Expanding Your Influence as a Product Steward – Part 2: Supporting Internal Operations

Product stewardship is a critical component of the entire value chain, including operations. Business ventures go more smoothly when product stewardship is an organic part of facility and corporate operations.

“Operations” is a broad term that includes many different business departments and functions. In this post, we’re focusing on finance, legal and disaster planning.

Giving the finance department a product’s stamp of approval

Companies invest millions upon millions of dollars creating products and brands that bring sustained value to the business. However, the space between a genius idea and the first retail transaction can be huge and requires the assessment of product safety and regulatory compliance. Product reviews and analysis are essential in creating a sound investment. If a product steward can see that a product as designed will not comply with regulations or conform to industry and company standards, work associated with the endeavor may be a questionable investment.

The value chain review process is perpetual; product stewards must maintain ongoing conversations and strong relationships with other key operations stakeholders. Keeping communication clear and open is crucial. A product steward must ensure that ingredients and components used in the development of the product during the initial formulation, process changes or reformulation do not result in non-compliance, compromise company values or jeopardize the company’s brand and financial stability.

When corporations look to expand their product offerings in an expedited, less costly manner, they may offer a brand license to a smaller or lesser-known firm. At first blush, this appears to be a simple move to rapidly expand market share. But, before that licensure occurs, it is imperative to confirm that the licensee and its products meet regulatory requirements, applicable consumer safety and regulatory standards — as well as internal company expectations. Product stewards help bridge information gaps between the licensee and licensor to determine if these arrangements are a sound financial decision or more trouble than they’re worth.

As chemical regulations increase, so does the need for a solid partnership between product stewardship and legal team(s)

Around the world, organizations are focusing more on compliance and ethics largely because of increases in regulatory drivers and public pressure. While legal teams have traditionally focused on finances and contracts, many companies are incorporating departments devoted entirely to environmental and product compliance. Today’s businesses recognize the importance of this focused legal expertise.

The biggest compliance challenge facing legal departments is the same as other parts of any organization: the sheer volume of regulations and the continual change in the regulatory landscape. A lack of awareness of a new or updated regulation or ruling can cause a ripple effect throughout the organization and the value chain, disrupting production and the ability to sell products. When product stewards partner with the legal team, they can assist in interpreting new or updated regulatory requirements and provide technical insights and support.

Even in companies that have a strong corporate legal compliance department, a product stewardship/legal team partnership can be more than the sum of its parts – providing the critical interpretation of regulations not simply from your company’s perspective, but across the entire value chain. This partnership doesn't just facilitate compliance; it supports a cradle-to-cradle understanding of the value chain.

The important role of product stewardship in disaster planning and execution

While product stewards are not responsible for putting disaster plans into place, they can help develop best practices to manage product compliance and to protect the brand if a disaster occurs. Surprisingly, research shows that too many organizations simply are not well prepared for a business-stopping catastrophe. Product stewards must be proactive to ensure that the procedures within disaster plans protect both production and brand standards.

If an organization produces a similar product in multiple locations, it is essential to know if a backup location is available to generate and supply conforming products. For example, two facilities may create a product with the same brand name; however, since the final jurisdictions for products from the respective facilities are different, the product composition or supply chain may vary. Business managers, marketing staff and sales teams may not understand that a simple transfer of production from one facility to the next could have significant repercussions.

Products with different formulations or even different ingredient suppliers may result in the production of a non-compliant product, limiting sales and distribution, or worse, generating a recall and even voiding contractual relationships (where production quotas are specified).

To be clear: product stewards alone cannot ensure that a company is prepared for a disaster. Product stewards can, however, help to make sure that if a disaster occurs, there’s a plan to handle customer needs, regulatory compliance and product conformance — to help protect against financial repercussions. As a product steward, you are uniquely capable of addressing potential product compliance risks in the case of a disaster.

Next stop: Supply Chain

This post just touches on how product stewardship can protect a brand by supporting internal operations. Feel free to share your experience in the comments field below with different areas of operations, especially if it’s outside of the departments or functions addressed here. What have you learned? By sharing best practices, we can support each other and help develop stronger product stewardship programs.

For the third and final blog of this series, the focus will be on product stewardship and the supply chain.

Maryann Sanders

Maryann Sanders is a Senior Regulatory Compliance Specialist at Haley & Aldrich. She leverages her expertise in human health toxicology, industrial hygiene, microbiology and regulatory affairs to develop product stewardship programs for global companies. She works with her clients to help them comply with U.S., European and Pan-Asian regulations.


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