Product Stewardship 2018

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November 30, 2018 - Alan Johnson

The Verisk 3E Team recently attended Product Stewardship 2018 sponsored by the Product Stewardship Society. This year’s conference brought the best and brightest minds in product stewardship to Washington, D.C. to speak about new trends, regulations and corporate sustainability issues affecting the field. 

The opening keynote was given by Charles Geraci, PhD, CIH, FAIHA, Associate Director for Emerging Technologies, NIOSH. Mr. Geraci’s presentation was focused on the evolution of product stewardship over the past 30 years. From the roots of industrial hygiene to more recent developments of Environmental, Health, Safety and Quality (EHSQ) added to the equation it was really interesting to learn from someone who has had an illustrious career in the space to hear the history and his thoughts on where the market is going next, from new materials science to additive manufacturing to the future of clustered manufacturing.

Listening to the sessions there were some key themes that emerged from this year’s show:

  1. Regulatory compliance continues to be a challenge – especially for companies that are selling and transporting product worldwide
  2. Traceability is becoming more important as there are mandates from the downstream to ensure product compliance with downstream markets like California where the new Prop 65 updates require companies to declare ingredients that are in their products.
  3. Companies are wrestling with sustainability and what it means to their cultures, products and supply chain.
  4. Practitioners are concerned by a general trend of “ubiquitizing” hazards. There were numerous examples of products that have been classified as hazardous that show no health effects at de minimis quantities or in certain states (e.g. silica). 
  5. Manufacturing supply chains are changing and becoming more local and clustered.
  6. Disperse systems within organizations continue to pose problems for product stewards and the IT professionals that support them.
  7. Voluntary compliance to remove hazardous or “bad” actors in products is on the rise.
  8. Companies are choosing to avoid having to put hazardous or warning messages on products and the confusion/difficult discussions with customers by simply finding alternatives.

Overall the sentiment was very positive that product stewardship is gaining more traction within organizations worldwide. There was amazing representation from nearly every industry and a significant global contingent of industry professionals interested in sharing their thoughts and learning best practices from others. I left D.C. hopeful that the field is growing, as evidenced by many new and younger faces in the crowd this year, and also aware that there is still room to grow in our business acumen and influence in the c-suite. 

Product stewards are often the glue that keeps product moving from the upstream to the downstream supply chain without a hitch. With the visibility and scrutiny that brands and products are now open to it is important that product stewards continue to elevate their role in product centric organizations and be a voice for better or “good” profits, additional customer value and differentiated brand value.

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