September 9, 2016 / Andrew Brown

ExxonMobil VP Elissa Sterry Praises Product Stewardship

ExxonMobil’s mission is to expand energy supplies, deliver energy where it’s needed and unlock new sources of energy, said Elissa Sterry, global intermediates vice president. Product stewardship plays an integral role in fulfilling that mission.

During a keynote address at Stewardship 2016, Sterry told attendees that product stewards at ExxonMobil are part of a group that’s often on the leading edge of developing new methods of assessing product risk. Although it’s a technical profession, good product stewards are also great communicators and have inherent leadership skills.

Sterry outlined five areas where product stewards in any organization can positively affect the business. “I would like to encourage you to test your own participation in each of the five areas,” she said. “I encourage you to think about getting involved in those areas where you aren’t involved but you have an interest.”

Product Safety

Companies are responsible for making sure the products they sell are safe for intended use. To sell products with confidence requires testing and analysis. Sterry’s team works with toxicologists, and the product stewardship team is responsible for communicating the results with executives. Because the assessments can be complex, they require a unique skill set that product stewards bring.

Compliance

Sterry noted that compliance activities span a range of activities, from material selection to recordkeeping. It also involves tracking regulatory changes around the world.

Regulatory Engagement

Product stewards are uniquely qualified to engage in the development of regulations, something that industry doesn’t participate in as often as it should. Product stewards know from experience where existing legislation is lacking.

For example, when REACH was first being implemented, ExxonMobil actively provided guidance to meet the intent of the law efficiently. Solvents had been identified by the feedstock used to produce them – an outdated system, said Sterry. As a result, her team developed a new, simple naming convention to differentiate fuels from high-performing fluid. The system better informs producers and customers about the composition of products they’re buying. Ultimately, the OECD recommended that the naming convention be used for future regulations.

New Product Development

Product stewards can also provide great value in new product development. In Sterry’s group, product stewardship is integrated in the process. Doing so helps anticipate regulations and consumer concerns. In one instance, Sterry’s team recognized consumer concern over oil and gas drilling, so they developed drilling fluids for fracking operations that don’t require Aquatic Hazard labels under GHS.

Advocacy

Sterry said that customers will gravitate to suppliers who have a strong grasp of the regulatory environment. Increasingly she asks her product stewards to engage with the supply chain to explain the difference between hazards and true risk.

Sometimes misinformation is a bigger challenge than regulations, she said. Product stewards help their companies by demystifying science and helping consumers make good choices. Risks can be potentially much higher if well-tested chemicals are replaced with less well-tested chemicals, for instance.

Andrew Brown

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