Product Lifecycle: Achieve the Transparency Consumers Demand

This requires a company to track down hidden chemicals in its supply chain

By Frank Arcadi and Francis Trudeau, Sphera Solutions

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Consumer advocacy groups have become more and more vocal in recent years in their quest for more transparency. Retail chains have begun to hear the collective clarion call. For instance, Wal-Mart recently joined the Chemical Footprint Project, which encourages companies to disclose the chemicals in their products. Similarly, in January 2017, Target declared it would use its market influence to push for full ingredient disclosure throughout its entire value chain by 2020. As Bloomberg reported last November, the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, which runs a program called Mind the Store, gave Wal-Mart an A- for its chemical disclosure policies while Target earned a B+. However, some big-name retailers on its list didn’t do nearly as well.

When considering the chemicals contained inside the dyes, solutions and materials that make up household and workplace goods, even the simplest products can cause complex problems for tracking all the chemical substances they include.

Unilever, which makes products like Dove soap and Axe body spray; S.C. Johnson & Son, which markets items such as Glade air fresheners; and Procter & Gamble (P&G), which supplies goods such as Tide laundry detergent and Herbal Essences shampoos, all have said they plan to disclose full ingredient lists in many of their products in the coming years.

“Our goal is to give people information that is clear, reliable and accessible. This is another step in our sustainability journey toward enabling consumers to make informed choices,” explained Kathy Fish, P&G’s chief technology officer, in a news release about the company’s move toward more transparency. “This will build even greater trust in the quality and safety of all of our products,” she added.

Delivering On The Promise

Greater transparency requires a solid data-collection strategy to help a company achieve a higher level of satisfaction and peace of mind. An organization simply can’t afford to delay any longer addressing all the rules and regulations to which it must adhere.

It’s no secret that the world of regulated materials has become much more complex. Consumers, industry groups and regulators are imposing additional scrutiny on manufacturers and the process industries. A great example is a recently introduced proposal by European Chemicals Agency to restrict hazardous substances in tattoo inks and permanent makeup. As the agency explains on its website: “The aim of the proposal is not to ban tattoo inks or tattooing. Instead, the aim is to regulate specific hazardous substances present in tattoo inks so that they are safe for people.”

The concern isn’t only about what chemicals are present in the products we use and the foods we eat, but also about the chemicals involved in making those products — and, if chemicals still are present, whether they pose a risk. For example, ammonia regularly is used in food processing. Although ammonia has been declared safe in small amounts, it’s worth evaluating whether all the potential health risks have been identified and communicated.

The question remains: How can we take a more-proactive approach to chemical management, and what are the best practices we can employ to help us create a healthier and safer world? There’s no simple answer but part of the solution requires incorporating health/risk/compliance assessments during the innovation cycle and avoiding the nightmare of recalls or — worse — lack of consumer interest or apathy toward a product.

Product Lifecycle Challenges

Product sustainability is a hot topic for the process industries, especially for makers of consumer goods. However, most companies still resort to testing only after creating a product. Taking this approach during market rollout limits an organization’s options and can necessitate a costly remedy. According to a recent estimate from the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association, recall of a food-related item incurs on average $10 million in direct costs, as well as brand damage and lost sales. In one particularly eye-opening outlier, U.S. peanut butter makers lost $1 billion in collective sales and brand damage after a 2009 recall for salmonella concerns. The reality is that product sustainability benefits from a compliance check at each stage of the product lifecycle (Figure 1).

Let’s take a look at key issues during the product lifecycle and how product compliance can become part of the overall product sustainability process.

1. Concept and design. Here, a company must identify constraints on a global regulatory basis and for each intended use. Product compliance at this stage helps an organization avoid costly last-minute product reformulation or repackaging by understanding the regulatory business risks associated with material composition based on the intended use. This also is the time that the firm should create a detailed plan for disposal at the end of the product’s lifecycle.

The key to success here is collecting all information in a standardized, auditable format. This will ensure the information can be captured and reused in other formats as requirements evolve. It’s also important to implement and deploy information technology systems that are flexible and on-demand to improve investments. The challenge is to resist a “not invented here” and a “we’re unique” attitude.

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