Design Safer Products
Environmental Defense Fund
Designing safer products gives companies opportunities to innovate and gain a competitive edge in today’s market. This involves setting specific objectives, establishing processes to determine which chemicals are suitable for use, defining the responsibilities of internal and external stakeholders, identifying the necessary resources for execution, and creating a timeline to monitor progress.
To translate goals into action, your company can start by establishing an approach to evaluating chemicals, whether to move to safer ingredients not listed in authoritative hazard lists and/or to select ingredients based on complete safety profiles. It is also important to determine what needs to be implemented in the product development process, such as updating functional specifications for product components and materials or bringing in additional expertise. In addition, your company needs to consider the tools and infrastructure required to accomplish different scenarios (e.g., ingredient sourcing changes, product redesigns, creation of new product lines). All relevant business functions should be involved with specific responsibilities identified and adopted. For example, the sustainability team can set objectives and evaluate progress, while the procurement team is responsible for communicating new expectations to suppliers. Tracking progress towards the goals set for your chemicals, including those related to equity and justice, is critical to reevaluate your ambition and the effectiveness of the implementation strategy.
A comprehensive understanding of the product composition allows your company to respond to changing regulations and shifting consumer demands effectively. It can also inform the decisions to allocate resources towards product innovation efficiently. Your company should gather information on the chemicals that occur in the making of the product as well as their concentration at the product category and portfolio level to assess potential exposure risks for consumers, workers in facilities, and nearby communities. Knowledge of the functional value of each ingredient also helps identify areas where safer options may be lacking and spur research and development of alternatives with reduced impacts on human and environmental health. To achieve a complete understanding, it is essential to look beyond your immediate suppliers and engage with secondary and tertiary sources.
Here are some additional considerations when designing safer products:
Managing ingredient data can be a daunting task given the complex product portfolios and the vast supply chain that companies maintain. Although paper-based data management is a common initial step, software-based data entry and analysis systems are available to make the process faster and less susceptible to errors. However, companies should carefully map their requirements against the available systems and ensure that they have interoperability and connectivity if using a suite of internal and/or external management tools. It is also important to strengthen your data management systems to address hotspots and evaluate if any changes or updates are required to enable you to measure and act on equity and justice goals outlined in your chemicals policy.
Supply Chain Participation
Suppliers can be overwhelmed by requests from different companies asking for information. However, as companies increasingly recognize the business value of supply chain transparency, requests for ingredient disclosure are becoming a common business practice. There is now a greater emphasis on creating data uniformity that can benefit the entire supply chain.
In some sectors, requests for ingredient disclosure can cause trepidation as the chemical make-up can be a company’s primary intellectual property (IP). Third-party software-based data management systems featuring data security protocols can be useful tools to protect suppliers’ IP and mitigate trust issues.
Plastic Packaging Impact Assessment
Many materiality assessments presume complete waste management systems, which overlook the reality of loss or mismanagement of material along the supply chain. To obtain a comprehensive understanding of the impact of plastic packaging, your company should assess the risk profiles of different types of plastic and the end-of-life assumptions being used in materiality assessments and life cycle assessments.