(1) Pharma: Filling in the gap
If there’s one industry that by its very nature keeps an eye on its products it must be the pharmaceutical industry. After all, product safety goes hand in hand with the efficacy of a drug.
"Simply stated: what you’re looking at is the fact that our products end up in the bodies of humans and animals," says Menno van der Most, Pharma’s HSE manager.
"That in itself says almost everything about the requirements we must and do deal with. In that sense the basic principles and ideas of Product Stewardship have always been with us. Many elements of stewardship are there and incorporated in existing systems. What is not always apparent is that these elements are part of something called Product Stewardship. They were never indicated as such."
These elements and systems are numerous and inherent in the day-to-day work carried out in business units Diosynth, Intervet and Organon. Much of the care takes place under the umbrella of quality assurance.
The elements of quality assurance that are perhaps the most familiar are the demanding standards of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) imposed by regulatory agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
GMP, however, is just one example of quality assurance and looks only at the manufacturing step in the whole cradle-to-grave cycle. Other standards control other aspects, such as Good Clinical Practice (GCP) – a standard for the design, conduct, performance, monitoring, auditing, recording, analyses, and reporting of clinical trials – and Good Laboratory Practice (GLP), covering the quality of test data.
"If you take our existing quality systems into account, you could say we already have parts of a Product Stewardship Management System in place. But that doesn’t mean we’re there yet with the procedures as defined. First of all we somehow have to visualize and make it more explicit that aspects of Product Stewardship are already embedded in our organizations. Obviously we want to do that without disturbing existing, proven systems, functions and responsibilities.
"Once we have identified that, we’ll have more understanding of the gap that lies between what we already do and what more we can do in the framework of Product Stewardship."
That there is a gap there, Van der Most is convinced.
"Although the principles of Product Stewardship are inherent to the pharmaceutical business, I think we can do more than we do today. Product Stewardship is about providing answers to certain questions. To many questions we already have the answers; now we have to see what extra we can do. It’s something we should see as our own responsibility, and also as a respons to the demands of society. If you want to be a sustainable company, this automatically is part of it."
(2) Industrial Finishes: three-pronged approach
Akzo Nobel’s Industrial Finishes business unit was already very active in the area of HSE before the launch of the company’s Product Stewardship directive.
Based in the United States, strict laws of compliance already existed, alongside the business unit’s commitment to the Coatings Care initiative. So it was really just a question of merging the new system with the current set-up.
"Our approach before the directive came out was to try to integrate safety and environmental management and Coatings Care and regulatory compliance as related to those issues all in one management system," explained Industrial Finishes’ manufacturing and engineering services manager, Peter Scolaro.
"When the directive was issued, we did a gap analysis more or less and found some areas that we needed to expand, such as the role of our customer interface and our sales and customer service people."
The business unit deals in two main areas — the industrial wood coatings (building products, furniture) and coil markets—selling mostly to manufacturers as opposed to the consumer market.
"One of the elements of our stewardship is to make people aware that these are not consumer products," said Scolaro. "A lot of what we have to do is make the customer aware of what they’re dealing with, make sure they put the right facilities in place and use our materials properly."
So as far as Industrial Finishes is concerned, the new directive is very much a case of refining the systems they already have been in place.
"A lot of our business is based in the U.S. and as such we have to make the compliance issue a very predominant consideration," added Scolaro. "What we do beyond the law is try to create what we call tools to assist. For example for our sales guys, we have a list of do’s and don’ts and that helps them to recognize a situation and understand what their role is versus when they need to call in help from the laboratory or the HS department.
"So we have a three-pronged approach to stewardship, we have the role of H and S, the roles of the technical and service area and the roles of the laboratory defined separately, but all integrated into one program.
"The other thing that we have to consider in our business is that a big company such as Akzo Nobel has state-of-the-art products we are willing to offer that are "greener" let’s say, than the products that are being sold. But they may have different properties, they may be slightly more expensive, and the market may not always be ready to accept them.
"So we have to work to make the goals of the market and our goals coincide, but sometimes in the competitive world it doesn’t happen as quickly as you want it to."
(3) Catalysts: Cradle to cradle
before the term product stewardship became the subject of a corporate directive, business unit Catalysts had been moving towards a product-centered approach to environmental protection.
"As a business unit we are one of the exponents of this concept within Akzo Nobel," says business development manager Jan Verlaan. "This originates from the fact that we are an international group with a powerful presence in the US where Responsible Care took off in the 1980s. We also have a lot of American customers. So, it would be fair to say that our presence and our desire to comply with US-based systems helped drive awareness."
The business unit has put a policy in place which seeks to marry the interests of customer and supplier, based on targeting leading issues both now and far into the future that may effect the life cycle of the BU’s products.
The identification of these trends, referred to as issue management by Verlaan, also involves drawing up an inventory of possible societal developments and future legislation that may have a bearing on the life cycle of products.
When asked for a good of example of how product stewardship can change an industry, Verlaan points to the phasing out of lead in gasoline in Europe over the last 25 years, which helped revolutionize the oil industry and has been a major driver in catalyst development.
"If we could have identified such a development 30 years ago we might have been able to gain a competitive edge over our competitors," he says.
Verlaan anticipates a rosy future for product stewardship at Catalysts and ultimately at Akzo Nobel. Current product stewardship efforts he says tend to focus on end-of-life management issues in which the long term goals are to affect the design stage of products so that they are less toxic, more readily refurbished, or recycled. "It makes good economic and environmental sense," he says, "and is as much part of business today as the total quality management systems introduced by Japanese car manufacturers in the late 1970s and early 1980s."
Many managers at the time, he recalls, only saw the downside and could only quibble about costs. Now, no one talks about it - it simply is accepted as an integrated part of the business process and is seen as real business opportunity.
"I firmly believe," he says, "the same will ring true for product stewardship and probably also for sustainable development. You simply can’t close your eyes to public concerns about the world we live in – irrespective of whether they are based on scientific evidence or a purely emotional response. And I’m certain that those businesses only seeking to milk a cash cow without accepting and sharing responsibility for their products will ultimately go to the wall."
Today Catalysts has successfully implemented product stewardship benchmarks throughout 70 to 80 percent of its organization, right through from R&D to sales. "We have taken product stewardship, given it priority and it is helping our business," Verlaan concludes.