemicals have been regulated for many decades), and 3) Global (i.e. most major markets have chemical regulations). This means product compliance represents one of the top regulatory risks faced by organizations. Since regulatory compliance is a main pillar of an effective EHS management program, we can connect the dots and see the big impact that product stewardship has.

Enhance worker safety

Effective product stewardship helps improve safety performance by providing critical information necessary for safely working with chemical products. For example, a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) will inform workers about the safe way to handle and store chemicals, first aid measures to take in case of accidental releases, firefighting measures, the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to wear, etc. The content of the SDS can be leveraged dynamically to enhance safety performance. When chemical inventories and warehouses are managed appropriately, as they should have been at Tianjin, worker safety can benefit.

Improve environmental performance

Product stewardship helps improve environmental performance in many ways. First, the SDS includes important data on physical/chemical properties and ecological information (toxicity, persistence, degradability, etc.) that can help a company determine the potential impacts of their products on the environment. Reducing those impacts improves environmental performance. Second, many companies are starting to measure the carbon footprint of the products they market, including the carbon footprint of materials, and the transportation and disposal of products. Product stewardship can provide valuable input to a company’s air quality management efforts. Lastly, the water footprint of products may also need to be calculated by some firms. This can help mitigate risks associated to water scarcity, and reduce water consumption.

Manage hazardous waste

An effective product stewardship program provides chemical composition information on products. This helps to properly classify waste hazardous or non-hazardous, which helps to determine obligations with hazardous waste regulations, such as the U.S. Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), Canada’s National Pollution Release Inventory (NPRI), the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) in Australia, and others. In addition, the SDS includes information on disposal considerations and waste treatment methods, which contributes to waste management with less environmental harm and impact.

Enable a responsible supply chain

By now everybody knows that the supply chain impacts a company’s EHS and Sustainability performance. A good product stewardship program helps to identify the materials that should be substituted because of their impacts on health and the environment. By substituting toxic and environmentally-harmful materials for safer and greener alternatives, a company can show its efforts towards having a responsible supply chain. In addition, by having visibility over suppliers, a company can assess a supplier’s social and environmental performance, and determine whether the supplier follows a company’s supply chain policies or codes of conduct.

In conclusion, the great impact that product stewardship has on EHS management shows that viewing both functions as separate and distinct is no longer an option. Product stewardship must be an integral part of any EHS management program. When people talk about “EHS”, it must be automatically taken for granted that product stewardship is also included.

If you want to learn more about the importance of product stewardship, we suggest that you read Paul Leavoy’s article on 3 Reasons We Need to Bring Product Stewardship Back on the LNS Research blog. We also recommend that you view the recording of our webinar on Embedding Product Stewardship Throughout the Supply Chain. Through the webinar, you will learn more about:

  • Current and upcoming product stewardship and compliance obligations
  • Strategic and tactical product stewardship solutions for global supply chains
  • How to promote product stewardship, ensure compliance, and support business objectives with the right combination of technology and content

Hopefully a greater understanding of the ripple effects of effective product stewardship, especially chemicals management, will lead to a greater awareness that will prevent future tragedies like Tianjin.

Download this White Paper from Verisk 3E and Enablon and learn more about global regulatory changes that may affect your organization and best practices for chemical management:

Chemical Management: What You Need to Know