April 13, 2015 / Andrew Brown

Product Stewardship Finds a Professional Home

The Product Stewardship Society is an affiliate of AIHA that provides resources, professional development, and networking opportunities to individuals who have a role in product stewardship.

We asked Allan Fleeger, president of the Product Stewardship Society’s Board of Directors, to tell us more about the growing interest in this profession.

What is product stewardship?

Product stewardship is all about making sure the products you produce, for whatever end uses, are safe for that intended use throughout their lifecycle. It encompasses the raw materials as they’re processed and then what pops out at the end.

How does it differ from industrial hygiene?

Product stewardship and industrial hygiene both focus on risk assessments. Industrial hygiene focuses on risk assessments in the workplace—what workers could breathe and come into contact with. They also address the local community—what to do if there’s an emergency or a leak, for instance.

Product stewardship looks at risk assessments across the whole value chain and lifecycle until the product gets to that end use. It looks at how it’s going to be used and potential impacts on the environment and people.

Who does product stewardship?

Forty or 50 years ago, people getting into worker safety were chemists, engineers, biologists—you name it. And all of a sudden, this profession was formed called industrial hygiene. It’s the same with product stewardship.

You've got a bunch of toxicologists. You've got a bunch of chemists. You've got some IH professionals. You have engineers and lawyers. A whole smattering of people have come together in this profession, and yet there's no real single definition of what product stewards do.

That’s the genesis for creating the Product Stewardship Society. We needed this forum, so professionals can come together and collaborate across the value chain. We can collaborate on how to do good science and make sure that products are safe for their intended use throughout their lifecycles.

Where should product stewards fit into an organization?

You've got to be integrated from the R&D technical side all the way to the end of the sales and marketing side of the business. We need to be plugged in from the beginning stages of product development so we can provide input, not just from a safety perspective, but from the regulatory compliance perspective. R&D could be creating the best thing known to man or woman, yet it may not be safe for that intended use.

Some companies will have product stewardship embedded in their business lines. Some companies will have corporate functions that could report through their EHS function or standalone on their own. That’s a company decision, based on where it sees potential risk and how it wants to control it.

What’s the future of product stewardship?

We’re seeing significant increase in regulatory activity globally and significant public pressure. Retailers are going to base what they sell on what consumers want. If consumers think a substance may not be safe, retailers may decide not to sell any products incorporating that substance.

That's why you want companies doing product stewardship and doing it right. If we're all doing product stewardship and risk assessment at the same level and ensuring that products are safe for their intended uses, that instills confidence in consumers and the public that it's done right.

Why should people join The Product Stewardship Society?

This is meant to be a true professional association, where we can sit down and discuss important issues without wearing our corporate, government or NGO banners. We’ll talk about and progress the science for this field, so that stewardship is done properly.

There will be education, training, and networking across business lines and sectors. Eventually, we hope there will be a credential or certification in this area to truly put a trademark on the profession.

Andrew Brown

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